Exam time is approaching. This is a time that students experience in many different ways and have differing expectations about. However, common to all of them is that their expectations are coloured by past experience. That’s why it’s important to learn from your experiences. “If you do what you’ve always done, you will get what you’ve always got.”
Many pay little attention to their study techniques and habits. If you are unsure about how you work and whether you should change something, think carefully about what you have done before. For example, you could ask yourself the following questions:
How do I work when I’m preparing for an exam?
Do I have an overview of the syllabus?
Do I read everything?
Do I use my lecture notes?
What study techniques do I employ?
Do I take notes?
Do I test myself to check how much I remember of what I’ve read?
Do I answer questions from books and earlier exams?
Do I read what other people answered in exams?
Where do I work best?
At a desk?
At the kitchen table?
In the sofa?
In a reading room/library?
In a group room?
When I’m preparing, how much am I affected by what’s going on around me?
Sound (music, people’s conversations, etc.)?
My mobile phone?
Social media (Facebook, Snapchat, etc.)?
Do I prefer to work alone or with others?
Why do I prefer this?
Is there anything I should do differently?
Do I do anything good that I should do more of?
There are many different study programmes at HiØ with very different content. The subjects also require different ways of working. For some subjects, students have to read a huge number of pages of theory. Other students primarily spend their time answering questions. Nevertheless, common to all of the subjects is the fact that the following three factors are vital when it comes to acing your studies and exams: knowledge, skills and mental attitude.
You must have enough knowledge about the subject/field. You acquire this by, for example, going to lectures, reading your required reading list and talking about the subjects with your fellow students. But this knowledge is not enough if you don’t know how to use it to, for example, solve maths problems or write an answer. These are skills you can acquire by practising answering questions, writing essays or completing the work you are required to hand in to take the exam.
Whether you are reading, writing or answering questions, your mental attitude to your own skills and abilities is always important. For example, if you have negative thoughts about yourself, constantly dwell on bad experiences and or tell yourself that others are much cleverer than you and that you have ridiculously little time, it can disturb you and affect your concentration and ability to remember and understand what you are reading or working on. This sort of ‘internal narrative’ can easily lead to a spiral of worrying about ever more and bigger things. That’s why it’s important to work on changing your thought pattern. Praise yourself. Give yourself a pat on the back and encouragement when you have made an effort. Remind yourself of all your good experiences, as well as situations with which you have coped.
Take enjoyment in possessing all that knowledge and all the questions you can answer. Learn relaxation and breathing techniques you can use to master stress. Ally yourself with friends, family and fellow students who can cheer you on and help you believe in yourself, your knowledge and your skills.
The preparation period – plan your days
Once your lectures finish, the evaluation period begins. As a rule, you will have a few days (or maybe weeks) between your last lecture and your first exam. Whether you have a few or many days, it is very important that you plan how you will spend the time you have available. Think through:
What other plans and commitments do I have during this period?
How much time do I have to prepare?
Can I give less priority to work and other commitments during this period?
What subjects/topics should I concentrate on the most?
Where should I work this time?
Should I work alone?
If not, who should I work with?
Do I have an overview of the syllabus?
Do I have access to previous exam papers?
Do I know everything I need to know about the formal exam rules?
Do I know any relaxation and de-stressing exercises that I can use if I feel stressed?
Who can cheer me on during this period?
A few useful tips:
You can obtain a complete overview of the syllabus by checking each subject in your study programme. You will find this on www.hiof.no.
Previous exam papers are published on the university college’s web pages.
The online student manual contains a lot of useful information, including about exams.
Reading, notes and repetition
A good reader uses different methods for different types of texts. Many people don’t realise that they do this. Spend a little time reflecting on how you read different types of books, magazines and, for example, user manuals. What characterises the way you read crime stories, a novel or some other piece of fiction? How do you read a user manual? And what do you focus most on when you read a magazine or a newspaper with lots of illustrations? Most likely, you will discover that you read in very different ways. So the question then becomes, how do you read academic literature?
