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Top tips for exam prep

Near the end of the semester it can be such a relief to hand in that last assignment or submit that final blog post, but for most students the work is far from over. Preparing for exams can be a real challenge when motivation and energy levels are low so it helps to have a few effective strategies in place.

Set up your study environment
  • Display your timetable and let everyone in the house know you are preparing for exams
  • Set up a dedicated space for study to help you focus
  • If you’re studying in the library choose a quiet spot and use headphones to block out noise
  • Create a plan for the exam period – including relaxation/sleep habits/nutrition/exercise
  • If you live alone prepare meals in advance and freeze them for easy access during exams
  • Think about how you can limit distractions such as online notifications, chat and social media
  • Own your time
  • Make a detailed timetable for each exam (unit) – try concentrating on one per day
  • Make sure you know the details for each exam – log in to Blackboard for updates from lecturers
  • Check that you understand the type of exam that you will be doing
  • Organise and store revision notes so that you can refer to them easily
  • Break your study into 30-minute chunks and plan exactly what you will focus on
  • Try different methods to revise content
  • Summarise the key points for each week’s topic
  • Quiz yourself to identify what you need to work on
  • Use apps such as Quizlet or stick to hardcopy cards to carry around with you.
  • Make a list of things you’re not confident about you may want to do
  • Create your own set of questions to answer
  • Find a study buddy and test each other
  • Try any practice tests that are made available to you – note what you found difficult
  • While it’s important to have a study plan and stick to a routine don’t underestimate the power of a break. Give yourself a morning or afternoon off during exam time. See friends, go shopping, watch a movie, do some exercise. Taking some time out will refresh you so that you can return to study with a clear mind and purpose.

    And, if it’s all getting too much for you make sure you reach out for support. Talk to friends, family, peers or access the free services at QUT Student Counselling and Welfare.

    Make sure your mental health and wellbeing are a priority!

    How to prepare for your timed online assessment

    When it comes to any type of assessment the key to success is preparation. This is no different for online assessment tasks and exams. Having a clear head and being prepared can make a huge difference to the outcome.

    Preparing the technology
  • Update and double check required software (e.g. RStudio, MATLAB, Mozilla Firefox, etc).
  • Install Mozilla Firefox; this is the recommended QUT browser for online assessment (Internet Explorer and other browsers may cause issues).
  • Restart your computer to free up any memory.
  • Once restarted, only open the apps you need to complete your assessment.
  • Check your unit’s Blackboard site and HiQ for who to contact if you need support.
  • Preparing the space
  • Let your housemates/ family know when you plan to begin your assessment.
  • Set up your desk with only what you need
  • Get comfortable; make sure your chair, desk and computer are arranged at an appropriate height and angle.
  • Address any potentially annoying distractions in the room (e.g. creaky doors, loud ticking clocks etc).
  • Ensure the space has good lighting.
  • Preparing yourself
  • Have notes ready and pages bookmarked; organise them into themes or categories and use labels to help you find things quickly.
  • Plan time for your assessment; allocate time blocks to peruse, answer and revise the different sections. Also allow enough time toward the end for uploading files.
  • Turn off your other devices to avoid being distracted by texts, phone calls, notifications, etc.
  • Take 5 minutes before you begin to do some light stretches and breathing.
  • During your assessment
  • Read all instructions carefully.
  • Stick to your time plan – don’t allow yourself to be stuck on one question or problem.
  • Check that your answers are inserted correctly and are in an acceptable format for the system.
  • Follow all directions regarding academic integrity. QUT has systems in place to check for this.
  • Tests can be set up with different options, so each test you take may be different to one you have taken before. Your lecturer, tutor or unit coordinator may give you details about the test’s settings, and you will also see a screen summarising the settings as you enter the test. Check out Preparing for Exams for more tips on revision and time management.

    It’s ok to take a break

    As a student it’s really easy to focus on all the things you ‘have to’ get done and forget to look after your own health and wellbeing. As the semester goes by and there are assessments looming self-care often moves down the list of priorities or even drops off completely. When you are stressed and anxious about everything you have on your plate it can be hard to see things differently but you can start with some small changes.

    Change your daily routine

    Change doesn’t have to be massive. There are so many things we can do to look after our health and wellbeing without going to too much effort. Think about something you enjoy doing and build it into your routine. Start the day with your favourite music and a healthy breakfast. Take a walk, do some gardening or join a friend for a workout.

