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After about 17 years in formal education, some university students are being asked to take their final exams online – in a different format than they’ve ever experienced. This comes on top of a pandemic that has already taken a toll on their mental health.
But there are upsides, too. Remote exams are more flexible, more mindful of individual needs, and acknowledge the pressures students are under. Here are some ways students can tailor their revision to make the most of online assessment.
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Create a revision routine
First, decide what topics to cover, and what kinds of knowledge or learning the exam is testing. Tutors can help with this, as well as past papers and sample answers.
Once you’ve got your exam timetable, divide the remaining time by the number of topics to create a study schedule. Building routine into your revision is especially important right now, according to Delroy Hall, senior counsellor and wellbeing practitioner at Sheffield Hallam University. “Covid-19 and the pandemic has now disrupted all that [routine], so we have to be intentional in how we manage our lives.”
Hall recommends the Pomodoro technique, too: 25 minutes of study followed by a five-minute break, then repeat. This is helpful if you feel overwhelmed by revision or struggle to stay focused.
Learn concepts – not just words
Start reviewing course notes, marked essays, lecture videos and important source material. But, Hall says, “learn concepts and ideas, don’t memorise lots of text”. Open book exams let you show you know how to apply learning, not what you can remember. But while this takes some pressure off, hunting for sources during a test can be distracting.
One solution is to make summary sheets with key ideas, quotes and analysis. This active revision helps you understand and remember information, and also makes it easier to find what you need during the exam.
Ideally you’ll start revision early, with existing notes to review rather than learning new material. “We’ve got more stress than normal, so you want to do what you can to release that,” Hall says.
Don’t panic if you’ve left it late, though. Make a plan, but prioritise topics by the time available. Hall’s “worry sheet” technique can also help. Fold a sheet of paper in half, and fill one side with things you can control (such as meal times and bed times) and the other with things you can’t (when the vaccine will be ready). Then focus on doing the things you can control, and let the rest take care of itself.
Tackle exam anxieties
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Sitting exams online, alone and during a pandemic is a huge thing – it’s OK to feel anxious or angry about it. There are also ways to manage the worries. Try to minimise stress by creating an exam space that is separate from your revision zone: sit at a desk or the kitchen table, for example, rather than in bed.
Check if your university has exam walkthroughs online. These show what the process will be like, from logging in to uploading answers. Try to download, log in and practise using any recommended software in advance. And if you’re worried about not having a computer or internet connection during the exam, ask your university to loan you a laptop, dongle, or other essential kit.
If 24- and 48-hour exams are new to you, go through a dry run of these, too. It’s not about staying at your desk for days. You’ll feel and perform better with a schedule that balances cranking out answers with eating, sleeping and relaxing.