It’s exam season! This is now my sixth official exam season of my life, from GCSEs upwards, so over the years I’ve had plenty of experience with revising. That dreaded word.
University exams are, or at least they have been in my experience, very different to GCSE and A Level exams. For one, they make way more sense (I can only speak for English and History exams here as that’s the course I study), but there’s a stark difference in that you tend to only revise for a couple of weeks rather than a good couple of months.
This can make university exams better and worse. A lot of people I know get really stressed out by the short revision period compared to what they’re used to, but personally I like to treat it the same as old Key Assessments back in the day. Essentially, that’s what they are – a test at the end of a module to see what you’ve learned. I make this distinction because that’s very far removed from GCSE and A Level exams, which for all intents and purposes these days are designed to align with government statistics and desires.
Personally, when I was at school, our teachers used to turn to us and inform us that we’d be having a test in four days’ time, or maybe in one week’s time. So alongside all the regular work for other subjects, we’d have to revise whatever module this test was on. And this was a regular occurrence for me, so to be at university with up to three weeks to revise properly for exams is actually fairly reasonable. You have no lectures, and you can devote as much time to revision as you like.
Plus, there’s the added bonus that, boring as revision may be, it’s a brief stint – you can go back to doing interesting things in a relatively short amount of time. That’s actually something I love about it.
Here’s a few ways I revise for university exams:
1: Rewatch lectures.
Obviously this only works for lectures that have been recorded in the first place, but when it is an option, it’s so beneficial. I like to put them on and fill in the original notes I took with the detail I missed the first time around. It both refreshes your memory and allows you to finetune your work.
2: Create index cards.
This goes for all exams, really – you just can’t go wrong with index/flash cards. I try to squash them down to what’s definitely important to know, so it’s not like writing out the entire course notes again. That would just be a bit pointless.
3: Annotate. Annotate. Annotate.
I study English Literature modules, so there’s usually a lot of material to know inside out. Right now I’m revising for a Shakespeare exam, and annotating the collection is one of the best things alongside rereading the plays. I like to use little coloured post-it stickers to mark important sections, quotes, and whatever else. Injecting a little colour into anything brightens the day!
4: Find that friend who you can work with.
Revising with friends can be risky or rewarding. You can either end up distracting each other completely, have one person be a constant distraction, or work well together. By exam time you should be aware of who you work best around, so set up camp somewhere with them and get going on revision. I like being around people I know I can work with, because being completely isolated when revising is thoroughly demoralising, while being around people who don’t take the work as seriously as you do is stressful.
5: When in doubt, give a lecturer a shout.
Most of the time, lecturers are readily available, whether by email or by office hours. With some of my exams, we can have fairly free license on what we revise – for one of my English exams, we can essentially choose whichever English texts we like, whether on the module or not, so it’s always a good call to just check in and see if something’s alright.
6: Look at any exam resources you’ve been given.
The final week of each semester’s teaching for me has been where the lecturers and tutors provide exam advice. Even if they don’t tell you particularly what will be in the exam, I’ve been so happy to find that they’re genuinely not trying to catch you out. A lot of what will be on the exam paper will have been in past exams for that module, and they’ll be readily available for your perusal.
If there’s anything to be taken away from my experience of university exams so far, it’s this: the university staff actually care about the education of their students, and most of the time they really hope the students can bring something new or interesting to the table. It’s much more about the material, and not at all about however many students are “allowed” an A* by the government this year. So don’t stress too much.