So, You’re Looking for Exam Day Tips?
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness … it was the exam season.
Charles Dickens got one thing right: peasants in France suffered the most in the days leading up to the French Revolution – almost as much as students suffer as they await a big exam. Luckily for you, you’re not in Dickens’s novel, and you have access to StudySmarter, which means you can banish your exam anxiety!
Depending on how much you’ve studied before the big exam, you’ll probably feel different degrees of nervousness, anticipation, or uncertainty. But don’t despair because there are ways to alleviate all of these.
Important Tips before the Exam Day Arrives
While this might be a moot point at this stage, if your exam is still some time away, I would suggest buckling down and hitting the books. The best way to reduce unpleasant emotions before a big test is to study well ahead of time (don’t you roll your eyes at me!). As soon as you know when your exam will be, you should note it down in a planner and organise study and revision times. Also, make sure you take into account some extra days when life happens and you cannot devote any energy or headspace to studying.
Structuring your revision times should include at least two rounds of reading your materials, taking notes, and making mind maps to organise information. And please don’t forget about getting enough rest (pulling multiple all-nighters can only ramp up the stress, so try to avoid that). Make sure to seek help from a tutor or your professors ahead of time, as last-minute, panicky questions usually don’t yield much in terms of progress or greater comprehension.
Stick to These Tips before the Exam Day
Now, you’ve heard it all before: Ideally, you don’t have to study the night before the exam. Ha ha. I wonder if people dishing advice like that have ever actually been students. The fact is that you’re more likely to be cramming on the day before the exam than not, so let’s take a more reasonable approach. Here are some tips to help you with your last-minute exam preparations:
- Review the entire syllabus. I cannot help but say what you probably don’t want to hear: By this point, you should have gone through the entire syllabus. If you’ve been diligent, the last day should be for revision only. Go through your notes and have a printout of the topics covered in class. That way, you’ll ensure that you’ve covered all major themes.
- Memorise keywords. As a next step, you can highlight and write down keywords and the important concepts about the main themes. Don’t go about copy-pasting big chunks of text or painting your notes with a roller – keywords ONLY. When you have them, memorise them. For example, when I prepared for my exam on James Joyce, some keywords were Ireland, mapping, modernism, Ulysses, stream of consciousness, and epiphanies (shout out to my literature peeps!). Remembering keywords in the exam will give you a great starting point, and you can work your way up from there. Also, try and use mnemonics to help you remember your notes (you can check out our post on this).
- Go over important dates and facts. Names, years, formulae, verses – all those lovely things you have to learn by heart. The day before the exam is a good day to make sure they haven’t expired from your brain as we tend to forget such details easily.
- Check out past papers again. While it’s likely you’ve already done it, going through past papers will help you get into the right mindset for your big day. While the test may be different, chances are that most areas of interest are highlighted in old exams and will reappear in some shape or form (and, to be honest, many professors do repeat old questions here and there, often on purpose).
- Avoid panic-makers. Boy, do we all know one of those! You know the type: The ones who always raise the alarm, panic, discover some teeny bit of information that somehow overturns everything they’d learnt. All that jazz. Except, there’s nothing jazzy about dealing with these people. Don’t engage with those peers or even friends who love to talk (secretly brag) about what they know best and what insignificant detail shaped their whole understanding of the topic. Sure, they may be your friends, but your peace is more important than their panic.
- Do something nice for yourself. It’s not all about studying – sometimes it’s about self-care. Devote some downtime to yourself. Watch a movie, read a book, go for a walk, or get your nails done – do whatever makes you feel good. A close friend of mine used to get (without fail) full face massages with cucumbers on the eyes before big exams. I am too lazy for that, but I usually treat myself to a nice cup of very sugary coffee.
- Go to bed early. I cannot stress this enough – getting enough sleep before the exam day is of paramount importance. Even if you’re terribly nervous, if you go to bed early, you might toss and turn for a bit, but you’ll fall asleep eventually. Don’t make it worse by going to bed past midnight and THEN tossing and turning – you’re not helping yourself by showing up tired or, even worse, oversleeping. Do your evening routine, walk your dog, or read a book unrelated to your studies, but hit the sheets as early as you can.
If You Really Need Them – Study Tips One Day before the Exam
Notice how I haven’t mentioned anything about learning in the previous section. That’s because I would advise you against trying to cover any major topic you’ve never seen before. No judgement here because sometimes you’re bombarded with tests, assignments, and projects and cannot manage to learn every little detail – and that’s OK. Instead of trying to squeeze another 100 pages into your (probably already overwhelmed) brain, try some of these tips (including harnessing the 80/20 rule, which we cover in our post on three productivity principles):
- Skip magical solutions. While it may be tempting to start googling all those magical lifehacks that will boost your memory, it’s better to steer clear of any learning techniques or memory-boosting activities that you’ve never tried before. Stick with what you do best – be it simple note-taking and revision, mind maps, or listening to recorded lessons. Introducing any new method will only cause discord and confusion, and you don’t want that.
