By PLA Amy
April exams for full year courses always feel different to me than December ones do.
December exams are surrounded by questions—how do I write this exam? How long should I study? How am I going to know what kind of questions are going to show up? April exams have more answers: you know the prof’s style, which study techniques were and were not effective, and what you need to improve.
That, and the not-so-distant sight of summer looming on the horizon makes April exams feel like less of a battle and more like the last quarter-mile of a marathon—you’re huffing, you’re puffing, but you can see the finish line. That being said, the tantalizing image of you soaking up some rays while flipping through a magazine can be distracting when you have to plough through 600 pages of notes.
Here are some tips for having a more successful April exam period than December.
1. Learn from your mistakes. First, identify what was challenging for you about December exams. Did you cram too much? Did you study the wrong material? Did you get enough sleep? Once you’ve figured out some of the obstacles to your success, try to prevent them from repeating. Start studying earlier (even just one hour every other day starting right now is better than four hours before the exam), try and really focus on the core themes of the course, and make sure you get at least 7 hours of solid shut-eye.
2. Learn from your successes. If you found a great study routine, or a great memorizing trick (flash cards, anyone?) stick with it rather than reinventing the wheel.
3. Trick yourself. You’d be amazed at the difference a confident mind makes when it comes to studying. Try to approach your work not with thoughts of failure, but rather a sense of confidence that you are going to work hard and it will pay off. Fake it until you make it, and you’ll find yourself walking into the exam with a positive mindset.
4. Build off of your old exams. Since the mystery of what an exam looks like has been solved, use your December exams and their structure to help build your studying. Did you find that history exams tend to emphasize key terms and significances? You can use that knowledge when re-reading your lecture notes.
5. Adapt your schedule. Making a study schedule for the first time can be a bit…shall we say…idealistic. I remember leaving myself absolutely no time for breaks in my December exam study schedule, thinking that of course I would be capable of studying from eight in the morning to eleven at night. Now that you know a bit better how much time you need for breaks, meals, exercise, etc., plan your schedule realistically. If you really need a nice walk after dinner, book it in. You’ll be better for it. If you really don’t need five hours a day of Internet browsing, cut it down to two, or use it as a ten-minute reward after studying for an hour.
6. Think about what you want to convey on your exam. For full-year courses, April exams are a true culmination of what you have learned all year. Think about what you want to present to your prof., and the details and elements you can work into essay questions that reflect the breadth of your knowledge. It sounds cheesy, but in a weird way, writing your final exam for a course is like your final goodbye to it. Try to leave something behind that is a fond farewell.