Exam tips for University!

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School is a blessing that feels like a curse.  To have an education is what millions of people fight for on a daily basis which sadly many of us take for granted. Me included.  On the contrary, I wanted to spread some joy and hope for people who may feel they're struggling in school or need a little bit of guidance or inspiration.

A little background.  I graduated with a BSc (Hons) in Molecular Medicine and am now studying an MPh in Global Health at an elite university.  Growing up, I was never the smartest person in the room.  I wasn't naturally clever or gifted in what felt like any subject.  I was lazy, lacked motivation, and had to slay over my textbooks in order to achieve average grades or marks.  It was a constant game of 'catch up' with my fellow classmates though I was putting in hours of work everyday after school.  I've slacked immensely due to hopelessness.  I was doing the work but achieving nothing.  Overcommitment and under delivering.

Now, 20 odd years later, I have finally solidified the best way to study for me.  Yes it took far too long but better late than never right?

Here is the step by step process in how I prepare and study for my upcoming exams.

1. Read the syllabus.  It is critical that you are aware of what to expect when you show up for lectures.  Make a list of all the topics on a piece of paper for each subject or module that you are taking.  Have four columns labelled: Lecture/Topic number, Lecture/Topic title, Notes, and Revised. This will allow you to know how many topics or lectures there are that need to be tackled and the title or what the lecture will outline.  The 'notes column' can be ticked as you finish producing notes for the relevant topic or lecture and once exam time comes around, you can tick off whether or not you have revised said topic.  This method allows you to visually track whether or not you have tackled and made notes for each topic and how much there is to study.

2. Make or begin notes for your lecture ON THE DAY.  I couldn't stress this enough.  You do not want to be frantically making notes with your exams looming around the corner.  This will just cause added unnecessary stress.  It is must better for you to make all of your notes on the day of your lecture. This will aid in consolidating your understanding of the topic so you can go into the next one more confident in the material.  If possible, it may help in making lecture notes before your lecture so it can act as a revision class.  Some teachers may not make notes accessible online until after class so this may not be probable for most.  In addition, by making it a habit of doing your notes on the day of the lecture, the material will feel a lot less foreign to you when it comes to revision.

3. Have notes in the format of your examination.  If your exam is multiple choice, then bullet point notes would be most preferred.  My mid terms and end of year examinations consisted of multiple choice in my first and second year of my BSc.  The rest of my exams were essay based.  For essays, have your notes in an essay format.  This will allow you to produce a mind-map quickly in the exam and easily write down everything you know that is relevant to the question at hand.

4. Do the past papers.  Past papers not only test your understanding or knowledge on a subject, but are great insights in terms of exam format or detecting possible patterns.  For example, in my first year, I found that a lot of essay questions were recycled.  Therefore, I made sample essays of all the questions and emailed them to my lecturers to get marked.  A majority of them replied with advice on how I can attain the highest marks if that essay were to come up.  If you are struggling with time, then instead of doing a full blown essay, you can make mind maps of past paper questions.  For technical subjects such as mathematics, it is helpful to look at past papers to identify the method or apply your knowledge under different circumstances.  Remember: past papers are made accessible for a reason.  Lecturers want you to do well.  How well you do in their class is a direct reflection on how good they are as a teacher so of course they are ready to help you 9 times out of 10.

5. When revising: teach, write, or talk out loud.  It is so vital to be active in your revision.  Passive studying is reading over the same text multiple times.  This will not help you achieve top marks. Active revision will allow it to stick in your brain for longer.  After reading a set of notes or a passage, either try to write it down from memory or say it out loud if you're lacking time.  In addition, teach the topic to someone or simply yourself in the mirror.  Personally, I align all my stuffed animals and talk to them about intense metabolic processes.  I couldn't have gotten through my bachelors without my teddy bears.  Active learning will allow you to know exactly which areas are your strengths and weaknesses.

6. Don't just revise the easy stuff.  I know it's tempting to boost our confidence by becoming experts in topics that are like second nature to us.  However, that will not allow us to reel in the best grades. It is important to allocate a large amount of time to subjects that tend to blow over our heads.  For me, it was biochemistry.  I struggled to remember processes, enzymatic reactions, and other fancy shmancy things.  However, because I knew this was my weakness, I put forth more effort in this module and managed to come out with a first class mark (grade A) after my exam and was in the top 5 of my year. This boosted my confidence to wicked heights.  It's always a great feeling to master what you initially felt was a huge difficulty.  As I've mentioned before, the fences of your mind are your greatest obstacles.

7. Leave yourself at least 4-5 days to study per subject.  Using these tips so far, nothing in your exam will be 'new material'.  You would've glossed over the topics at least once whilst making notes. Therefore, I found that having at least 4 full days to study before an exam is more than enough to allow you to do well and achieve top marks.  You would not need to pull any all nighters though late nights and early mornings may be a given.

8. Revise each individual topic of a subject at least 3 times.  Three always seemed to be the magic number.  The day before my exam, I would read through all of my notes and material at least three times.  This allowed me to remember minute details that could easily slip someone's mind. I also tend to sleep easier at night knowing I've covered everything necessary.  On the day of the exam, I designate enough time to be able to read through all of my material, or at least the topics that I found difficult, at least once.

9. Tackle at least 75% of the subject.  If you're struggling with time, try to learn at least 75% of that module to the best of your ability like the back of your hand.  If possible, skim through the last 25% nearer exam time.  Sometimes, material just doesn't stick.  There have been times in my past where I had to be smart and selective with my revision.  I indeed have omitted 5 out of 20 lectures because the topics were just far too complicated or intricate to be learnt well by myself.

10. Understand before you study.  This ties in when you're making your notes.  Whilst making your notes after your lecture, make sure you understand what is being taught.  That way, come exam time, you will be a lot quicker in memorising the material

11. Study groups.  Sometimes, studying with others is helpful.  It allows you to ask questions or see someone else's interpretation on the topic.  However, these are not always efficient.  As a result, make it a point to do your own revision beforehand and write down any gaps that need filling before you arrive.  That way, you can get the information you need and you've compensated by studying your own material first.  I find that it is a lot better to revise with people NOT on your course.

12. Allocate a study area.  I can't study in bed.  Before I sleep, I may graze over my notes but I cannot do active revision, only passive.  Therefore, try and find a place that you associate with work. For example, in my first year I had a desk in the living room that I used for studying.  In my second year, I liked coffee shops for producing notes or essays and I also enjoyed just studying on my bedroom floor.  My third year was a mix between coffee shops, the library, and the floor.  It doesn't have to be an 'out of this world' study area.  As I described, it can simply be the floor next to your bed or a desk.

13. Pace yourself.  During your exam, it is important to pace yourself.  Know whether you are someone that tends to have ample amount of time left over (me) or someone that writes till the last second.  Whilst doing past papers, time yourself to get an idea of your pace during an exam. Adrenaline rushes may speed some people up or cause a mental block.  If ever you find yourself stuck or struggling, circle that question and come back to it later.  Do the easy questions first to build up your confidence.  Take deep breathes and control your heart rate and breathing to the best of your ability.

14. Time passes.  This suffering, struggle and monotonous routine is only temporary.  The amount of acute pain and irritation you are feeling now should be your fuel.  The constant reminder to yourself that this will be over and be more than worth it later should motivate you.  Do not regret not spending this time wisely later if your marks are below par.  You can do this. You will do this.  Take it from a girl that was told she would never amount to much, now achieving and fulfilling all her dreams.
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