Skip to main content

Trinity College Dublin, The University of Dublin

Trinity Menu Trinity Search



Trinity In Twelve Weeks

Week 9 banner

This week is about preparing for your exams, covering
  • Studying
  • Stress
  • Planning & Practice
  • Time management
  • Top Tips for Exam season
You can get more information on all of this from Student Learning Development

Studying

A - Ask, Explain & Connect

  • Ask yourself questions while you are studying about how things work and why, then find the answers in your class materials and by discussing them with classmates.
  • As you elaborate, make connections between different ideas to explain how they work together. Take two ideas and think about ways they are similar and different.
  • Describe how the ideas you are studying relate to your own experiences and memories. As you go through your day, make connections to the ideas you are learning in class.
  • Make sure the way you are explaining and describing the ideas is accurate. Don't overextend the elaborations and always check with your class materials.
  • Work your way up so you can explain and describe without using your class materials

N - No Cramming

  • Start planning early for exams, and set aside a little bit of time every day. Five hours spread out over two weeks is better than five hours all at once.
  • Review information from each class, but not immediately after class. Wait at least 24 hours before reviewing.
  • As you review information from new classes, make sure to go back and review older information as well. This will keep it fresh.
  • When you sit down to study, make sure you are using effective study srategies and not just reading your notes.
  • This may seem difficult and you may forget some information from day to day but this is a good thing! It forces you to retrive the information from memory (which is letter R - Recall What You Know).
  • Create small spaces (a few days) and do a little bit over time, so that it all adds up.

S - Switch

  • Switch between ideas during your study session. Don't stay on one topic for too long.
  • Go back over the ideas again in different orders to strengthen your understanding.
  • Make links between different ideas as you swtich between them.
  • Make sure you spend enough time on an idea to understand it, and don't switch too often.
  • Switching will feel harder than studying the same thing for a long time, but that is good for your study and your understanding. You will come to understand the topics better when you are used to studying them in different orders.

W - Words & Visuals

  • Look at your class materials and find visuals. Look over the visuals and compare to the words.
  • Look at the visuals and explain in your own words what they mean.
  • Take information that you are trying to learn, and draw your own visuals to represent it.
  • Try to come up with different ways to represent the information - graphs, charts, diagrams, timelines, infographics...
  • Work your way up to drawing them from memory.

E - Examples

  • Collect examples your teacher has used, and look in your class materials for more.
  • Make the link between the idea you are studying and each example, so that you understand how the exapmle applies to the idea.
  • Share examples with friends, and explain them to each other for added benefit.
  • You might find examples online that are not used appropriately, make sure yours are correct and if you aren't sure, check with lecturer.
  • Ultimately, creating your own relevant examples will be most beneficial for your learning.

R - Recall What You Know

  • Put away your notes and write or sketch everything you can remember about an idea. Be as thorough as possible. Then check your notes for anything important you might have missed, or gotten wrong.
  • Do as many past papers as you can.
  • Make flashcards for help with recalling information, but make sure you think about the links between flashcards as well as the definitions written on them.
  • Recalling what you know works best when you go back to check your notes for accuracy afterwards.
  • It's hard! If you are struggling, identify the ideas you are missing and start studying them again until you have worked up to being able to recall them.
  • Don't only recall definitions and words, make sure to recall the ideas, examples and links as well.
Six strategies for effective studying

Stress

Stress

What is stress?

Stress is how you feel when you are facing demands that you are not sure you can meet. It is a normal part of everyday life and can be both positive and negative. Many things can trigger a stress response - relationships, money, work, exams, the expectation you put on yourself or the expectation you feel from others – the list is endless.

Stress can affect how you feel; how you think and behave; how confident you feel; and your energy levels. A small amount of stress can be healthy as it can motivate us and help prepare us for challenges in life. However, when this balance tips into high stress levels it can cause you to feel unwell. It is very difficult to measure stress levels as different people react to events in their lives in different ways – so what you find stressful may be motivating for someone else.

