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Peer blog: How to survive exam season!

Santosh, Life Sciences, Class of 2021

Hi Gaels! I hope everyone is studying hard during this finals season. Whether your final assessment is in the form of an exam, open book assignment, or lab report, this is the home stretch. I can already hear the Christmas carols as I write this blog! But we still have a few more weeks before we can take our feet off the pedal. Finals can be a time of stress and anxiety, but it definitely does not have to be this way. There are many things that we can do to make this time of the year as smooth sailing as possible.

A significant difference for me this term was the transition to exam season. Last year, I saw hundreds of students like myself rush into Stauffer at 9 A.M. That environment helped me concentrate, because there was a special, exam spirit throughout campus. This year is not the same. Being hours away from campus this year, the transition was really minimal, and it took a few days for my mind to shift gears to exam mode. Something I’m doing to get mentally prepared was to replicate my exam-season morning routine from last year. I wake up and get ready for the day, make a cup of steaming hot coffee, and grab a croissant. I then make my way back to my room (a much shorter walk than the distance to Stauffer!) and sit down in front of my books. Although this might sound like a lot of work or so simple it’s silly, replicating my morning habit was very effective for me to get into the right mindset to study for exams. If you are struggling to focus as well, try it out!

Exam season entails a lot of memorization and understanding of course content. Therefore, making sure your study techniques are effective will not only give you better results but also save you a lot of time. I was definitely guilty of studying passively last year: doing nothing but staring aimlessly at material when I should have been testing myself and practicing exam questions. I spent hours highlighting and re-reading my notes. Sometimes I even highlighted things for the sake of highlighting. Passive methods of studying are a TRAP! They feel fast, convenient, and make you think you understand the concept even when you don’t (of course you understand something when you’re staring at the explanation in the textbook). Instead, I highly recommend active learning methods such as using cue cards to test yourself. I love using cue cards because they are simple to make and can help me to truly know how much of a concept I understand. I can also focus my studying on a certain topic because by organizing them into different categories based on the concept they test. Even the process of creating cue cards will help you get familiar with the content! Read all about Quizlet, a great app to help you create and use cue cards, then give it a go. SASS has more on test and exam prep methods here.

When all the prep is done, a big difference this year is the use of online proctoring services. If you have proctored exams coming up, it is really important to learn about the process in advance. The last thing you want is to not be able to concentrate on your 45% exam. I had a few protected midterms already, and although I am much more used to it by now, many of my peers are facing this for the first time. Here are a few tips I have to be prepared for proctored exams:

  1. Clean up your room – having a clean room helps the room scan go smoothly because the proctor better understands where everything is placed. This shortens the pre-test period which allows you to start your exam quickly.
  2. Keep all your ID and utensils on your desk – Each time you get up to get something, another room check is usually required. Therefore to limit this unnecessary work, keep everything you need on your desk!
  3. Connect to your proctor 10 minutes before your scheduled time – The proctoring servers take several minutes to connect you to a proctor. To avoid being late to your scheduled test, join the proctoring service beforehand!
  4. Focus on your test – I was guilty of constantly checking if my connection to the proctoring service was still working during my first experience with Examity. Although, this extra work during the test was an unnecessary hassle that I really did not need. If anything does go wrong in terms of connection, your proctor will help you solve the problem. So make sure your full attention remains on your test!

Finally, remember to listen to your body and mind during the exam period. Over-working will work for a day or two, but the sudden crash that follows this period will waste more time than if you would have kept a proper schedule. Listening to your body can also maximize your memory, focus, and ability to think critically. I learned that if I study after 10 PM, I am much less likely to understand the content, so I complete my studying before then. Even if I’m not finished by 10, I relax for the rest of the day to make sure I am ready to tackle the next day. Also, I love to fit in a few walks along the park during the day. Walking clears my mind and helps me rejuvenate before my next work session. If you can, even a quick socially distanced walk with a friend to grab a coffee might give you the time and space to think about your work more clearly.

You worked hard all this semester, so be confident and crush your exams to end this semester strong! Good luck everyone, happy holidays, and I’ll catch you in the new year for more blogging!