    Be nice to yourself

    It’s easy to be our own worst critic when we’re feeling the pressure but we can turn things around by being a little nicer to ourselves. Write a positive note and stick it to your screen. Treat yourself to your favourite food. Download some new music or buy some stationery to organise your study.

    Shift focus with a podcast

    Listening to something non-study related can be a great way to shift your focus while still staying engaged and informed. We really are spoilt for choice but here are a few great podcasts about life, the mind, and human behaviour.

    podcastoneaustralia.com.au/podcasts/the-briefing

    tofop.com/wilosophy

    abc.net.au/radionational/programs/allinthemind/

    Remember – it’s okay to take a break! In fact, it’s often just what you need to refresh your mind and be more productive.

    How to be more critical in your writing

    Have you ever been told your ‘writing is too descriptive‘ or ‘you need more critical analysis‘? This is common feedback on written assessment and a source of frustration for many students. While some description is necessary most uni assessment tasks require you to produce more analytical and critical writing. This shows that you are engaging in current academic debates and have evaluated the research relevant to your discipline.

    So, what does it mean to be critical?

    In order to be a more critical writer you need to be critical throughout the whole writing process.
    This involves:

  • questioning what you read and not necessarily agreeing with it.
  • looking for reasons why you shouldn’t accept something as being correct or true.
  • identifying problems with arguments or methods, or referring to criticisms of these.
  • suggesting ways in which something could be improved (if required).
  • sometimes reflecting on your own behaviour/attitudes/performance.
    Demonstrate your understanding

    Your writing needs to show how you have interpreted the unit content and readings, how you have used that information to demonstrate your understanding, and what your position is on the topic. This doesn’t mean that you are including you opinion (unless asked to) but you are building an academic argument based on what you know and the evidence you have.

    The way you structure your argument and the quality of the evidence you use to support your claims illustrate your thought process and how well you have understood the issue or topic.

    Support your argument with quality evidence

    Make sure you always use evidence to help you strengthen your position. Synthesise sources to ensure you answer the reader’s potential questions and counter any opposing arguments.

    For most assignments you don’t need to provide a lot of background or historical information so you should keep descriptive statements to a minimum. Focus on providing more analysis and evaluation to demonstrate your interpretation of the facts, and support your arguments by explaining the significance, outlining consequences and/or implications and making recommendations.

    Tips for being more critical
  • Don’t just describe something. Make sure your writing also identifies the significance of the issue/evidence.
  • Rather than simply explaining what the theory says go further and show why that theory is relevant.
  • It’s also not enough to outline the method/intervention/treatment. You need to demonstrate how appropriate it is.
  • Make sure your writing always answers the question so what?
  • For useful phrases to use in your writing check out Manchester Phrasebank’s section on Being Critical.
    And if you really want to learn more try this free online course from Future Learn

    Procrastination is your enemy during exam time

    Procrastination is the art of putting off until later what you could do right now. We all do it but unfortunately it’s one of the most common reasons for poor performance during exams. If you want to ace your exams then studying needs to be the most important thing you do.

    So how do you make it a priority? Check out these strategies to help you stay on track for exams.

    Own your study space

    Creating good study habits relies on finding a space in which you can be most productive. This may be somewhere quiet where you’re on your own or it may even be in a space where you are surrounded by people and noise. Some people listen to music while others require absolute silence to study. Whatever works for you. The key is to find your preferred space and stick with it so you can create a consistent study routine.

    Make a plan

    It seems obvious but careful planning is essential for effective exam preparation. Make sure you know exactly what is going to be covered in each exam – check Blackboard for unit outlines and any other information about the weeks or topics included in the exam. Then plan out each day of your study period by dividing your available time into chunks of 30 mins to 1 hour. For each time slot plan what unit and topic you are going to revise. You can break this down even further by creating a checklist for each topic and ticking things off as you go.

    Get organised

    Once you have a plan in place the next step is to arrange all your notes from lectures, tutorials and readings into some kind of logical order. Use unit outlines and lecture topics to organise your notes and rewrite the main points. Try and add diagrams and mind maps to connect the content where possible. If you don’t understand something or need more information then do some research so that you feel more confident about answering any quesions about the content. Summarise each topic further to about 2-5 pages by rewriting only the major points. Then just before the exam condense your notes down to one page.

    Test yourself

    One of the best ways to revise content is to test yourself or have someone else test you. Access any practice exams that have been provided and use chapter quizes from your textbooks to help with sample questions. Create a bank of questions or use flascards to keep checking your knowledge and understanding. You can use apps such as Quizlet or stick to hardcopy cards to carry around with you. This is an effective way of identifying gaps and prioritsing which topics your need to spend more time on.

