• Wenee Yap

Last-Minute Exam Crams: Don’t Panic

“How is education supposed to make me feel smarter? Besides, every time I learn something new, it pushes some old stuff out of my brain. Remember when I took that home winemaking course, and I forgot how to drive?” – Homer Simpson

So you’ve ignored all our prior pragmatic advice: pacing yourself throughout the semester, studying in well-chosen groups to divide up your workload, doing your readings regularly so you don’t have an Everest heap left for your final week. Despite your best intentions, life intervened. Work, family, friends, a few implosions, scandals, deaths, disasters and client deadlines. It happens.

Still, it is now Week 13. You have final exams for all your subjects in less than a week. Status is Defcon 2. Cuban missile crises pale by contrast.

Considering your situation, we’ll keep it brief. Since you are still reading, we can assume that you haven’t opted to drop the subjects, drop out of law school or procrastinate further. You’re here for hope. So reach for the coffee (pure black, with plenty of refills), turn off your mobile phone, lock yourself into study isolation and prepare for the last minute super-cram.

Don’t Panic.

OhgodImgoingtofail. Idontknowanything. Imafraud. UnlessIscoreDistinctionorhigher, thereisnopointintrying. Everyoneelseissmarterthanme. Iwouldratherdiethanfail. Cue hyperventilation, dizziness, heart palpitations, detachment, and other symptoms of your textbook panic attack. You procrastinate from fear, you do less than your best, and you may fail. Failure, obviously, equals the end of the world.

Don’t Panic. It’s the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy line to live by, and it’s good advice. Negative panic thinking or self-talk like “I’m going to fail” or “I can’t do anything to save myself” – Homer Simpson talk – keeps you in a cycle of anxiety which is not only unproductive, it’s self-destructive.

Lisa Pryor experienced clinical depression while at the apparent height of her career (so far). An accomplished SMH journalist, she had entered law school with the awe-inspiring ‘perfect 100′ UAI. Yet she recognised the debilitating, crushing sense of inertia brought on by the kind negative thinking common to perfectionists and pessimists. “It’s quite disturbing,” she said, observing the claustrophobic thinking of many young high achievers. “Here are a group of people who look down on ‘average people’ and what they see as an ‘average life’ – just living in an ordinary suburb, doing an ordinary job, no exotic holidays , not being noticed or exceptional in any way – so much, they would rather die than be ordinary.”

James Crisp, a barrister and yoga teacher in Sydney, urges students to guard against negative life habits. “If you don’t have good habits in eating, diet and sleeping – even in the way you think – this can harm your health. It may not be apparent in a minute, during the day or a whole week, but once a bad pattern becomes ingrained, it will impact upon your whole personality.”

The Crash Court 5 Step Check List

  1. Review all your subject outlines and highlight important focus topics.

  2. Get Notes. Tab must-read articles or chapters in your textbook.

  3. Find any worked exam problems/essays given in class or through textbook exam guides for your subject.

  4. Plan your time. Be tough, but realistic.

  5. Work through old exams. Alone, and if possible, with a friend.

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