Learning a good studying technique can be useful. It can help you to avoid passive reading, which often results in not remembering what you have read. There are many books with tips on study techniques. These are usually along the lines of:
Get an overview of the syllabus and learning requirements/goals.
Study the table of contents thoroughly and ask yourself the question:
What do I think this should contain?
Skim the text to get an overview.
Next make notes while reading it more thoroughly; ask yourself questions.
What does what I’ve read mean?
How could I say that in my own words?
How could I write this to myself so that I understand and remember it?
Produce a written summary of what you’ve read. It’s a good idea to use short notes as an aid.
Reading speed is a skill that can be practised. Being able to read relatively quickly is very useful. When you read slowly other thoughts can pop into your head. Speeding up your pace of reading sharpens your attention and concentration.
Short, intensive bouts of reading may have the best effect. It’s a good idea to take regulars break to stretch and get some fresh air.Repetition is important for storing knowledge in your long-term memory. The more you repeat it, the longer you will remember something. Those who already know a lot, acquire new knowledge more easily.
«One should not read to swallow all, but rather see what one has use for»
- Henrik Ibsen (Peer Gynt)
Adults need around 7-8 hours of sleep a night. Too much or too little sleep impairs our ability to concentrate. If you are having problems sleeping, you may find these tips from HelseNorge useful:
Go to bed at the same time every night and get up at the same time every morning
Don’t nap during the day
Don’t drink coffee, tea or coke after 17:00 – alcohol also disturbs sleep
Physical activity improves sleep, but avoid rigorous exercise right before bedtime
Don’t go to bed hungry, but don’t eat a heavy meal right before bedtime
Don’t use your PC or mobile phone in bed
Make sure your bedroom is dark, quiet and the room temperature moderate
Don’t check the time if you wake up during the night
Get up and do something else if you can’t sleep – go back to bed when you feel tired again
Set aside time during the day to go through things you are worried aboutLearn a relaxation technique, use it when you wake up
The day before the exam
Some students have their own rituals on the day before an exam. For example, they might get a haircut, go for a walk to a specific place, go to the cinema, take a specific exercise class, or do something else that takes their mind off the exam.
Can you make a plan that you only repeat the final day before? If you have a lot of exams one after the other, this won’t always possible. But, it’s a good idea to end your preparations in good time so you can relax in the evening. You should also make practical preparations for exam day. Pack your bag with all of your aids. Prepare the food and drink you will bring with you. You burn a lot of calories during an exam. Slow carbohydrates and proteins such as brown bread and nuts can be useful snacks. You can also treat yourself to something tasty as an energy boost towards the end of the exam.
Many students find talking about an exam with others extra stressful. Avoiding your fellow student on the last day or evening before an exam may be a good idea.
Don’t despair if you don’t sleep that well the night before an exam.
The actual day of the exam
It can be a good idea to arrive early and grab yourself an okay place. Think about whether you want to talk to friends or other students. It really is okay to avoid others on a day like this.
Once the exam starts, it’s a good idea to read through all of the questions thoroughly (several times?) Have you understood what they are asking for? You can mark keywords in the question text and write down other keywords for each question before moving on. You will discover that your subconscious is also working and you may come up with new points while reading through. Therefore, once you’ve finished, it may be a good idea to start again with all the questions and create an outline for each of them.
Next start on the question you think seems the easiest. Focus on what you are currently doing and don’t worry about the next question.
Those who prepared the exam believed there was enough time to answer all of the questions. This means that you should use all of the time available to you in the exam. Sometimes it will say how much each question is worth. This is often stated as a percentage. This also is an indicator of how long you should spend on the various questions. Consider this when you are planning your work.
Remember to eat and drink! Reducing your intake of caffeinated drinks might be a good idea. Water is best for your mind and body. Take breaks. Stretch. Pop outside and get some fresh air. Remember, your subconscious will continue working. When you return to the work, the bricks may fall into place and you may find you know more than you thought you did.
Relaxation and breathing techniques are always great for calming nerves and clearing your head.
Trust in yourself, your knowledge and your skills. Be happy about everything you can do and focus on this. Remember that once the exams are over, it’s time for holidays or something else enjoyable.