Exam season… One of the most stressful times of our lives – when we aren’t being tested metaphorically, but actually. We start our school year full of hope and motivation, gradually feeling like we might be losing both over the semester/year. In the end, all we can think about is the best way to express our knowledge of the subjects we have studied in our examinations.
This makes the time we spend revising the syllabus, and the method(s) we choose to do so, one of the most critical features of our success in examinations. During that time we must ensure we understand the course, can remember it on our own and can handle the psychological pressures associated with this process, especially if things aren’t going as well as we had hoped.
Here are some tips that hopefully may help some of you out – but keep in mind that these aren’t meant for last-minute revisions (please avoid that!!!).
Step 1: Game Plan
Instead of diving right into the deep-end from the get-go, step into the water well-prepared and gradually. If you are like me and find it hard to stick to your schedule exactly, don’t fret. Instead, you could make a looser plan, where you just note in your calendar the due date for each topic, and develop it as you go along, keeping it flexible. Still, this is an essential step, one you must not skip over because it will hold you accountable for your day. Having any kind of concrete plan can have a calming effect, too.
Step 2: Understand
The next step is to ensure that you actually know the syllabus – that you comprehend the various elements that go into a certain topic… Thoroughly.
By the time we come around to revise, we usually forget a lot of the details, but don’t worry. Simply gather your materials, and get reacquainted with the course. Don’t focus on remembering the information right now, simply absorb. The second you find something even slightly confusing, or which appears complicated, don’t leave it till you’re satisfied that you have in fact understood it. The internet is full of articles, videos etc. on everything, so use it! Make quickly drawn mind-maps of connections between cases, facts, debates etc. to further clarify.
One of the most helpful tools for this will be your notes that you made when you were first studying the topic. The notes will give you a sufficient overview of the topic, without stressing you out like a (huge) textbook would. Even if you haven’t made notes, use the Subject Guide which is pretty sufficient to start from.
Step 3: Toolbox
To get the most out of the time you have, you need to have certain tools that will help you until the last day before an exam. Here are some of the most important ones (that you could also work for ‘Step 1’) and I’ve attached helpful links about them:
- Summarize your notes: you can do this by writing a short paragraph of each page of your notes or writing as-short-as-possible bullet points. This will help in rehashing the topic later, and will also jog your brain to process that information in a new way.
- Flashcards!: These are awesome and have come to my rescue loads of times. But be careful not to make one on every tiny detail, stick to the essentials whether its definitions, cases, dates etc – only the things without which you will not survive the exam.
- Mind maps: I personally don’t find them that useful, but for those of you who respond better to visual representation of information, this is a must! No joke. Again, don’t overdo it, try to make as few as you can – this will increase chances of recalling them later.
- Pro-Con list: wherever you find that there are two opposing opinions on a topic or a judicial decision, make a ‘for and against’ list that will neatly organize the various opinions. You’ll find it easier to memorize these than if they were written sequentially.
- Mnemonics: these can be immensely helpful, but only if you make as few as possible so your mind is not overloaded with various combinations that you find hard to recall later – trust me, that’s happened to me and it isn’t cute.
Step 4: Memorize
Once you have covered your course and are satisfied that all your concepts are clear, move on to the memorization stage. This is where the ‘Toolbox’ you have developed comes into play. The goal is to use all of those devices to achieve the highest results. Although everyone has their own way of structuring their revision process, here are some tips that might help you out:
- Videos: watching video lectures on the topic you want to study or have studied can have a twofold effect: firstly, it exposes you to a different way of thinking about the topic, and this makes your understanding dynamic and enriched, and secondly, it’s a great way of rehashing the topic in a short amount of time (so stick to shorter videos to save time). This will solidify the topic into your brain.
- Teach: by teaching someone (preferably who doesn’t know anything about what you’re saying) or some inanimate object – like toy duckies used by software engineers – you will be forced to recall and give structure to your understanding of the topic, which will help you out in answering exam questions.
- Read aloud: it’s generally accepted that the more senses you engage, the more actively your brain will respond to the information you’re reading (which is one of the reasons why writing notes is so effective for memory). Here, you engage your hearing sense as well as sight – engaging two senses trumps one.
- Test yourself: this is the most important ingredient to ensuring that you not only understand a topic but can recall the concept and its details (such as cases and dates) with relative ease. You can do this before you read your notes on a topic; at regular intervals of studying, like after you’re done with a page of reading; at the end of your day as a way to recall all that you have studied that day.
- You can test yourself using items in your ‘Toolbox’, such as flashcards, or by teaching someone or something. The point is to see if what you ‘think’ you know truly correlates with what you ‘actually’ know.
- Past papers: these will make you familiar with the structure of the question which will reduce your eventual anxiety come exam day, and also test you rigorously. But I would suggest this to be left to the very end of your revision, so by the time you come to it, you would know your course thoroughly. Even though many of us are eager to get to them, it can be quite stressful to come across a question you don’t understand. These will be more helpful if you just want to get used to the structure of the questions you’ll be facing and how to answer them, instead of as a way to understand topics.
- Review flashcards: keep going through these till the last minute as mini-tests; incorporate them into your day, carry them around in your bag or pocket if you have to, and refer to them in any free time you get.
Additional tips to boost your productivity
I don’t think one could ever overemphasize the need to stay healthy during this process, both in mind and body. Often we assume that what we eat or how we sleep has little to no effect on our education, but remember that your body is the most important tool in your ‘Toolbox’ – especially your brain. You are dependent on it to understand and remember large chunks of information, and it’s dependent on you to give it the nutrition it needs to function well.
Nutrition not only includes a healthy diet full of protein, fruit, nuts and vegetables, but also a regular and satisfying sleep pattern, some form of physical exertion for better blood circulation and taking care of your mental health. Only when your mind is at peace, when it is free from emotional/psychological pressures, can it fully focus on something else. Don’t expect it to multi-task. If you’re stressed, take a break; if you’re distracted, take a break; if you’re tired take a break or a nap; if you’re hungry, go eat.
Just like you clean your desk or your room before you start studying, or physically distance yourself from interference, so also must you clean up your mind and distance it from other matters.
Remember your goal and motivation
It is essential that you remember why you chose to study whatever you’re studying – keep reminding yourself of your end goal to stay motivated to push one day after the other until you’re done. Don’t procrastinate, don’t be scared – trust me, you can do this. I know you know that you can.
Sending lots of good vibes and caffeine shots to you, fellow (over-worked) birds!
Kinza is studying our LLB independently in Pakistan.