It has been over two weeks since my last exam, hence I have come out of hibernation, which usually starts many months before the actual examinations. That should explain why I have been so busy in the past two weeks clearing up all the mess I created while I was in hibernation, spending time with my family (who are so glad to finally see me without a mug of tea – read: ‘caffeine’ – in my hand), catching up with friends, clearing out my cupboards, and of course, planning my vacation. In fact, I’m already on my long over-due much awaited vacation!
While most of you would be expecting this post to be about how I will be spending my vacation, on the contrary, in this post I will be using my examination experience to guide other students on how to approach their examinations. I do realise that everyone is done with their examinations, and this should have probably been posted before the examinations began. However, having just gone through my third and final year examinations, I feel the need to talk about what I have learnt during my examination experience as one learns much more when you can relate to an experience. And since it is all fresh in my mind – just a week old – I will be going ahead with it now rather than later. The summers can be used as a time to reflect on how you have been studying in the past, and how you would like to change your way of studying in the future, if needed.
First of all, what I have realised over the past three years, is that no two students and no two courses can have the same prescription for studying. While that may seem understood already, it is much simpler than that. Some students are better at numerical courses, and some are better at theoretical courses. Some students are better at understanding, and some are better at remembering. Some students need to spend more time reading, while some need more time for written practice. Similarly, some courses are purely numerical, some are purely theoretical, and some are a mixture of both numbers and theory, with varying weights on the two for different courses. Some courses require more time than others because of the kind of content that they hold and the paper pattern of those particular courses.
Moreover, some courses are such that they must be constantly updated according to the rapidly changing world and events taking place around us, and hence studying for these courses does not just pertain to the subject guide and essential readings but goes beyond that. Therefore, it is essential for all students to assess themselves at the beginning of each academic year, with respect to each course that they are taking, so that they can have a rough idea of where they stand. While you cannot really assess yourself on a course that you have not even studied yet, or taken any classes for yet, a rough idea can put you on the right track and help you devise a strategy of studying that is best suited for you.
Secondly, a general guideline that applies to almost all courses is that examination preparation for each course is divided into two categories; 50% for the subject guide, essential readings and other notes or journals, and 50% for past examination papers and their examination commentaries. Again, while every student may have a different view of this, neither of the two categories must be ignored altogether as together these result in an entire process of reading, understanding, practising and remembering, each of which are important in its own way. Two of these that we often do not focus on are practising and remembering. This is something I myself am guilty of at some point in time. These two are very important because at times we understand every theory or concept, but when it comes to attempting the paper while sitting in the examination hall, we find ourselves blank, due to either lack of practice, or lack of remembering what we have previously understood, or a mixture of both.
When it comes to practising past papers, I have always found it useful to refer back to my teachers with the questions I have problems with. Understanding the solution to the problem, and making a conscious effort to correct it, is what takes you from a fail to a pass, or from a merit to a distinction, or any upgrade of classification in between. Making these small or big mistakes is a good thing, as learning from your mistakes makes you wiser.
Thirdly, studying for an examination is one thing, and implementing all your knowledge and preparations into those few hours in the examination hall is a whole different thing. A lot of factors determine how your exam goes. Apart from the obvious factor of how well-prepared you are, there are factors like the number of hours of sleep you have had the previous night, your mood when you wake up in the morning of the day of your exam, how good your timetable is (oh yes, that really matters), how difficult the questions in your exam are, and how comfortable the environment you are seated in is. After a horrible experience with absolutely no sleep at all before my A Level World History exam, I promised myself I would get a good number of hours of sleep before every exam no matter what. While I never end up getting those ‘good’ hours of sleep (which should be around 7 hours), I still make sure I get at least some sleep by hook or by crook. While I have no control over how my mood is in the morning of the day of my exam, as I always seem to be in a bad mood because of the exam tension, sleep does play a role in that as well. I have had a bad timetable and I have had a good timetable, and naturally a good timetable gives you more time to prepare in between your exams, to get more sleep, to relax and to unwind. Once you have started the exam, when a particular question or an overall exam seems to be difficult, do not panic. I repeat, do not panic! That is what I tell myself when I get stuck, and that gets me through the whole paper. I attempt as much of the paper as I can in the limited time that I have, even if I am not sure about an answer.
So if you are done with your examinations, now would be the time to get a good break and enjoy your holidays and then to come back with a new strategy after a self-assessment if you feel that you need a change in strategy. If you are satisfied with your present way of studying, that will do too, because only you can assess yourself; no one can do it better than you can. Again, all of these are just guidelines, and it is up to you to adjust those guidelines according to your potential, strengths, weaknesses and objectives.
Best of luck to everyone for their results!
Zara is studying the BSc (Hons) Economics at a recognised teaching institution, University College of Islamabad (UCI), in Islamabad, Pakistan.