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How to survive and thrive during exams

Datum:11 januari 2021
Unfortunately, this attempt did not in fact help me remember the material better...
Unfortunately, this attempt did not in fact help me remember the material better...

The time of January exams is upon us. Is it anyone’s favourite time of year? Probably not. Don’t worry though, getting through it and passing all of your courses with good grades is definitely possible! In today’s blog, I’ll be sharing some tips to help you succeed during the exam period and keep your stress levels as low as possible.

Start on time

We have to start with the most obvious, but also the most important tip: make sure to start studying for your exams on time. Everyone has a different pace at which they study, so on time might differ depending on how fast you read and understand(!) the material, whether the course is challenging or not and on your study environment. As a rule of thumb, I take the amount of days I have between now and my next exam, subtract 2 days and then divide the remaining amount by the number of pages I have to get through. That way, I calculate the minimum amount of material I need to read each day, while also leaving a buffer, in case I don’t manage one day or something unforeseen happens. So far, this has worked quite well for me, so I recommend trying it if you struggle with planning and time management.


You might have heard of the SMART method before, but just in case you haven’t, let me introduce you to it. SMART stands for specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-based. It’s a way to set study goals that are realistic and achievable, and it’s very useful for your exam preparation. Instead of blocking 3 hours in your calendar for ‘studying’, divide your study time into chunks based on the different tasks you have to complete. Are you spending one hour reading the chapter and then an hour on summarising it? Pinpointing specific tasks and allocating a realistic timeframe for completing them will help you actually finish everything instead of procrastinating. Honestly, is there anything more demotivating than seeing that you have to read hundreds of pages and will be spending all day studying? If you break it down and take breaks, it’ll become a lot more manageable and it will be a lot easier to start, knowing that every task you complete is another little success!

Study together

Two definitely know more than one, so studying with a friend is a great way to make sure you understand all of the material. Especially now that we barely see each other and most of us will take our exams from home, it’s nice to discuss everything you’ve learned in the past few months with someone who is in the same boat as you. I suggest setting up a Google Meet/Zoom session with one or two fellow students and deciding in advance how you are going to discuss the material. This will save you a lot of time and hassle on the call itself and will allow you to start immediately (yay productivity!). Are you going to discuss everything? Share your notes with each other? Think of what works best for all of you and make sure you cover any material that is still unclear. A good option is to come up with exam questions in the style of the exam, so either essay questions or multiple choice questions, to test your friends’ knowledge. Comparing your answers will teach you a lot about which topics are important and also show you which relevant details you might have forgotten to add. This will give you specific points to discuss.

Write your own summaries in a way that works for you

Some students like their summaries to be extensive and detailed, others prefer flash cards or lists of bullet points. Whatever works for you and helps you remember the material, that’s how you should study! There’s truly no right or wrong way here. Are you someone who understands things visually? Make mind maps, draw graphs and use colours to make the material more understandable. Are you studying in English and is it your second language? Try summarising your material in your native language. This forces you to truly understand what you are writing about, as you can’t just simply copy your professor’s exact words or descriptions from the article you’re reading. Summarising is a way of actively engaging with the material, which makes it a lot more effective than just reading or watching lectures passively.

Read out loud

Yep, I mean it. It might feel weird at first to hear yourself reading academic material out loud, but I swear by this method. Personally, I make recordings of all the articles I need to read at the beginning of the block and listen to them as I prepare for my exams. It’s basically like making your own very academic podcast for an audience of one: just you. That way, instead of spending hours at your desk, you can study while cooking or while taking a long walk outside. It’s honestly quite ideal, and I have found that I notice and remember different details when I listen to the article than when I just read it.

Rest and exercise

Your brain and your eyes (and probably your shoulders and neck) need time to rest. I’m always fascinated by students who go to the UB (university library) when it opens at 8:30AM and only leave in the evening. My question to you is how??? Regular breaks are important as they give you time to reflect on what you’ve read or the lectures you’ve watched. Not only that, but they also give your eyes some well-deserved rest from staring at a screen (or book) for hours and hours. Taking a short walk, doing some jumping jacks in your room or going for a run are good ways to increase your energy, take your mind off of your studies and boost your mood. Then, when you go back to studying, you’ll have a renewed focus and be more productive. Just make sure your breaks aren’t longer than the times you actually spend studying (I see you procrastinators!).

Exams can be stressful, so taking care of yourself is important. Make sure you sleep enough, eat healthy and prioritise your wellbeing. Create a calm space where you can concentrate well and remember, while high grades are great, your mental and physical health matters more!

Wishing you the best of luck on your upcoming exams - may they be short and easy (one can dream, right?)! Do you have any exam survival tips? Share them with us and your fellow students in the comments below!

Over de auteur

Hoi hoi! My name is Avital, Israeli by nature, Dutch by nurture and always on the lookout for cute cats! My life motto is "when in doubt, dance it out"! When I'm not dancing around my room, I'm most likely learning yet another language or working on my Linguistics degree.


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