Exams, essays and emotions


The time of year has once again come round for Red Bull-fuelled, all-night sessions in the library, but just what are the most important tips and tricks for last-minute essay writing (or even worse, last-minute essay planning) and revision (or, an alternative which the majority of students have decided to opt for, cramming)? Well, sticking to the students-help-students code, I have decided to present you with a list of a few vital snippets of advice to which you should at least try to adhere if you are aiming to celebrate rather than drown your sorrows on results day.

Little and often

Too many times in the past few weeks have I heard students stating that they are going to the library for some ungodly number of hours, pitching up a tent and commencing their studies again at the crack of dawn. From personal experience, advice and other available articles on the subject (See Guardian Students), I have learnt that attempting to read, write or design for 12 hours straight is simply an inefficient methodology.

If, like me, you struggle to maintain focus for more than an hour, after which you no longer take in information but simply move your eyes in a left, right, repeat motion, then you should definitely consider adopting the ‘little and often’ method. In essence, you set yourself four or five hour slots during the day, separated by at least an hour each, so that your work can have your complete, undivided attention for small, short bursts.

The breaks between studying allow your mind to relax again, and spend all of that built up energy which you have procured during the last hour on other, more entertaining activities.

Work in chunks

Whether you are working on a long essay or revising multiple modules worth of facts, statistics and theorists, dividing your workload into smaller chunks is always an effective way of helping yourself. Setting out with the intention to cover an unmanageable workload in a single session will only put you in a negative state of mind from the outset.

Take an hour or two to jot down every module of revision or chapter of essay that you need to cover by the deadline date, and split it up into sections. This way, a successful trip to the library will seem much more achievable as you have a clear picture of exactly the topics you need to revise in that particular session.

Depth, rather than breadth, seems to sum the whole idea up nicely – aim to cover smaller ideas in more detail one by one, rather than aiming to cover the whole syllabus multiple times.

Read, read and read

Gone are the days when we could simply do the bare minimum required and get away with a respectable grade, the life of an undergraduate deprives us of that blessing. Okay, enough poetic nonsense, what I’m trying to say is READ.

Reading beyond your course material will never be wasted time. Things you learn which may not seem applicable to a particular essay or exam will inevitably come in handy sooner or later (and if worst comes to worst, slot your newly acquired, extracurricular knowledge into an essay or exam answer wherever you deem it remotely applicable).

Reading further than the boundaries of your course will aid you in understanding the fundamentals much more clearly, as your wider reading will no doubt build on the basic foundations of your course material.

Keep yourself organised

It’s bad enough having to remember a seemingly impossible amount of theory work, never mind struggling to find a particular piece of the revision jigsaw. Organisation is key in such a busy and hectic time, and will aid you immensely.

Try to keep sections of revision or essay separate as much as possible, in indexed or tabbed folders if you’re feeling especially adventurous. Stressing over a lost worksheet or missing folder on your laptop is the last thing you need right now!

Help yourself by maintaining some sort of system: write a revision timetable; set yourself smaller, inter-deadlines. As horrible as it sounds, you may even have to tidy your desk for the first time this year (a task that may take longer than the revision for some).

And finally, don’t panic

Speaking from experience, panicking and getting all worked up about revision or essay writing is, in all honesty, ridiculous. If you do find yourself bordering on tears, wanting to burn every last text book in the library, take a step back. Allow yourself some time to relax.

Nobody can revise everything and remember every last word, nor can anybody write the perfect essay. Remember, there are tens of thousands of undergraduates in the same boat as you, and I feel confident enough to say, we’re all stressed!

It’s completely normal to have some pre-exam jitters, but take the time to do everything you can to help yourself, and think of the night out after your last exam or deadline!

Good luck!

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