    Take a break from social media

    We all know that surfing the net and social media can take up huge amounts of our time. You might start out checking a few messages and then find yourself spending a couple of hours scrolling through social media or watching videos. Why not take a complete break during exam time so that you can focus on your revision? If you can’t give it up altogether then make it part of your daily study plan so there’s a limit to how long you spend online. For example, allocate an hour at night or at lunch time when you need a break from study.

    Access resources and support

    Sometimes the stress of preparing for exams can lead to anxiety, depression and fear which stops you from being productive. If you find yourself struggling emotionally reach out to family, friends, peers or uni support services.
    You can also access free, confidential counselling by qualified professionals.

    Check out other QUT resources for successful exam prep.

    Top 3 Write Up tips

    Write Up is a wonderful support service for students and I feel so lucky to be one of the facilitators for the team.
    We get students to work together, give feedback and provide support for understanding, responding and structuring assignment tasks, checking and integrating research, and help with language.
    So far, we’ve had students from a wide array of faculties, and I thought I would share the most common issues that students have asked us for help with.

    Here are my top three writing tips
      1. Before you even set pen to paper, get organised! Gather all your resources together from your tutes and lectures (especially your assignment task sheet with the criteria!). Now you’re all set to begin. Your task sheet is your treasure map. It is your guide to what you need to cover in your assignment.

      2. Keep your sentences short for clarity—if you see any sentences that are running over 3 or 4 lines, it’s time to break them up with full stops!

      3. Always be specific about the ‘subject’ of your sentence and who you are referring to. For example, if you are currently referring to your theorists as ‘they’, it’s time to use their name, or be more specific about their role. Make your writing as clear for the reader as you can. If you only use words like ‘they’ or ‘she/he’ the reader won’t know if you’re talking about the ‘nurses’ or the ‘patients’. Don’t make them guess!

    We look forward to seeing you in one of our Write Up sessions.
    They’re fun and helpful and we can’t wait to meet you all.

    Anna
    Write Up facilitator

    How to feel confident presenting online

    Now more than ever we’re being asked to embrace technology and step out of our comfort zones to present information online. There are so many amzaing tools out there to create a presentaion but it takes a bit of work for most of us to actually feel confident in front of a camera. Trial and error can be the best way to get comfortable with new technology but it also helps to have a plan.

    Prepare, prepare, prepare
    Like any presentation the key is preparation. This means getting started early and planning.

  • Create a clear focus with 1-3 key message(s).
  • Revise your drafts and edit out unnecessary content.
  • Make notes for each screen / section.
  • Think about how you are going to engage the audience.
  • Practise timing of spoken presentation.
  • Become familiar with the technology (eg. Zoom, Viva Voce, Collaborate etc)
    No matter which web conferencing software you use the key is understanding its features. Make sure you know how to control the following:

  • Screen sharing and presenter view.
  • Playing an embedded video (if relevant).
  • Using a spotlight or highlight on a speaker.
  • Setting up and testing audio and video.
  • Set everything up fully to achieve the best results
    It’s also important to choose a suitable location for your presentation. Make sure you find a space which is quiet and has good lighting. This may mean booking a study room in the library or going to a friend’s house when they’re out. If at home let others know that you are presenting live or recording so you’re not interrupted.

    Before you start, think about your appearance.

  • Wear appropriate clothing – smart casual (no PJs!).
  • Angle your camera just above eye level to frame your shoulders and face.
  • Keep your face well-lit with natural light, or place a lamp behind the camera, towards your face.
  • Remove personal items or anything visible in the background.
  • Do a final check of the technology.

  • Test earphones, phone camera or webcam.
  • Close down all unnecessary browsers, windows or apps and turn notifications off.
  • Have notes ready (printed or in presenter view).
  • Test slideshare settings in presenter view.
  • Check the audio and video settings.
  • Log into the web meeting on another device to check the audience view.

  • Tips for pre-recording your presentation

    Some assessment tasks require you to record your presentation and upload the file. The same principles apply but you may need to do things a bit differently when pre-recording.

  • Practise making a short recording then watch it back.
  • Pause when you transition between slides or present complex information.
  • Speak from notes rather than ‘reading’.
  • Breath and smile as you talk.
  • Follow assessment task instructions carefully.
  • Don’t forget to hit record!
  • Whether you’re presenting in person or online being a clear, confident and engaging communicator is an essential skill to have so it’s worth investing some time and energy into it. Check out more QUT resources on presenting online.

