Features writer, Charlotte Wace talks about how to survive revision and exams.
It’s 10am. After a hard day of intense procrastination yesterday, I have decided that today will be different. My phone will remain resolutely on silent, out of sight, where it cannot beckon me with its enticing flashing. I will remind myself that Facebook does not count as research, however intelligent the people I am stalking are and will refrain from typing it into my browser. I will stay within this emotionless barricade of books that surround my desk and will not be tempted to move, by the rugby team walking past my window or the smell of bacon from the kitchen.
10.10 and I am convinced there is something wrong with my brain. I’ve done plenty of exams in my life and I’ve never had this much difficulty. I postpone my revision temporarily to carry out some emergency Googling and eventually conclude I have some combination of ADHD and dementia, alcohol poisoning or traumatic brain injury; the fact I can’t remember how it happened merely makes this option more probable. All this worrying has completely unsettled me, so I watch an episode of 90210 to cheer myself up. After telling myself I’ll only watch ten minutes of the following episode, I decide that I’ve already wasted most of the morning, so there’s no point starting work before lunch.
Countless people have said to me: “I’ve LITERALLY done no revision today” or “I just can’t motivate myself to do ANYTHING.” I’ve learnt over the years that almost invariably these are robotic geeks, whose work ethic means that anything less than 8 three-hour practice papers in a day constitutes slacking. They hide beneath claims of procrastination whilst clumsily scattering revision cards all over the floor. There are also the loud and proud, who rub their revision notes in your face so you can smell the sweat on the page, and convince you that you’re destined for a life asking: “is that with or without fries?” or clearing out animal muck. There are also those who claim their First was achieved with nothing but night-before-exam cramming. I aspire to the former two: to have the motivation to work from dawn ‘til dusk without ending up rocking back and forth chanting ‘no more.’ I want to whack the former round the head with my dictionary for having life so easy when the rest of us are walking around in a book induced daze, manically gibbering keywords and wringing our ink-blotched hands in agitation.
There is no right way to revise: what works for some may not work for you. My best friend does relatively little all term, then locks herself in her room, shuts the blinds, and puts angry notices on the door for the three days leading up to an exam, morphing from a fun-loving free spirit to a hormonally charged and dangerous species of bat.
My ex-boyfriend had a ‘revision hat’, putting a new literal meaning into the term ‘thinking cap’ which he claimed helped him concentrate. He looked like a moron, but it worked for him. If attempting to swallow vast swathes of information in the library is getting you down, perhaps you should try something new. I’m not advocating that you waste your money on a new hat, or start riding rodeo bulls whilst reciting averages a la Chris Moyles. But even just a change of scene can reinvigorate you.
With the news that the UK is back in recession, and the huge growth in student numbers in the last ten years, the pressure to do well has never been greater. Perhaps this is what triggered staggering numbers to cheat (45,000 across 80 institutions in the last three years – and that was only the ones caught).
More worryingly, every year there is at least one tragic story of of a student who couldn’t withstand the pressure and saw suicide as the only way out.
Mental health charity ‘Mind’ have published some useful tips on successful revision without stress. They suggest breaking revision into manageable chunks, with frequent breaks, and measurable goals, instead of panicked cramming sessions. Above all, they urge: keep it in perspective. Often exams are not the sole determinant of your success and, although they should be seen as the last resort, re-takes have been invented for a reason.
On your darkest days, remember that the gold of the grades does not necessarily dictate your achievement in future life; the big dog of psychology, Robert Sternberg got a C on his first college psychology paper. Dick Cheney also hoisted himself up to vice presidency despite failing the year, not once, but twice at Yale University. Sir Winston Churchill was a self-confessed dunce in exams.
Revision doesn’t have to be daunting or complicated. If all else fails, just go with these fundamental points:
Rest. Results go hand in with hard, miserable labour, but you can’t expect your brain to be your friend if you subject it to constant whipping with facts, with no recovery time.
Eat. Ideally, trek to Tesco, getting some fresh air in the process and stock up on omega 3- rich fish and healthy blueberries to give that brain a boost. Realistically, adopt the mind-set “I’ve been working all day and I want a bloody pizza” and dial Domino’s. Take a multivitamin tablet with it and you’ll be fine.
Visualize. It’s easy to fall into a fantasy world of back up plans if you fail. But take a minute to visualise the future, in the moments you feel like flushing your soul down the toilet. And bear in mind that even being a pig farmer on some rural country establishment probably requires some sort of agricultural qualification nowadays.
Idiocy. Don’t encourage it. There will always be some who choose Sambuca over studies – and expect a massive high five for their decision. “Mate, you’re such a legend”. No mate, you’re not, and you definitely won’t be in three months’ time when your results suggest you have the intelligence of a donkey.
Swot. It’s a simple equation, and one that features in every exam: The more you swot, the more you get. You can’t buy good results (well maybe you can, but I wouldn’t recommend it, and it probably won’t help your overdraft).
Interesting. Mix it up. Sing your sums; rap your reading; dance to data. You might sound like a fool, but studies have shown that our brains respond much more effectively to repetitive sounds and rhythms.
Objectives. A beautifully coloured-in revision timetable, bordered with flowers every colour of the rainbow looks great – but will it get you the grades?
Now. “It’s fine”, you think. “I’ve got two weeks. I can do a lot in two weeks.” Watch carefully, as two weeks dwindle to a week, three days, an evening. The words “maybe later” nearly always mean“too late.”You can still do the whole ‘live every day like its your last’ thing, sell all your belongings for 50 quid and jump on the next flight to Australia and be a free, uninhibited beach bum.
Just not now.
Right now, throw your street cred out of the window, and pick up a book instead.