Let’s be real, the end of semester one will probably go out not with a bang, but with exams. If you’re reading this as a student in first year, you may be a little confused with what university exams actually are. All you’ve known are the AQA A-Level papers sent straight from hell. So, if the last exams were your A-levels or BETCs sat six months ago (assuming your school even did these), it’s probably been a while since any of us have sat down to do actual exams.
Exams at university can come in all different shapes and sizes, and if you haven’t already had them, you’ll probably be having them in January. Great! More time to frantically question how on earth you’re meant to prepare for your first ever exam at university. More time to be spent kicking yourself for not making notes earlier on. More time eating into your Christmas holidays (which, unfortunately means less time eating that Christmas dinner). But it doesn’t have to be like that! This blog will go over why you shouldn’t stress yourself out for your first uni exams and how to manage your time so you can enjoy coming back home to decorate the Christmas tree without feeling ‘aaaaaaaah I’ve got too much work to do’.
Firstly, knowing the date and time of your exam is a great start. This allows you to work backwards, plan more efficiently and avoid pulling the (not so inevitable) all nighter of 5 red bulls and a laptop of open tabs and unwatched lectures.
Next, go back to the basics. Remember your habits for exam seasons in the good ol’ days: diet, sleep, hydration, fresh air. If the few in-person classes you have are cancelled for revision week, you might find yourself holed up inside your almost windowless uni room with only some broken wardrobe and a chest of drawers for company. Don’t forget what lockdown taught us on how crucial it is to get some oxygen into our lungs. You don’t need to hear it twice… go for a walk, get out and about!
Fake it till you make it. Believe me when I say, it's pretty normal to have one moment where we have a revision plan all sorted and the next have a mini breakdown because we have absolutely no idea what we’re doing. Whilst the exam structure at university may be pretty different to what you were used to in previous years, the good thing is that all the revision tips you’ve learnt throughout your memorable time in education can still help you! But for some more general tips on working specifically for university, see a previous blog. Like I said before, the first semester and the first year is all about learning the ropes… see what tips you can keep and what’s best to change.
If you’re struggling with the motivation, or just don’t know where to start, there’s nothing better than doing some light revision or organisation to get you going. It’s likely your exams will be open book, so technically getting organised is a handy part of revising. Think revision as a whole period to make things easier for yourself in the long term. Ask yourself, if you were sitting the exam right now, what resources would you need at your fingertips? Work backwards and come up with a list of things you can do to help you feel prepared. This could include condensing your lecture notes (or, no judgement, making some notes on your lectures). Try sitting down for 5 minutes and planning a question. Even smaller things like skimming over notes and familiarising yourself with the ‘exam rubric’ or past paper for question formatting will help.
The last key thing is remembering to put these exams into perspective. If you’re clueless because this is your first set of university exams, that’s ok! There’s a reason why the first year doesn’t count towards your final degree. Getting used to the exam style, structure and essay feedback takes time. Depending on how you were taught before in school, it can also take a bit of unlearning old habits and ways of writing. There’s a lot of figuring out, making mistakes and finding out what works for you in the first year, especially in the first semester.
At the end of the day, don’t stress! Use this exam season to figure things out and familiarise yourself with everything. Do what you can and enjoy some well-earned rest for your winter break (yes, go on ahead and wrap fairy lights around the tree without having a mental breakdown about exams). Happy holidays and good luck for exams!
Anisha Minocha is studying English and Philosophy at the University of St Andrews. She is a passionate writer and poet whose work has been published in anthologies, magazines, blogs and won competitions. Contributing to Sink Magazine, she is keen to utilize the voice of young people and share work through her creative writing blog. As a climate activist, she has combined her love for words and the planet in a performance of spoken word at the Royal Exchange Theatre in 'Letters to the Earth'. She also co-runs Young Friends of the Earth: Manchester and has organised workshops, participated in panels and spoken at Manchester Cathedral.
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