5 Final Exam Tips | Top Universities

5 Final Exam Tips

By Danny Byrne

Updated February 19, 2021 Updated February 19, 2021

We’ve all been there before: The deafening tick-tock of the second hand on the clock face. The industrious scratching of nib on paper all around. The pristine whiteness of your untouched page. You steal a glance around you: everywhere, heads bowed in solemn concentration. Calm and in control. They all know the answer! How?? You look back at the exam paper. Nope. Still not a clue. You’re running out of time. Your palms are clammy. Your pulse is racing. Shouldn’t have had that third coffee. Should have studied harder. Should have eaten more seafood as a child – fatty acids, good for the brain. Apparently. But it’s too late. You’re screwed.

Or something. Whether it ended up with you heroically pulling the perfect answer out of the bag or running away and joining the circus, we’ve all had nightmares about final exams. They’re the ugly side of the university dream. After all, at open days they’ll tell you about three years of unbroken fulfilment, intellectual discovery and social success. They probably won’t tell you about the hours spent in a stuffy exam hall cursing your own stupidity and wishing you’d joined the army, become a farmer, or learnt an honest trade.

Of course, in reality it’s never really that bad. You wouldn’t be at university in the first place if you hadn’t dealt with exams before – and who knows, maybe you’re one of the lucky ones who just knuckles down, does the revision, stays calm and comes out on the other side smelling of roses. But for most people final exams are a necessary hardship that ranks somewhere between a rainy Monday morning and childbirth in the universal scale of human suffering. Here are some quick exam tips for getting through your final exams with your sanity intact:

1. Get a good night’s sleep before your final exams.

There will probably come a point the night before your final exams when it suddenly dawns on you: if you just put on another pot of coffee or crack open a red bull, you could stay up a few hours longer, cram in some more life-saving last-minute revision, and worry about sleep when it’s all over. What could go wrong? DON’T LISTEN TO THE VOICES. Any extra knowledge you gain from a few frantic hours of cramming the night before will be negated by the fact that sleep deprivation has reduced your mental capacity to that of a lobotomized gnat. Knowing stuff is important, but not as important as your ability to spell your own name or count to two.

2. Take five minutes to read through the questions properly and plan your answers.

Remember the story about the race between the tortoise and the hare? No? Well, google it. Basically, the tortoise wins. The point is, chances are the examiner is going to actually read your answer rather than just give you a gold star for filling up loads of paper with some words that you thought of really quickly. Likewise, there aren’t many things worse than getting to the end of an ingenious answer only to realise you’ve actually completely misunderstood the question. Five or ten minutes making a few bullet points and gathering your thoughts could be the most useful time you spend. (I realize this probably means nothing if you’re doing maths or science, but I studied English so I can’t help you there)

3. Write clearly and get to the point.

Long words aren’t going to confuse an examiner into thinking you’re a genius. In fact, they’ll probably make them think you don’t really know what you’re talking about.  Also, don’t bore them to death with long sentences – if you’re thinking of using a colon, chances are you should use a full stop instead. See also: paragraph breaks.

4. Don’t just learn an answer off by heart and reproduce it regardless of the question.

Wouldn’t it be great if that worked? It doesn’t. You have to actually answer the question.

5. Think positively and you’ll probably be fine.

Don’t beat yourself up about the fact that you haven’t learnt everything, no one really does. And remember that no matter how earth-shatteringly important it seems at the time, whatever happens, life will go on and everything will probably be fine. After all, you could always actually join the circus! Seriously. And besides, if you go into your final exams in the right frame of mind you might surprise yourself by thinking of a load of things to say that never occurred to you before. It doesn’t matter how much you’ve learned, if you work yourself up into a nervous wreck you probably won’t do yourself justice.

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This article was originally published in March 2012 . It was last updated in February 2021

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