Assessments are always a bit stressful, but they’re especially daunting at the end of semester. Our wonderful team has compiled some handy tips so that you can make sure you’re prepared for any and every type of assessment you have ahead of you and get through the exam period as smoothly as possible!
Essays that run all semester
- Start a plan early and stick to it! This is not the assessment you can do the night before. At all. Divide your tasks into stages like research, planning, drafting, editing and give yourself a deadline for each stage.
- Use the few days you have before it is due to do some heavy editing. When you’ve been working on something for such a long time, it’s easy to slip up a few times. Make sure it reads as a whole coherent piece and you don’t end up repeating yourself all the time!
- Get someone else to read over it. It’s easy to get so sick of something that you just don’t care anymore when you’ve been slaving away on it for a whole semester, so someone else might pick up on things you wouldn’t even notice.
- Don’t be scared to change/completely scrap ideas that you thought were great at the start of semester. Your ideas will change as you learn more and that’s okay!
Essays over a few weeks
- Make a word document with all of the useful quotes and arguments you come across in your readings! This means that instead of having to go back through them when you’re writing up your essay, you can see all of them in the one place. It’s also a good idea to organise them into subheadings for arguments and/or paragraphs.
- Sometimes, even if you don’t feel like it, you just have to get words on the page. You can always revise the paragraph later. It feels so much better having written something, rather than putting it off due to lack of inspiration, and subsequently having a Red Bull-fuelled freak out session the day before it’s due.
- Don’t waste time trying to write a great sentence. Write a bad sentence that you can fix. Even if sometimes the words don’t make any sense – just write them down. It’s okay if your first draft looks like this:
”It is important to note that [the theorist person] was criticised for [get a quote].”
- Don’t be scared to consult with your tutor if you’re feeling a bit lost. They aren’t allowed to tell you what to write, but they are allowed to tell you if writing an entire essay on Beyoncé is a good idea or not.
Sit-down, closed-book exam
- Don’t focus on memorising the content word-for-word. While you might need to know some key definitions, these types of exams generally aim to test your understanding of concepts rather than how well you can memorise things.
- Make the most of any practice questions you’ve been given throughout the semester, and do them multiple times until you’re getting most of them right – especially if there’s a chance the same questions will be on the exam.
- Do your required readings! Even if you won’t be examined on them, a lot of the time they’re prescribed because they give you a deeper understanding of key concepts.
- Don’t rely on reading over your notes on the day of your exam to help you pass. You’ll perform much better if you study the content over the space of a week or so, and use the day of the exam to look after yourself and make sure you’re in a good mindset.
- If your exam involves any mathematic formulas, make sure you check in advance to see whether or not said formulas will be provided (which often happens in subjects like Psych). You don’t want to waste time memorising them if you’re going to have them given to you in the exam anyway!
- Go to revision lectures! Even though lecturers and tutors are not allowed to tell you what will be on the exam, they often show their appreciation to the people who turn up to these lectures through subtle hints.
- Do not fall into the trap of thinking an open-book exam is going to be easier. You will be expected to work at a higher standard and/or achieve more in the time allotted.
- Do practice exams! Don’t think it’s okay to not learn and practice the content just because you’ll have it in your notes. Save your notes for those things with really long/complex/annoying names you know you just won’t remember.
- If there’s something you can study and remember off by heart, do so! It can be best to think of open-book exams like closed-book ones – that is, you still need to study things, but with the back-up of having notes for the things you find tricky.
- Make your notes really really easy to navigate. You don’t want to waste your time looking for information in your notes. You need to know where each topic is located and be able to quickly reach that page. Colour coding, tabs, and a table of contents are all good ways of achieving this.
- If you’re only allowed to bring in a certain amount of pages, don’t try to cram as much as you can into them. While writing down key concepts in your margins in handwriting so small it looks like it’s been written by an ant might seem like a smart idea at the time, it’ll mean you’ll be spending a lot of time trying to decipher your notes and less time actually doing your exam.