How to recognise stress

Stress symptoms will be different for different people it is important that you develop a picture of what you feel like when you are stressed. This will help you to recognise the symptoms of stress early, so that you can find ways of reducing stress. Recognising and managing stress early will help prevent it leading to more serious problems such as anxiety, depression or high blood pressure. Some common symptoms of stress are listed here

  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Tense muscles
  • Headaches
  • Feeling irritated/agitated
  • Sleeping problems
  • Breathlessness
  • Sweating
  • Loss of appetite
  • Upset stomach
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Racing thoughts

How to Manage Stress

Coping resources can broadly be divided into cognitive coping strategies and physical coping strategies. Some of these coping strategies will suit some people, others will not. The key is to have a range of resources that can be applied, depending upon the situation and the individual. Furthermore, it is important to have strategies one is comfortable using.

Cognitive Behavioural Strategies

These refer to ways of dealing with stress using our minds. Cognitive coping strategies are a good way to combat stress-producing thoughts. As Shakespeare’s Hamlet said, “. . . for there is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so. . .” Examples of these strategies are:

  • Reframing – focus on the good not the bad; think in terms of wants instead of shoulds. It’s best if our thinking is related to our goals. For example, “I want to read and understand this chapter in Chemistry so I do well in my lab practical” instead of “I have to read this difficult chapter in Chemistry”.
  • Challenging negative thinking – stopping the negative thoughts we may have about a situation or ourselves. Examples of negative thoughts include expecting failure, putting yourself down, feelings of inadequacy - a thought such as “Everyone else seems to understand this except me.”

In order to gain control of negative thoughts or worries, you must first become aware of them. Next, yell “Stop!” to yourself when they occur. Try replacing with positive affirmations or at least challenge or question any irrationality of the thoughts.

  • Positive self-talk – using positive language and statements to ourselves. These are sometimes referred to as positive affirmations; they are useful for building confidence and challenging negative thoughts. For example, “I can do this or understand this” or “I’ll try my best”. These work best when they are realistic and tailored to your needs and goals.
  • Count to ten – this allows you time to gain control and perhaps rethink the situation or come up with a better coping strategy.
  • Cost-benefit analysis – Is it helping me to get things done when I think this way?
  • Keeping perspective – when under stress it is easy to lose perspective; things can seem insurmountable. Some questions to ask yourself: Is this really a problem? Is this a problem anyone else has had? Can I prioritise the problems? Does it really matter? “Look on the bright side of life!” - Cultivate optimism.
  • Reducing uncertainty – seek any information or clarification you may require to reduce the uncertainty. It helps to ask in a positive way. Situations that are difficult to classify, are obscure or have multiple meanings can create stress.
  • Using imagery/visualisation –imagining yourself in a pleasant or a successful situation to help reduce stress. One way to use imagery is as a relaxation tool; try to remember the pleasure of an experience you’ve had or a place you’ve been. The more senses you involve in the image the more realistic, therefore the more powerful. This strategy is often combined with deep breathing or relaxation exercises.

Behavioural Coping Strategies

These refer to ways of dealing with stress by doing something or taking action to reduce the stress experienced. Examples of these strategies are:

  • Physical exercise – aerobic exercise is the most beneficial for reducing stress. It releases neurochemicals in the brain that aid concentration. For some people, even a short walk is sufficient to relieve stress.
  • Relaxation – from simple relaxation such as dropping the head forward and rolling it gently from side to side or simply stretching, to more complex progressive relaxation exercises. Progressive relaxation involves tensing and releasing isolated muscle groups until muscles are relaxed. Try the Student Counselling Service's Mindfulness podcast.
  • Breathing – from simple deep breaths to more complex breathing exercises related to relaxation and meditation.
  • Smile and Laugh - gives us energy and helps to lighten the load; relaxes muscles in the face.
  • Time management – specific strategies such as clarifying priorities, setting goals, evaluating how time is spent, developing an action plan, overcoming procrastination and organising time. These help us to cope with the numerous demands placed upon us, often a source of stress.
  • Social Support/Friends – encourage the development and nurturing of relationships.
  • Seek Help – to help us cope with unmanageable stress. Supports in college include the Student Health Centre, Student Counselling Service, College Tutors and Chaplains.

