Five tactics to tackle exam season

It’s that time again; Exam Season

Coffee marathons.

Heavy eyelids with a couple of yawns every twenty mins – don’t forget the designer bags under those eye lids. They come as a special bonus.

Last but certainly not least – sleepless nights.

This, dear friends is an apt description of exam season.

If university has taught me anything – besides how to get out of bed, get dressed and ready for my 9am – 6pm day in five minutes from a previous all-nighter then it’s this.

Plan, prioritise, perform, practice – the 4 -golden p’s if you will. If I had the chance, I would have my former self memorise this motto.

With every academic year, exam season dutifully rolls around and they are just like that annoying cousin that comes by to visit a couple of times a year. You’re aware that their visit is impending but time chooses to take on the spirit of Usain Bolt and sprint right by your face. Before you know it, he/she is knocking on your doorstep.

Before you know it, you’ve made the tragic mistake of blinking and suddenly January is now April and you what you had thought was months and months away is weeks away. This is typically the time where some students will set up camp in the library (thank you Drill Hall Library for open door 24/7). For others, caffeine has become the non-negotiable fuel of choice and the concepts of resting eyelids and peaceful interrupted naps are foreign to the average stressed student. Submission dates and deadlines are the new mantra.

Welcome to university life – exam season 101.

Whether you’re slowly feeling the pressure with the workload your course is handing you or you’re struggling to know how to approach your studying for exams, here are few tips that have helped me navigate the tumultuous waters of exam season.


NUMBER ONE: Deep breaths

Breathe in

Breathe out

A simple two second action with a ripple effect.

The action seems self-explanatory, but its value holds true. It’s important to realise that in a time where sometimes students can feel like exam season preparation can be hectic, stressful and controlling we can, in the same way utilize and take charge of this stress to serve as an impetus. Stress is inevitable but stress-induced fear and anxiety can become crippling. It’s important to know that being calm and centering yourself can be a great way to reboot your mind and help redirect you remind back to a good study session. Instead of letting stress take the steering wheel, take a step back, take a deep breath and use it that “stress” as a positive motivator to steer yourself into productive study period.


NUMBER TWO: Write down everything you need to…. Everything!

“Oh yeah, I’ll remember that”

The one mistake students make is creating mental tabs of tasks we need to. I encourage everyone, student or not to get into the habit of writing down every task that needs to be done.

Get out a pen, piece of paper/notebook/ the planner you bought last year that’s still shiny and brand new from it’s lack of use and begin to record every activity you need to accomplish. Google calendar is a great but simple tool that allows you to make to-do lists. You can put them order of priority (one of the golden p’s), tick them of as you go and put additional reminders on each task. With a plethora of activities that can be thrown at us whether it be course assignments or projects for certain modules or essays/mock examinations/personal tutor appointments its incredibly easy to use the line “Oh yeah, I’ll remember that” only to draw near to the deadline and realise that you’ve left that piece of work late. Mental tabs have a short expiry date and unless you’ve been blessed with the gift of impeccable eidetic memory chances are you will be left juggling a hundred and one tasks in your mind without realising that you’ve dropped the ball on one task due.

Forget mental tabs – take the mental tab from out of your head and onto a visible source that you can refer back to.

Three key words – write down everything!


NUMBER THREE: Work in short bursts – but it make count

Set your timer – 25 minutes of work time/study time and a five min break. With regards to efficiency, working in short bursts supersedes the infamous 12-hour cram session that some students tend to boast about. Your ability to assimilate and retain information efficiently is done best by the work and rest technique. Aim to make your study time/work time fully productive.

The act of being productive and feeling productive (pseudo work) are distinct in nature. Sometimes we can get carried away with the feeling of being productive whilst the quality of our work yields little result. I read an article written by Dr. Cal Newport, an author and science professor and his explanation on this topic made it clear. “Most assume that: work accomplished = time spent studying. To understand our accomplishment, you must understand the following, more accurate formula: work accomplished = time spent x intensity of focus.”

Jump into your study session with both feet, take breaks and focus, focus, focus!


NUMBER FOUR: Social Media – Turn it off, shut it down,

The sad truth about exam season – distractions seem to glisten ever so brightly when there are tasks to complete.

Social media takes home gold in the category of attractive distractions.

From Snapchat, to Twitter feuds, to Facebook, to mindless scrolling through Instagram feeds – social media platforms are attractive distractions that can be lethal to a good, quality, productive study session. A simple solution to rid the futile habit of incessant perusing on social media – log out of all your social app accounts or better still delete your social apps (if you’re feeling adventurous).


NUMBER FIVE: Plan, Prioritise, Perform, Practice – The four golden P’s

Remember my 4-golden P slogan I mentioned earlier on? It can serve as a great action plan when you feel you are lost when trying to tackle your workload. The first P – is plan. Your plan is essentially the to-do list that you’ve created which will help break down massive activities into bite-size tasks that you can work towards. The second P – is prioritise. Which upcoming tasks have a deadline approaching soon? Which activity do you think you will need to set out extra time for? Set out to do the most important tasks first! In my first year of pharmacy, my Achilles heel was starting my favourite tasks and leave my challenging, not so “fun” tasks till the end.

I quickly learned that this action was indeed the perfect way for self-sabotage. Not only was I leaving less time for challenging tasks but when I finally got around to starting said task, my stress levels were through the roof with the amount of prep I would have to squeeze in and my. Don’t make my mistake! Prioritising is a major key in alleviating stress and making sure that your study session/ work submissions are of high quality.

As with any thing you set out to start – once you actually start doing that task, you set the ball in motion and create momentum. The hardest part is usually starting.

The last two P’s are perform and practice. Make sure you have a distraction-free work zone and try to place all your concentration at your task at hand to ensure your work is productive. Perform your tasks, check them off as you progress and start to inculcate this habits as part of a study routine.


NUMBER SIX: Deep Breaths – Relax 

My first tip started with deep breaths and my last tip is just the same. It is easy find yourself stressed and overwhelmed during this limbo period of deadlines and submissions. Planning, prioritising and performance are vital but if you are feeling anxious, this can be a crippling feeling. It’s vital that you listen to your body. Take regular breaks to refresh your mind, go outside for a chat with friends and enjoy some fresh air, stretch and drink lots of water.

Coming from a caffeine fanatic, I’ve let my coffee quotas reach some startling heights however in the long run, the aftermath doesn’t feel pretty. Swap the coffee for some water.

Remember Breathe in, Breathe out

You’ve got this !


This post is by Denise Ekundayo

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