“What was the most valuable lesson law school taught me? That I’m able to survive on four hours of sleep a night during exam week,” said Kirk Simmons, a vis moot team member UTS:Law honours graduate. “Just kidding,” he added.
Getting a good night’s rest might sound rather grandma and hardly conducive to the clubs and cocktails hedonist style of university life. Alternatively, you might feel too stressed to sleep easy. However, working without sleep to the final minute before your exam is almost asking for disaster. Do as much as you can until the afternoon or, if you must, the night before your exam – and then, let it go. Arrange your notes, review your template and worked answers one last time, and pack ready for the exam tomorrow.
Forget about it. As much as you can. Enjoy a satisfying dinner; perhaps even catch a short TV show or film. Give your big brain bursting with legal principles a break. Try and get a full night’s rest. Eight hours is the general recommendation. By now, even if you did a cram effort, you will have done as much as you could in the time left to you. Tomorrow, you will do your best. The skies won’t fall if you don’t keep up your GPA. The world will keep turning. Remember – perspective.
Struck by night-before exam insomnia? Watching with horror as the worst-case nightmare exam scenario keeps flashing before your eyes – you can’t find your notes, you don’t understand the question, while time just keeps ticking away? Make some space in the day – perhaps just half an hour – to jog or go for a walk in the afternoon to settle your nerves. If all else fails, warm milk and honey is very much an old wives’ cure-all.
The Day of the Exam
If you are feeling compulsive, browse through your notes one last time to assure yourself of where everything is located. If you don’t remember something, don’t panic study. It may come to you later. It may not even matter. Avoid dwelling on thoughts of the grade you think you need to be satisfied. This tends to obscure what’s really important today – proving to the person who is marking your exam paper that you know what you are talking about, and can apply legal principles persuasively, consistently and where possible, with ingenuity and insight.
Eat a filing breakfast. Panadol, coffee and toast is not breakfast. Cereal and oats might be. Try not to have too much caffeine or sugar before the exam, or you might hit a ‘wall’ during the exam.
Once in the exam, read every question twice, allocate your time to each question and draw up a rough plan for each answer. Write legibly in pen. Don’t panic if the answer doesn’t come to you immediately – focus on addressing what you do understand first. Other questions may become clearer as you write and get into the groove of completing the exam. In answering your questions, be mindful of lifting whole sections out of the lecturer’s notes or the textbook – remember you are being assessed on your ability to analyse and argue, not brain-dump. Also consider the nature of the exam: open-book exams tend to require deeper knowledge, whereas closed-book exams look for your ability to recall key information and argue effectively – the latter are designed to short-circuit the general urge to brain-dump your notes without analysis.
Avoid Anxiety by Association
If you meet a group of friends or students who are fully occupied by the task of exam catastrophising – or worse, last-minute studying – steer clear. If you feel stressed, take deep breaths. Clear your mind. Be aware of the immediate world around you. Stay cool. Know that you will be fine – even if the unthinkable happens, and you fail. Academia, like life, is not about a straight-run of easy success followed by glory and envy. Even apparent failure may be there to teach you something. Life is not happening to you, it’s happening for you.
So, in a nutshell: shift your perspective, avoid the catastrophists and (hopefully) ace your exam.
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