Exams in engineering…
In this post, I’m going to talk about a few of the things that I have learned throughout my time at Warwick for revising for engineering exams.
Firstly, actively learning the content; not spending too much time making revision material. I think there is some sort of weigh-up between making revision material and it helping you understand the content better, versus making the short and concise revision material but spending more time practising questions. In the past, I have definitely been the former; making millions of flashcards and going over them again and again. But with engineering, and especially with how the degree works, getting the marks is about more than just memorising the content.
Exams test how well you understand the processes and how you can apply them to situations you haven’t come across before. Exams have a tendancy to throw a curve-ball question at you, making it seem initially like there’s no right answer. But as long as you understand the ins and outs of the content – there is a way to apply what you know, even if it’s in a situation that feels really unfamiliar. For these reasons I don’t make that many flashcards now – they all look the same, and it can be harder to connect up different topics when you have so many bland cards. Another point is that they take ages to make, and the making process is not really active revision.
My preferred revision technique for learning content involves going through the lectures and books and notes, and then splurging out what I know on paper, and seeing what links I can make to previous lectures. If there are any example questions, I make sure I know them through and through. Then, I look for past papers and their solutions, and try to understand everything about each question. I always come across something new when practising questions. Almost always, the new thing is something I didn’t realise I didn’t know, which is always dangerous.
It’s also worth saying that engineering (and probably any degree, really, but I’m just speaking from my experience) requires you to learn a lot very quickly and understand it thoroughly. I’ve realised that I can learn a lot more than I thought I was ever capable of. For example, if you have a positive mindset and focus on a task and how to solve it (instead of distracting yourself by feeding your inner pity party – ‘this is too difficult – I’m never going to be able to understand this!’), you may surprise yourself. This is actually a major revision tip – I have discovered that I can learn a lot faster by getting rid of the mentality that I’m not clever enough to get it!
Panicking. Now for this one, there’s only so much you can do. Decent preparation helps with panicking somewhat. If you can reassure yourself that you know all there is to know, and you can remember how to answer all the example questions, it can be helpful. But sometimes, it’s a module that just feels too impossible, or there are a few things you are unconfident about or maybe it’s too late to do anything about them. Adrenaline can give you a bit of an edge though, and maybe help you to answer questions quicker than if you were fully relaxed, so it’s not always a bad thing, even though it feels uncomfortable!
Finally, when you get in a rut during revision, there’s nothing bad about having a break. Having a break won’t mean that you’re wasting time that you could be doing revision in; it will re-energise your brain and help keep you healthy. I like to go for a walk, and connect to the things around me instead of what’s directly in front of me. Even half an hour outside can do amazing things.