- If you can’t let go – check the basics. If you really can’t accept just giving up on a particular chapter or theme for your exam, don’t start thinking about details now. Instead, learn the most essential points. In fact, maybe other resources will help you more than your textbooks. Check out our StudySmarter App: we have tons of topics and subjects covered in an easy-to-digest and memorable style, and what you find there will be more than enough to answer a question satisfactorily.
- Pretend you’re in the exam. Visualisation is a powerful tool when studying. Pull out your flashcards and notes and pretend that you’ve just got them as exam questions. Recite your answers as you would in the exam – you can even pretend your teacher is there. By imagining the situation in as much detail as possible, you’re mentally preparing for the actual exam situation, which can alleviate stress and anxiety. When you appear in the actual exam tomorrow, you’ll be calmer as you have already ‘seen’ it all.
- Organise group revision (at your own risk). It can be pretty relaxing to meet up with friends and cross-question one another, only to top it all off with a drink or some delicious dessert. Spending time with your friends and colleagues will do you good. However, if most of your friends tend to panic before exams or poison you with their frightful details, skip the get-together.
- Go through old mistakes. Instead of learning a bunch of new things, review some of the mistakes you used to make when you were studying. This way, you’ll alert your mind to such examples and likely recognise them in the exam.
- Avoid desperate dystopian projections. Even if you feel like you’re not ready enough or that failing this exam may be the end of the world, I’m here to tell you that it’s not. Even if the worst happens, there will always be chances to repeat the test or course (seriously, it’s ALL GOOD!). Instead of spiralling into the abyss of apprehension, think about something nice you’ll do after the exam. Try to relax, get into a positive mindset, and go to your happy place, wherever it may be.
- Get ready for the exam day. Pack your bag and all necessities (pencils, pens, rulers, water, snacks, etc.) and leave them somewhere visible. Charge your phone and make sure you’ve checked how to get to the exam venue if it’s somewhere you’ve never been. Make sure your ID or student card is also there. Again, get to bed on time and set the alarm.
When It’s Finally There: Exam Day Tips
Time has a disobliging habit of speeding up when you desperately need it to slow down – wise words from Harry Potter as he prepares for his second task in the Triwizard Tournament. While you may not be heading for a lake full of angry mermaids, the chances are that you’ve noticed this particular shortcoming of time – it just won’t stop for anything.
The time is up, the day is here … so what now? I’ve got you covered here, too!
- Do your morning routine. Get up at a regular time, stretch, do a workout, or walk your dog. Now is the prime time to keep your routine because it will uphold a sense of normalcy on exam day. The sun is up, and the world indeed spins – and so should you!
- Eat a nutritious breakfast. Don’t skip it under any circumstances, even if you’re feeling nervous. It’s much better to eat some healthy dish (even if it’s small, like a smoothie or an omelette) than to get a headache in the middle of the exam because you’re starving.
- Stay away from your books. If you’re going to revise anything, go over your keyword lists; now is not the time to get confounded over something new.
- Leave the house on time. Remember Uncle Murphy? That silly old goose who always said that if something bad could happen, it would. Yeah, nobody in the family liked him, but now’s not the time to prove him wrong. Life works in funny ways, and it’s better not to count on public transport being completely punctual, traffic being favourable, or maps being reliable. Better leave early and avoid the drama.
- Go to the toilet before the exam. Exams can be long – don’t risk it.
- Continue avoiding panicking people. Seriously, they should cut it out or take some meditation classes.
- Write your name on the exam paper. You wouldn’t be the first one to forget to do it! Spare yourself the administrative nightmare of proving your handwriting and identity.
- Check the other side of the paper. I was always one of those paranoid students who made sure there were REALLY no more questions on the other side of the paper. Unfortunately, I also witnessed a colleague handing in his paper too quickly (*panic*), only for him to realise a little too late that another page was glued together by mistake. Check everything, just in case.
- Read the questions carefully and answer the ones you’re sure about first. Leave the difficult ones for later. Better to invest time into what you already have in the bag than what is likely to turn into a meltdown.
- Treat yourself. Seriously. However it went, now is the time to celebrate the end of the exam. Don’t go about checking the answers or comparing results with others; just focus on yourself and go on living your best life.
Things to Remember for the Last Day Exam Preparation
To quickly recap – because you’re probably eager to get ready for your exam – here’s what you should do before the exam and on the big day:
- Avoid trying to learn something completely new.
- Revise the most important concepts as well as dates/names/details.
- Stay away from people who panic.
- Be nice to yourself and take time to relax.
- Go to bed early and set the alarm.
On the day of the exam, make sure to get up on time, have a healthy breakfast, and hit the road well ahead of time (because you really never know). Check whether your ID and stationery are there, and most importantly, take a deep breath and smile: you’ve got this!