What are some hacks to surviving exam season?
If you’re in a rush, here are a few key takeaway of this post:
- Use an extremely simple and flexible (e.g. a 7-day) revision timetable plan in conjunction with a document where you list all the content you need to cover ahead of exams.
- Harness the 80/20 principle, where 20% of your efforts lead to 80% of the results, by focusing on exam-styled questions.
- To eliminate the inefficient revision time, search for alternative explanations e.g. on YouTube if asynchronous material is taking too long to sink in.
As exams move closer, stress levels begin to rise and mental breakdowns increase in frequency, as do burnouts. It is critical to prevent these phenomena and a great way to do that, in my opinion, is through having a plan. Here are some insights and hacks that have helped me evolve an exam season game plan over the last few years.
Firstly, I find having some form of calendar/timetable prevents you from stressing out. But instead of using an intricate timetable, I opt for Google Calendar tasks (an alternative to creating an event or reminder), which offers much greater flexibility. Using an Excel spreadsheet which contains all the topics I need to catch up on and past papers to complete, I plan out the next 7 days at the beginning of each week according to what fraction of that Excel master sheet I need to get through to stay on track.
How do you know how much you need to get through in the 7-day plan? By estimating how many hours each topic will take to cover, you can simply aim to get through the fraction of that module’s ‘hours’ based on how many weeks are left until exams begin e.g., if you have 5 weeks left until exam season, you should aim to get through 1/5 of the module contents.
But aside from the calendar/timetable system, at the core of any exam strategy should be the 80/20 principle. I will hopefully cover the 80/20 principle in more detail in a future blog post, but in summary: the 80/20 principle, also known as the Pareto Principle, states that for many outcomes, roughly 80% of consequences come from 20% the causes. So, for exams, 20% of your revision hours are likely to result in 80% of the knowledge you need to answer exam questions.
To put the 80/20 principle in more actionable and practical terms, geared more towards exam revision, I have found that practice questions should be at the centre of any revision session. Watching asynchronous material that can go on for a couple of hours per topic might be necessary for an initial level of understanding, but if I had the option, I would start with a seminar or practice question first before reviewing the asynchronous material.
In fact, I have found that when I’m not absorbing the information from the asynchronous material, finding an alternative explanation on YouTube can be much more efficient. For example, I really struggled with game theory in microeconomics during term 2, finding the questions overly complicated, but I found a YouTube channel created by someone called “William Spaniel” on microeconomics that massively shortened the learning curve I had to overcome to tackle the more challenging questions of the course. The same was true for econometrics. I have found the exams I perform best at are the ones where I prioritise questions practice, not asynchronous material completion.