The Countdown to my first University Exams
With 20 days left until my very first ever exam at university, the nerves are definitely starting to settle in a little bit. All the lectures notes to cover, all the revision sessions to attend and hopefully get something out of, time is blurring by in a whir of fast and slow and everything in between.
Not having had exams in first year because of Covid felt like a huge relief last year, I can’t lie. The thought of not having to spend days studying non-stop was great. But, looking back on it, I missed out on one vital thing – experience. In not having my first-year end of year exams, I have now been thrown into my second-year ones with absolutely no idea what it means to sit a university level exam.
Although Life Sciences and all of the module lecturers have been super helpful in providing guides and advice and structure, there is only so much you can learn from just hearing about it. Alas, there isn’t anything I can do now to change the past, but it does mean I’ve definitely run into some challenges with preparing for my exams.
First things first, my second-year exams are all online and open book this year, which means that I can have all of my notes and books and slides open and ready to use! This might seem like a super great thing, and in a way, I know it is really going to help me get the grades I need, but I can’t help from wondering, would I approach my revision differently if they weren’t open book, or if they were in person?
The answer to that is most likely yes… I can’t imagine being this relaxed if I knew that in 20 days I would be sitting a handwritten exam with 90 minutes to answer loads of mini-essay questions simply based on the knowledge I have in my head. That being said, I am trying as much as possible to pretend like these exams are normal, closed book and in-person timed to avoid diverting from what will hopefully go back to normal in my third year.
Regardless of the situation, one thing remains a fact – I have real exams that each account for 70% of their respective module, and together account for my year grade, worth 18% of my entire degree. This fact alone has been more than enough to keep me motivated to work. But even then, there are moments, (Like this one I’m having as I write this) where I just can’t seem to keep my brain focussed on my work. These moments can feel kind of scary, because after I wonder if I’ve just wasted an hour that I could’ve used to learn more, and if that hour would have covered the one topic that a big question will be on.
My advice (to myself as well as anyone reading this looking for a way to approach this) is to take a breath. It’s important to remember that the human mind isn’t built to concentrate for periods of time longer than 50 minutes (on average) at a time. So taking a short 10-minute break after an intensive hour of study is ultimately more productive than trying to binge study for 3 hours in a row. If your mind begins to. wander, it’s letting you know that it needs a pause, so give it one. Now, that’s not to mean you should completely stop working for the day – that’s counterproductive as well. The best bet is to take a 15-minute break in between 45-55 minute study bursts, with no phone/social media distractions, just a mental break. Have a mini dance party, do 15 minutes of abs, go for a walk around your street, make a coffee, have a snack, and then sit back down and push through another study session.
Truly, I have come to realise that there is no “ideal” study method. Every single person has what works for them, and if I’m honest I haven’t fully found one singular method that works for me. I am a very brain active person, and so doing the same thing over and over every day can work for me for a while, but if I don’t throw in some variation, eventually I’ll become so habituated to my method that it stops working.
Another challenge I have found recently is the different intensity levels in how my friends approach studying. I have some friends who have cut off all social interactions to focus on their exams, then I have others who have done no such thing. I feel almost stuck in the middle, with part of me longing to simple lock myself away with nothing but my books, and the other part wanting to ignore the exams entirely. Especially with everything opening up again as restrictions are lifting, it’s been a challenge, stopping myself from saying yes to every outing I’m invited to.
The main thing I keep reminding myself of is that I came to university, first and foremost to get a first-class honours degree, and if that is going to happen I need to put the work in. That being said, It’s important to have a balance because you can drive yourself mad if you completely close yourself off from people. Allowing yourself to take an evening off to watch a movie with your flatmates, or an afternoon out with some friends isn’t a crime. In fact, it can be super beneficial, and helpful in keeping your mind from overworking itself!
Ultimately, I am writing this post today to hopefully give some insight into the brain of a 20 year old Biomedical Science student who is trying to pass her second year exams, and share my confusion but also methods of dealing with said confusion with all of you!
Exam season, Here I Come!