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Surviving Back-to-Back Exams

Girl sitting on pile of books

Some years it feels like the exam timetable makers have it in for you. The examination period is nearly a month long, but all your exams are crammed into a 2.5-day window. What do you do when you have an evidence exam in the morning and several grueling hours of equity in the afternoon? Panic?

Getting Ready

Preparation is key for any exam, but particularly for the back-to-back exam scenario. When all your exams are close together, there isn’t really an opportunity to stagger your study. Don’t fall into the high school habit of only studying for the first exam and hoping the time between exams will be enough to learn everything there is to know about directors’ duties.

When your exams are spread out you can get away with studying each subject in blocks, but in this case you’ll have to do a bit of study for all your subjects each day. Allocate study time according to your strengths and weaknesses so that you feel equally prepared for all exams when the time comes.

The night before a multi-exam day should be relatively restful. Spend your remaining study time re-reading your beautifully colour-coded notes. Double-check the exam locations and times, and organise your lunch and outfit for the next day so you have less to think about on the morning. Be sure to turn in early: tomorrow is a big day and you’ll need all the sleep you can get.


The first exam is just like any other exam, but backing up and doing another paper is the tricky part. Focus on coming down from your previous exam: rest your hand, re-organise your pencil case, casually scan your notes. Take care of the basics: eat, drink lots of water (not energy drinks) and go to the bathroom.

If you have a locker or room where you can leave your books and notes from the first exam, do it. For me, carrying around things from your first exam somehow makes it harder to get in the mind space for sitting another test.

Exam Number Two

The second exam of the day is always harder. You’re tired and your wrist hurts. Use reading time to work out how you’ll allocate your time for each question. This is what you should do in every exam, but it’s especially helpful for Exam Number Two as having frequent deadlines to meet will help you to stay focused and avoid drifting.

Chances are you’re going to get tired, if not before the second exam, then during it. It’s a good idea to get the hardest problem solving or essay question out of the way first so when your brain starts feeling tired, you’ll have only the ‘easier’ questions left to do. But if there’s a multi-choice component to the exam you should do that first to get those ‘easy’ marks, and then deal with the essay or problem-solving questions in descending order of difficulty.

So now your second exam is over and you’re feeling a little dazed. Not that there’s really time for it to register. You need to go home and get ready for your 9am exam tomorrow…

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