We picked the brains of one of our top academics for their 10 ultimate tips and tricks to help ensure that you’re ready to ace your exam!…
1. Play it safe
One of the first rules for running a marathon is not to do it in new shoes. The logic of ‘nothing new’ in sporting events extends to food, clothes, routines, and so on. If you haven’t tried something in the past, now is not the time to experiment with a new memorisation technique, pharmaceuticals (legal or illegal), or work routines. Go with what has worked best in the past, no matter how much someone might try to convince you of a newer, better, or faster way. And this includes how much of the following advice you might want to take.
2. Ready yourself well in advance
There is an old adage that states, ‘Well begun is half done’. Even before you spend the night before an exam getting ready, you should also spend the days before the night before getting ready. The night before an exam is not the time to hunt up that book from the library your instructor insisted you look over. Everything you need to prepare for the exam should be available for your use the night before so you can make the best use of your time.
3. Sleep is your friend
Many people think that the best use of their study time is to sacrifice sleep so that they can study more. But study after study shows that getting sufficient rest is vital to the way we consolidate new information. We recommend this: come home and take a little nap before you start to study (20-30 minutes). Then start fresh. Get a regular night of sleep 6.5-8 hours, but go to bed early. Then start studying again first thing when you wake up until it is time to take the exam. This will give you two opportunities to come at the material revitalised. If you skimp on sleep, you will never really feel fresh, and will most likely just feel irritable, distracted, and burned out. Nevertheless, as always, see #1.
4. Eat right
You want to eat healthy, with a nice mix of good carbs, proteins and fats. It would probably be best to avoid a massive carb that is just going to make you sleep with a sugar crash, especially the morning of the exam. Probably best to avoid taking on too much caffeine as well. Drink plenty of water for optimal brain function. You want to get the most out of your food and drink, but not abuse it to the point of diminishing returns. Nevertheless, as always, see #1.
5. Be examiner
One of the most effective ways to prepare for an exam is by actually engineering an exam for yourself. Go through all of your materials (textbooks, notes, ancillary materials) and look for possible questions. Imagine that you are the cruellest and most sadistic examiner to have lived. Then take that test. It will certainly give you an idea of where your strengths and weaknesses lie.
6. Study groups and study buddies
The chances are very high that you are not the only one preparing for the same exam the night before. Find someone or a group of someones that you trust to stay on task and want to do well and study with them. It is best to arrange this ahead of time, but this can be a highly effective way of preparing for an exam. It makes the best sense, however, to keep the number small and to work with people who might be slightly higher performing than you are in class.
7. Go offline (scary but necessary)
Unless there is some vital, study-related reason you need to be connected to Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok and so on, you should consider dropping off the face of the virtual world for a few days. It might start with the need to Google the name of something that might be on the exam and end two hours later with you laughing over a cat video and hating how you got sucked down yet another rabbit hole. For the 12-24 hours leading up to the exam, the only thing you should be focused on is the exam. Everything else can wait.
8. Limit distractions and contacts
Going along with dropping out of the Internet, or simply turning off your computer, is limiting your distractions. These, sadly, can be several. Now certainly, there are people who actually think and work better with noise around them. But what we’re talking about is the distraction that will suck up needed time: your housemate who wants to recount last night’s antics, the friend who wants to hit the shops with you, your mum who won’t stop calling… As best you can, be unavailable until exams are over.
As far as structuring your time goes, you can’t do worse than the famous Pomodoro model of productivity. This method was developed by Francesco Cirillo and is based on those little red tomato kitchen timers. Essentially, work on one thing with the timer set for 20-25 minutes. Then take a short break (stretch the legs, get a drink). Then go another 25 minutes. After 4-5 sets of 20-25 minutes, take a long break for 15-30 minutes. Then begin again. The most important thing within this method is that for those 20-25 minutes you focus entirely on the task at hand. Nevertheless, as always, see #1.
10. Be ready to go
More than likely the closer you get to the next day, and certainly the next morning, the more anxious you will become, and probably the more focused on the exam. On the day before your exam, we recommend that you gather up everything that you will need in advance. Have the clothes you will wear ready (and best go with layers in the event that the room is too warm or too cold). Have what you will eat more or less ready to be eaten. It’s probably even best to shower the night before. This way you will not have to put too much effort into getting ready in the morning.