- Make sure you’ve done your readings! A lot of the time tutors are more than okay with you mostly focusing on the prescribed readings in take-home exams, so if you’ve done them in advance you’ll save yourself a lot of time.
- Make a really specific plan in advance. Try to keep yourself on track with several key checkpoints throughout the exam. For example, decide when you’ll stop planning, when you’ll start editing etc. Several smaller goals are much easier to achieve than one big one!
- Plan out where and when you’re going to do the exam in advance. Take-home exams are time sensitive, so you don’t want to realise that you’re working over the 3 days you have to complete it at the last minute, or suddenly decide you can only do work in the library when it’s already 3pm and you won’t be able to find an empty seat.
- Make sure you have good food on hand. The last thing you want is a sugar crash 2 hours before the exam is due.
- Go to your tutorials/catch up on any tutorial content you missed. The concepts and ideas that you’ll be getting great marks for in take-home exams are often the same ones that are discussed in tutes throughout the semester, and sometimes tutors are generous enough to discuss specific questions that appear on the actual exam.
- Keep in mind that presentations are not the same as essays, and you will have to read it aloud. It’s better to write it in the way that you usually speak, rather than trying to fit in a lot of impressive words that will sound weird and forced when you’re actually presenting.
- While some people can memorise entire presentations off by heart, a lot of people cannot. If you’re in the latter category, it’s a good idea to write out your presentation and then put it all into dot points. This way you won’t freak out during the presentation if you forget a sentence and lose where you’re up to.
- Make sure you read your presentation aloud to practice, and not just in your head. Add in commas when you take a breath if you have written it down word-for-word. It can be really helpful to record yourself reading your presentation aloud to a) work out if you need to add more intonation and b) to listen to it over and over while doing other things to help with memorisation.
- Try to practice in the room you’ll be presenting in. You’ll be able to focus much better if you already know the layout of the room, where the audience will be, the size of the podium etc.
- Vent your stress in a productive and useful way outside of group meetings. When there’s a group of people under pressure, it’s very easy to get angry with your team. If one member isn’t pulling their weight or has stinky feet or chews loudly, tell your cat all about it, go for a walk, cook something – do anything that doesn’t involve bringing your frustration to meetings.
- Bring snacks. Everyone is happier when they’ve had something to eat.
- Try to be as flexible as possible. It’s frustrating when you can’t seem to find a time for all of you to meet, but keep in mind that people have commitments like work and other assessments that they have to schedule meetings around. If someone can’t make it, it’s not the end of the world. You can always Skype them in, get them to send through their input ahead of time, or send them a summary of the meeting afterwards.
- If someone isn’t putting in any work, talk to them about it. While it’s tempting to cut them out of all future decisions and complain to your other group members about them, sometimes things can be resolved with a simple conversation.
- Make sure you are well-presented. Your appearance can make a huge difference overall! If you don’t have a set costume, wearing all black usually works well for things like drama. Try not to wear anything that could be deemed as inappropriate by the examiners, but make sure whatever you wear is super comfortable!
- It’s crucial that you are patient, polite, and display common courtesy towards your examiners. Also make sure you have your printed scores ready to give to them!
- Be well-prepared for your performance. This means having lots of mock performances, or technical exams. The more you practice in front of an audience, the more you can deal with pressure, nerves and so on. Blind practicing also helps for all performers!
- Be there early. Once you miss your performance time, there’s no alternative way to organise it again.
- If you have any questions about your performance, don’t hesitate to contact your teacher. They are there to help you to be the greatest you can be. You can also get your friends to give you suggestions on how you can improve.
- Warming up before music performances is essential! Try not to overdo it – an hour or so of warming up should be more than enough. If you’re doing a recital, two hours is the max.
No matter what type of assessment you’ve got ahead of you, the best you can do is know your content, manage your time wisely, and most importantly have faith in yourself! Not undermining your abilities and surrounding yourself with people who want to see you do your best does wonders, regardless of whether you’re writing an essay or preparing for a big performance. Good luck!
– The Unimelb Adventures Team