What is exam day like for you? Despite planning a year in advance, for me, it always comes as a bit of a surprise when exam time is actually here. A little stress comes with this deadline that, combined with other responsibilities, can make me feel as if I forgot everything I ever knew. Then there is test taking anxiety, which for me, is another layer to be aware of and manage. I find it helpful to have a few strategies that help me remember material, and that remind me how to write a good essay.
Exam days are usually hectic, with a different routine and, of course, the pressure of getting the results we want. My husband often has licensing examinations. He and his staff check into a hotel for a few days to concentrate on revising and coaching. That would be difficult for me, since I like having Jelly Bean, my familiar routine and study things around me. Right now some of my student colleagues are travelling great distances for exams and working through other challenges like professional and family responsibilities, and demanding schedules. I really admire how they manage all of these additional issues.
Fortunately, my exam center is very near our home, the team is supportive, and there is every amenity like a great café and revising area. I spend a few hours before my exam in the ‘Commons Room,’ pictured here, reviewing and preparing before exams.
Since study time somehow seems like a more precious commodity this year, and at the time when it is most needed, I spent some time thinking about what helped me to get the best results in previous exams. The most significant points are a high degree of engagement with primary and secondary texts, and having an exam plan, and essay writing structure. This helps me remember details and incorporate them into my essays.
One thing that is so important but that is always difficult for me is narrowing my selection of primary texts and limiting my focus. This year, my 25 or so for four courses are primary texts are selected based on availability of compelling scholarship and secondary reading.
My next concern is deciding on a method to remember all the details needed to write strong papers as the clock ticks in the exam room. Here are some tips I learned to use that helps keep me focused on a good revising, exam and essay writing strategy:
Early to bed and early to rise; up with the chickens between 4 and 5am, in bed around 9pm.
- Exercise, nutrition and hydration; I might have less time to exercise, but I do something every day for stress relief and to help stay focused.
- No television, movies, etc.
- Scheduled time to study
- Organize my revising schedule to approximate my exam day schedule. My exams are in the morning, so my study time is in the morning.
During study sessions and in the exam room these five little helpers are easy to keep in the front of my mind:
1. How to approach an exam question: Select the questions to be attempted and note which texts to use.
Problem Identified in the Question
Evidence in the text
2. How to approach a text for close reading and analysis: F.L.I.R.T.
3. How to incorporate these points into an essay:
4. Restate the question as a thesis statement for my essay. This is quite helpful since a good thesis statement should be debatable, and it also makes sure that I answer the question the examiners are asking.
5. Rephrase and repeat the question/thesis in the essay to stay on target.
During the fog of exams having these short, easy to remember points to help stay focused is very useful. For the next two weeks I will be engaging with my selected texts using these aides.
Happy revising, and enjoy your exams!
Caowrites is studying the BA English by distance learning with the University of London International Programmes. She lives in Pittsburgh in the United States.