The mention of the word alone, is capable of sending shivers down students’ spines. In some cases, it keeps them so nervous that they abstain from food as well as games. To worsen the case, students can’t escape it if they want to graduate, at least. Surely you know what it is by now; it is nothing but – exams (yes, that’s right!). You are not alone if you usually don’t feel excited about exams, quizzes, or tests; even ‘A+’ students are not immune to the same feeling. You may be unable to completely avoid the exam anxiety that hits you from time to time, but you can learn to boost your confidence in spite of the anxiety by preparing effectively for the exam. Here are 10 things to do before your exams.
1. Start preparing early: To really be at your best for an exam, it’s ideal that you begin preparing no later than a week before the exam. The reason is that you want to give yourself enough time to create an exam study plan (basically what you are to cover and when to cover them) and to properly break down the required readings or revisions over a period of time. Trying to do the entire work just one or two days before the exam may be very hectic and stressful; hence, your chances of acing the exam may be hampered.
2. Find out the exam coverage and format: I have heard it said several times that students who do really well in exams are those who are familiar with the format and coverage of the exam and not necessarily those who are smart. Honestly speaking, there is a lot of truth in this. You need to be aware of what materials will be covered on an exam (for example, chapters 1-3 of the course text, etc) as well as the exam format (i.e. short answers, multiple choice, True or False, essays, etc). This knowledge will help you focus your energy, clear your doubts and build your confidence as you prepare for an exam.
3. Revise lecture slides, class notes, and previous assignments: If it is not the first exam for a course, you may have figured out which is the prof’s focus for exam questions – lecture slides, previous assignments, course textbook, or all three. Well, whether it is the first or not, it helps to go over the lecture slides, class notes, textbook, and past assignments as questions that appear on those are testable on an exam. Profs don’t waste their time preparing lecture slides or assignment questions; they have a purpose for creating those. As you review the lecture slides, pay close attention to concepts that the prof emphasized on during the lecture as those are great clues for exam questions. Also, ensure to answer any unanswered questions on the lecture slides. For example, say, on the slides for a particular lecture the prof provided two problems, and he or she only supplied the solution to one of the problems. Be sure you are able to solve both the unsolved problem as well as the solved one. Furthermore, the prof may want to test students’ understanding of concepts covered in past assignments, so it helps to review past assignments as well. Here is another good reason why you should do all your assignments.
4. Go over sample exam questions: Visiting sample exam questions is a great way to prepare for an exam and you can’t go wrong doing this. These sample questions can be those provided in the course textbook at the end of each chapter, those supplied by the prof, or the ones you came up with yourself (just don’t cheat yourself). In fact, the more sample questions you attempt, the more confident you will be about the main exam, and the higher your chances of acing the exam; that’s if you get your hands on the right sample questions.
5. Be sure to understand key concepts and remember important facts: Exams test how good you are at grasping concepts you’ve been taught and at recalling important information. Therefore, endeavor to have a solid understanding of the main concepts discussed within the coverage of the exam. In some cases, you may have to memorize some important dates (for that History exam), theorems, logic and formulae (for that Math or Calculus exam), or diagrams (for that Chemistry or Biology exam).
6. Make use of office hours: Since they are always willing to assist students, most profs normally make themselves more available to students especially days before exams; they are more than happy to help clarify students’ doubts about the course materials. So, endeavor to maximize the profs’ office hours. The same applies for the teaching assistants.
7. Show up for the review session: In the kindness of their hearts, some profs take the time to organize review session(s) prior to the exam to ensure that students are really prepared for the exam. It will do you much good to be present at such session(s) since the prof could give out hints and important information regarding the exam. (I am not sure you know but some profs tend to actually create the exam questions a day before the exam; a more reason you should be at the review session.)
8. Get enough rest: For an early morning exam, trust me you don’t want to wake up feeling weak and uneasy on the morning of the exam due to insufficient rest the night before. Therefore, make sure you sleep well the night before. You need to make a conscious effort to cool down your blazing brain so it doesn’t blow a fuse during the exam. I understand that sleeping may be difficult because of exam anxiety; but please find a way to trick yourself to sleep either by playing lullaby or turning off the lights in your bedroom, or whatever works for you just so you can rest well before the exam. Whatever you do, before reposing, SET AN ALARM! There is nothing as saddening and frustrating as sleeping in all through an exam (writing the exam in your dream isn’t fun at all).
9. Handle the exam anxiety: Practice positive affirmation and visualization to shake off the fear. Each time the exam anxiety attacks, declare words like – “I am not afraid of the exam; I will ace it.” Or “I can do this!” Or something else you devise that will help boost your confidence. Repeat those words out loud to your hearing and watch your anxiety calm down. Motivational speakers actually recommend this as a viable strategy for combating anxiety. Besides that, visualize yourself acing the exam and leaving the exam hall smiling with confidence upon conquering the exam. Feed your mind with the images that you expect. These activities will help you maintain a positive mental attitude towards the exam, keeping your nerves down so you can concentrate on your preparation for the exam.
10. Get your tools ready:Make sure you have the following prepared: pen, pencils, and eraser with at least one spare of each, a calculator (if allowed and required; for example for a Math exam), student ID card, and any other required item as instructed by the prof.
Next I’ll be sharing things to do during the exam (i.e. while in the exam hall). So stay tuned.