Emma McCormack - a final-year Agriculture student - provides her top exams tips as part of this week's Student Update submission.
I am sat here in the college library, facing into seven consecutive days of solid studying ahead of semester one exams. It’s a pretty stressful time, once exams are within a week away. There is really no point in panicking though – it’s nothing but counterproductive.
Here is my simple, fool-proof (so far!) guide to passing the exams and staying calm and focused throughout. It has worked for the past four years and I luckily have not had to repeat any exams, so I hope I am doing something right!
I cannot say that I am the most studious or academic student you’ll find. I’m the one who will give myself a week off college for the Ploughing Championships, or sometimes snooze my alarm when I should be gone to college.
However, it’s all about balance in college, or so they say. When exams come around, I put my head down and do what needs to be done. I have not sat an exam since this time last year, as I was on work placement all spring. I am feeling the effects and have plenty of work to do for five exams next week.
In four years, this is only the second weekend I have ever stayed down in Waterford. It is not something I enjoy doing. Since September, I have been home every weekend and worked every Friday, Saturday and Sunday without fail.
It has been financially rewarding and I have enjoyed every weekend and every minute in my wellies, but books got pushed to the side. The time has come to put a good plan into action and end the semester on a good note
Here are my top seven tips and what works for me in smashing exam season;
- Make a study plan and stick to it:
The most important element for me is to get organised, make a study plan and really stick to it! I try to plan out each day, in two/three-hour intervals, covering a few different modules each day. I find that dedicating one full day to a certain module, for example, Business Management, becomes mundane, draining and painful.
It works a lot better for me to focus for two hours on one thing, then take a break and start something totally different. My study plan will be based on doing past exam questions. I find this way more effective than aimlessly filling page after page of notes that I won’t remember. Practical learning works for me. I answer questions and correct them afterwards. They may be phrased a little differently, but often the same questions continue to crop up every few years.
- Get organised and gather everything you need:
Another thing is to get organised and gather everything (notes, past exams papers etc.) into one place. Whether they are printed out or on a USB stick, it doesn’t matter. When study week arrives, panic descends upon the college library and waiting for Moodle or internet pages to load is like waiting for the cows to come home. Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.
I think it is better to print out all notes, so you can jot down your own points on the paper. I find making bullet points of what is important, in my own words is extremely helpful. Then I am not needing to worry about my laptop and the charger or connecting to the Wi-Fi or locating notes online - I have everything I need.
- A balanced diet:
A good diet is crucial. Take this past week here in Waterford – we have celebrated WITmas in style. This has meant consuming too much of all the wrong things, from beer to takeaways. It only comes around once a year, so it would be rude not to join in. However, now that it is over, and we have all survived thankfully, it is time to fuel our bodies with substantial fodder.
A good breakfast is essential and there is no such thing as drinking too much water at this time of year. Long days in the library can take their toll on students. Nutritious food will help the brain to do its job when the pressure is on. Copious amounts of coffee tend to really help me too!
- Don’t over-do it:
Knowing when you have enough done is quite important also. It often feels like the To-Do list is endless, and there aren’t enough hours in the day. However, I find that putting down eight solid hours of work in the day is sufficient, rather than rising with the sun and stressing all day long amidst a sea of books, then falling onto the pillow at night, totally exhausted.
There is a lot to be said for taking a break, going for a walk, grabbing a coffee or calling into a friend’s house for a chat. If I overdo it, I lose all patience, become very fed up and end up in a bad mindset and Ill do nothing productive as a result. Turn your phone on aeroplane mode when you’re working and concentrate on studying. Then reward yourself every few hours with a break and clear your head. Exam season is a marathon, not a sprint.
- Worry about yourself:
Do not be influenced by anyone else – focus on yourself. Every time exams come around, people tend to get extremely stressed out and focus on the negatives.
It can be hard to have faith in yourself when you are listening to this sort of thing. Surround yourself with people who will help you out and are focused on passing their exams, but not losing their cool with it all. There will be people stressing out and getting very anxious, others smugly telling you they have everything done and are ready to go, some people will try to predict what will come up and other people will be very laid back and appear unbothered by exams.
You need to just focus on yourself and the main thing is to just keep going. I break everything down into small sections, so the workload doesn’t look too bad and I can continue to tick each item off my list, rather than depressing myself with a massive task every time I sit down to study.
- Leave college work in college:
Once you have finished for the day, forget about it. Do something else, go to the cinema, bake cookies, watch Ear to the Ground or play FIFA. Whatever you want to do – relax in the evening. Some people say they are more productive at night; however, I can’t agree with that. It works well for me, to get up early, get stuff done and chill out in the evening. If I don’t do it in the morning, I feel like it is hanging over me all day long and it’s just making me feel guilty.
Start early and finish early if possible, that’s my plan. I used to read over notes in bed, but I am kind of against that now. I feel like my bedroom is for sleeping, and the house is for relaxing in. I try to get everything done in the library and then forget about it once I am home.
Stressing about exams, or anything really, is the most unproductive thing ever. Once you have your list made, you can tackle it each day then come home, drink tea and chill. It works for me, anyway.
The last tip I can offer, and certainly not the least, is a good night’s sleep. This is definitely one of the key ingredients to success, both in exams and otherwise. Like I said, I try to forget about studying or exams once I’m home from college and getting at least eight hours of sleep at night is a big help. It is difficult to expect your brain to absorb anything if you’re yawning every few minutes and expecting coffee or Red Bull to work miracles for you.
It’s not that simple – there is no real substitute for being well-rested during exam season. Good sleeping patterns are not often a part of college life, but at this stage of the semester, it’s not a choice. Who wants to come back to college during the summer and pay to repeat the same exams? Nobody I know.
Make the effort when it matters
The very best of luck to anyone doing exams of any sort – have faith in yourself, you’ve gotten this far and there is no reason you can’t go further again. All you can do is your best. Even if things don’t go exactly to plan and you do have to repeat an exam, at least you know you did the best you could, and you won’t be looking back, thinking “What if I could have put in more effort?”
Make the effort now, when it matters. Don’t wait for a second chance. Do it now, do it once and do it right. You’ve more inside your head than you realise yourself. Show anyone who ever doubted you, how it is done. Keep calm and don’t give up.
Before you know it, Christmas holidays will be here, and we will be snowed under with farming, bags of Taytos and boxes of Roses. Exams are just a small bump along the road - don’t let yourself trip up on them. There is more to life than being consumed by exams all-year-long.