    Effective writing with APA 7th edition

    When writing university assignments you have to acknowledge quotations, information and ideas taken from other authors. At QUT the four commonly used styles for citing and referencing are APA, Harvard, AGLC and Vancouver. APA Style is used in many disciplines but it is most commonly required in Health and Education.

    This online tutorial has been adapted from APA’s tool for teaching and learning effective writing. It takes you through the basics of seventh edition APA Style, including format, and organisation; academic writing style; grammar and usage; tables and figures; in-text citations, paraphrasing, and quotations; and reference list format and order.

    You can also find more information on seventh edition APA Style in the official Publication Manual (7th ed.) and the Style and Grammar Guidelines section of the APA Style website.

    These days there are also heaps of tools that can help you manage your readings and referencing. While they might seem to make things quicker and easier, it’s important to know that they are not 100% reliable. Make sure you fully understand the elements and construction of citing and referencing.

    Detailed examples can be found on QUT cite|write which has been designed to help you create references that meet the requirements of the university and your specific units. For EVERY assessment task you do make sure you check the task instructions carefully and ask your lecturer/tutor if you are not sure which style you need to use.

    Top tips for joining online sessions

    It’s safe to say that we’ll all be joining live online sessions through one of the many tools avaiable. Whether it’s through Collaborate Ultra, Zoom, Skype or another platform it helps to know what’s expected and how you can participate successfully.

    Before the session

  • Find a quiet space where you can concentrate fully.
  • Make sure you have a reliable Internet connection.
  • If possible use a USB headset with a microphone.
  • Test the audio and video before you start.
  • Make sure you are familiar with the platform controls etc.
  • Add a profile image to create a friendlier more connected environment (nothing too weird!).
  • In the session

  • Mute your microphone and turn off your video when you join.
  • Check to see if there are any instrcutions or starter activities on screen.
  • Introduce yourself (if appropriate) or say your name when you speak for the first time.
  • Avoid interrupting other speakers and mute your mic while wiaiting.
  • Use the platform features such as chat or raising your hand to ask questions.
  • Audio and video tips

  • Don’t shout into your mic – just speak clearly in your normal voice.
  • Only turn on video when necessary or instructed to do so.
  • Position your webcam so the top half of your body is visible.
  • Be aware of what is behind you when your camera’s on. We can all see it!!!
  • Avoid busy virtual backgrounds – a plain background is best.
  • In some ways it’s easier to hide in an online session but the same manners apply as they do in person.
    Be polite, respect others and be prepared to contribute!

    How to stay connected online

    Are you finding it hard to study online? Sitting behind a screen can make you feel alone but the good news is that these days you have more ways to connect than ever before. Here are a few things you can do to stay fully connected with your course.

    Make a study plan
    Study takes time and effort so it’s important to plan your week. Make a weekly schedule of sessions to attend or participate in and the amount of time you plan to spend on each unit. Don’t forget to include deadlines for assessment tasks. Commit yourself to specific times to do the set reading, review your notes, conduct research and prepare for the weekly content in each unit. Be ready to participate in online discussion and ask questions.

    Be disciplined
    It’s so important to log in to Blackboard daily and check your QUT email. Staying up to date with unit announcements, new discussion posts and content will help you learn as well as deepen your connection with the online community. Develop your own strategy for working through the resources and posts so that you keep on top of anything new.

    Be active
    Set yourself up for success by contributing to online discussions, asking questions, and responding to fellow students. The more you engage, the more you’ll feel connected to your peers as well as the content. Make the most of apps, discussion boards, videos and other technology that helps you get involved. Make an effort to interact with your lecturers, tutors and peers whenever you have the opportunity. It’s easy to sit back and remain passive but that won’t get you the results you’re after!

    Stick together
    One of the best things about being a student is that you’re never alone! Take advantage of fellow students who truly understand the pressure of study because they’re experiencing it too. Use this opportunity to work with and learn from others. Group work can give you a wide range of perspectives and help strengthen your own knowledge. Make the most of the technology available to set up a virtual study group.

    AskQUT
    As a QUT student you have access to so many wonderful resources and support networks. It can be easy to feel overwhelmed, but the first step is often just asking a simple question. HiQ Chat is a good starting point for general questions or Chat with a Librarian for information on resources, research and referencing.

    So, don’t let sitting in front of a screen prevent you from feeling connected to your study. Make the most of your peers, university staff and technology to successfully study online.