It’s that time of semester again and we all know that the exam period can be super stressful for many of us! Even though we know it’s coming and we have the best of intentions things often begin to unravel at the end of semester. It helps to have a plan and a reminder of some of the simplest things you can do to set yourself up for success:
Check in with yourself
Often we forget to really notice what’s going on for us. Stress can manifest in all sorts of ways but these are some common signs:
Losing touch with friends
Having trouble making decisions
Upset stomach, or feeling sick
Tense muscles and headaches
So how can you minimise the impact of stress when trying to prepare for exams and assessments?
Get into a healthy routine
It may seem like a good idea to pull an all-nighter but lack of sleep has a significant impact on your mood and energy levels. It’s hard to focus on revision when you’re sleep-deprived and your body starts to crave all sorts of things like caffeine! Try to aim for at least 7-8 hours of sleep a night and also make time to enjoy other activities like spending time with friends and family. Balance is the key!
Set realistic goals
Make a plan and divide your tasks into realistic goals with a reasonable timeframe. It can help to break each unit into sub-topics to focus on in one study session. Chunk your time down to 30-minute sessions so that you can see what your priorities really are. Make sure you allocate time for breaks as well as food and sleep! Seeing a plan in front of you can also help you stay on track so try printing it out or add it to your screen background.
Look after your body
We all know that nutrition plays a huge part in our wellbeing but when we feel stressed it’s easy to reach for something quick and easy. Unfortunately highly processed food and fast-release carbs can make you feel sluggish and unmotivated after the initial food high. Surround yourself with healthy snacks (fruit, nuts, energy bars, healthy smoothies, eggs etc) and try to plan your main meals during the entire study period. Drink plenty of water and eat a balanced diet to give yourself the energy you need to power through this intense time!
Look after your mind
When you start to feel anxious or overwhelmed it helps to just stop and re-set. Take some time to close your eyes and just focus on your breathing for a few minutes. By calming down your breathing you can decrease your body’s response to stress and give yourself a new perspective. It’s also important to find time to exercise. Just moving your body for 30 minutes a day can increase your energy, focus, and boost your endorphins! You don’t have to fit in a full gym workout – just a walk will do.
Balancing study with everything that’s going on can be a real challenge. Just remember that it’s only for a short time and there is always someone at QUT that can support you. There are also plenty of useful resources available!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
There’s so much you can do to make exam time easier. Preparation is truly the key to exam success, yet the reality is, many students leave revision until the week, or night before the exam itself.
Here are a few common strategies to help get you in the zone:
Before the exam
Plan out your time using a study planner or time management app.
Try to remove distractions so you remain focused.
Make notes and then make notes of notes.
Find out what type of exam it is and if there are past papers you can look at.
Check where and what your exam is and note the details.
Check Blackboard for notes or guides from your lecturers on what to study.
Eat healthily and sleep well, also try to limit your alcohol intake.
Exercise and look after yourself.
Study with friends.
The night before the exam – pack the things you need in your bag: pens, pencils, calculator, water, student ID, snacks and briefly look over your notes. Set an alarm and then allow yourself time to relax.
On the day of the exam – leave home early, take your bag, and remember to breathe.
During the exam
Read all the questions and if allowed, mark the ones you are confident answering.
When allowed, write down anything you can think of in bullet point form while reading the exam paper.
Look at how much questions are worth, allocate your time, and answer accordingly.
Work logically through the questions you know you can answer and then work on the remaining questions.
Don’t get distracted by other people. They have their own strategy for answering questions, so you shouldn’t compare yourself with them.
Check out QUT’s guide for preparing for exams to access more resources.
Exams coming up? For most of us the pressure of exams and final assessment submissions cause some level of stress. Stress is your response to pressure and while a small amount can be useful to keep you focused if it becomes too much exam revision can seem impossible.
The good news is that there are so many apps out there to help deal with this intense time:
Exam Countdown is a free app to keep track of exam and assessment dates. It provides a handy visual reminder of all your important upcoming dates. You can keep focused by easily checking how much time you’ve got to revise before you sit each exam. We love the fact that you can colour code all your exams and tests and use icons as a quick visual reference for each unit. You can also add notes to remind yourself of anything you need to bring on the day. Available on both Android and iOS.
Mind mapping is a great study method as it helps organise your thoughts, spark your memory and come up with new ideas. With SimpleMind you can create your own mind maps, or choose one of the auto layouts and fill it in. If you like finding creative ways to revise for exams then this app is for you. The free version does plenty but the full version is reasonably priced too. Available on all platforms.
Studies show that meditation can help you stay on task longer, switch between things less frequently and enjoy your tasks more. Headspace is a popular app, with meditations to help you through all phases of your life. The Focus pack can help you de-clutter your thoughts and sharpen your concentration, even under pressure. Try the free version or access hundreds of hours of extra content when you subscribe.
Take a deep breath. Calm is both a call to action and a defining feature of the app’s approach to mindfulness and meditation. It’s message is simply “you’re going to get through this, and all you need to start is a moment”. There are so many new apps for meditation and mindfulness, but Calm stands out for its ease of use and attention to (soothing) detail. Try the free version on Android or iOS.
PAUSE is based on the ancient principles of Tai Chi and mindfulness practice. When you want to shake off your stress and start relaxing, this app can work wonders. Against a backdrop of soothing music, you move your finger slowly across your screen, being careful not to speed up your pace. This triggers the body’s ‘rest and digest’ response which helps you regain focus and release stress within minutes. Check it out on Android or iOS!
Don’t forget that QUT also provides free, confidential counselling services for current students!