With the festivity of Christmas and the fun of New Year out of the way, most university students around the country are about to be blasted back into the reality of university, work, assignments, and worst of all, EXAMS. Although A Levels don't have January exams any more, here at university, we most certainly do, and as I board the train back to Bath, it's all that's on my mind right now.
Now, I know that anyone who knows me that sees the title of this blog post will probably laugh uncontrollably. I never have coped well with exam stress, and I probably never will. I don't think that should stop me giving you advice though, should it? After all, often it can be those who aren't that great at something who give the best advice. For one, I've learnt a lot of ways to help myself during exams over the years, and I've also been given some great tips and advice. So, here's my top ten survival tips for exams, both for university and for those all important A2's!
1. First, foremost, and hopefully most obviously, revise. Now is really not the time for procrastination. Make a revision timetable and start at least a month in advance (although if it were me, I'd be going for two or three months to be honest!). Balance it out, make sure that you cover everything at least twice, and find a method that works for you.
2. Ensure that you understand everything that you're taught as you go along. Of course, you probably won't know it all by heart the first time around, but if you come out of a lesson or lecture not understanding what has been said, and you don't do anything about it, you're still not going to understand it three months later when you come to revise. It just adds extra pressure, and it's a lot harder to ask questions if you leave it too long!
3. Know your timetable. For starters, knowing when your exams are is kind of vital for writing a revision timetable, and second, you look really stupid and panic rather massively if you suddenly realise at 11pm the night before your first exam that actually, it's a completely different paper from the one you thought it was tomorrow morning. Yes yes, you know who you are!
4. Make time for proper meals and make healthy snacks. Especially as a student, eating is something that's often rather neglected during the exam season. At home, your parents usually put at least one meal on the table for you so you're required to take time out to eat. At University, things are a little different. You have to not only leave your revision cave in order to eat; you have to spend time cooking it, too. That's time that you can often feel like you don't have, and so for some, it can be tempting to grab a pot noodle, and a pile of biscuits and chocolate. For others, it can be tempting not to eat at all. Now is the time to cook in bulk and freeze in portions, to make your own homemade ready meals. Pasta only takes ten minutes to cook, and if you're really desperate, you could even take your revision to the kitchen with you! Drink plenty of water, and make sure there's fruit, carrot sticks, and other less chocolatey snacks around.
5. Avoid people who stress you out. This one is simple, and it's one that I'm really awful at because I'm terrible at saying NO. If revising as a group doesn't work for you, then don't. If your parents nag you all the time, then ask them to give you space, or go to the library or a coffee shop to revise. Most importantly, if you don't want to talk to people just before or after an exam, then don't. Standing outside the exam hall just before you go in and having an argument about respiration (which is something I remember doing in my AS year) definitely isn't going to help anyone. Nor is coming out and realising that everyone you know wrote something completely different for question 6b, which was worth ten marks.
6. Get some sleep! The library may be open twenty four hours a day, and sometimes, that may be a blessing, but it doesn't mean that you should stay up till the dizzy heights of five am every night. Without sleep, I'm grumpy, I can't concentrate, and I don't remember anything. Sure, there's probably a million people out there who cope better with lack of sleep than I do, but trust me, sleeping is good for you.
7. Take a break. This is another one that I'm guilty of not doing. Revising for nine hours straight isn't good though. In theory, you should take a break about once an hour, even if it's just to go and get a drink and go to the toilet. In reality, most students don't do that unless they’re completely bored by their work (which the further you progress through education, the less it happens - that's the point of choosing your subject, right?). At least every couple of hours though, you should take time out. If you feel yourself getting tense, especially close to the exam, find something else to do for a while. Go for a short run, draw a picture, read a chapter of a book, call a friend, or in my case, get my flute out and play a piece or two. Yes, you do have to work hard in the exam season, but working all the time destroys your brain. Try not to feel guilty when you take time out. Do something you enjoy, distract yourself, have fun, and relax every now and again!
8. Give yourself something to look forward to when it's all over. It doesn't matter if it's a night out with friends, a visit home, or treating yourself to a new pair of shoes. Just do SOMETHING you enjoy, and plan it in advance. It'll keep you going when you feel like the piles of books are never ending.
9. Try your very hardest to think positively. This one is tricky. If you're struggling, it's all too easy to get yourself into a rut. Exams aren't the be all and end all of life, and everything works out somehow. Try to remember that, especially when you're sat in your first or most dreaded exam. If you're a bit rubbish at being positive, talk to someone who knows you well, and I'm sure they'll remind you just exactly why you're not the awful person that you may think you are at that moment.
10. Finally, remember to breathe. For those of us that freeze in times of stress, we can sometimes forget to breathe, or hyperventilate. Fainting in the exam would be embarrassing, so breathe properly. That one is important.
So, to anyone with exams in the next few weeks, good luck! They're not an easy thing for anyone, but if you persevere and work hard, they'll soon be over and you can go back to having all the fun in the world. Don't panic, and remember that whatever I just said, the odd night with red bull, chocolate, and carbonyl chemistry until 4am is okay, if that's what you need to do - just don't tell your parents, or else you'll set them panicking, too! Most importantly, look after yourself, okay?