SilverCloud 'Space from Stress'

Silver Cloud is a computer-based system offering online programmes that target specific problems common to students. Students who use Silver Cloud are assigned a counsellor (from the Student Counselling Service) who ‘checks in’ online about once a week and gives extra help if needed. The programmes take 6-8 weeks to complete, and include both information and practical advice/exercises.

'Space from Stress' deals with the symptoms and causes of stress in student life

SilverCloud
Dealing with Stress

Planning & Practice

Past Papers

The first step in planning for exams is to get the past papers. It helps you to become familiar with the structure and format of the exam. They are useful for identifying types of questions you may be asked and planning your revision strategy.

By practising answering exam questions, you can considerably improve your performance. You can test yourself using past examination papers.

Make sure you find out if there will be any changes from the norm. Ask your lecturer! Some of them will be more forthcoming than others about what might be on the paper, but make sure you know the format - how many questions you have to answer; how many will be on the paper; will there be any compulsory questions; will they be short answer, multiple choice or essay questions?

Past Exam Papers

Planning

  • Use a revision planners.
  • Check the date, time and venue of all your exams.
  • Get an overview of the information you need to study.
  • Identifying your academic strengths and weaknesses will help you to plan and prioritise your revision schedule and ‘to do’ list in order to give your best personal performance in the exam.
  • Learn from the past by going over past exams to analyse what went well and what didn’t and put strategies in place to overcome any past problems.
  • List the topics you need to study and construct a revision timetable which prioritises topics in terms of importance and closeness to the date of exams.
  • Prioritise tasks by urgency and importance so you can make sure you cover what you have to do V what you would like to do.
  • Review your timetable regularly and adapt it if you feel it is not working for you.
  • Organise your study environment – the more similar it is to the exam situation the better it will help you prepare for exams.
  • Organise your notes and revision into separate topic folders for each exam.
  • Colour coding folders for different exam topics and repeating these colour codes on your timetable can help you to feel more organised
  • Check your course handbook, if applicable, for any information about the exam structure and format, what is expected and what percentage of your overall course each exam is worth.
  • Make sure you are familiar with any changes to the exam papers, marking criteria, compulsory questions or course syllabus before you start your revision.
  • When you are setting your study goals try to make them as meaningful to you as possible by brainstorming ideas, experimenting with different approaches and building in regular review periods and rewards.
  • Marking off what you have achieved on your revision timetable will give you a sense of achievement and satisfaction.
Revision Planners

Practicing

Simulate Exam Conditions

  • Simulate exam conditions
  • Memory and recall are two different processes
  • The key to both intellectual and emotional preparation for exams is simulation
  • The closer a simulation is to the actual event the more likely it is that preparation will be effective
  • A simulation engages both intellectual and emotional responses

Adjust your environment

  • Make part of your study space look like an exam hall
  • Use photos, sketches, etc to bring the exam venue into your study space
  • Mentally place yourself in the exam venue when your are rehearsing

Develop strategies for performance anxiety

  • Visit the exam venue and get comfortable in it
  • Know your potential examination anxiety
  • How likely is it that you will experience anxiety?
  • How serious will your anxiety be?
  • Plan to minimise
  • Simulate coping with exam anxiety at home
  • Practice “time out” in place
  • Maintain your physical and mental health
  • Go into the exam rested

Rehearse performing at your personal best

  • Practice deconstructing questions using a prepared format
  • Practice writing answers using prepared answer formats
  • Mark your own answers as critically as possible
  • Practice – un-timed and timed

Exam Skills Workshops

SLD run a number of exam skills workshops towards the end of each semester, usually divided by faculty. Make sure you attend one before your exams start.

SLD Website
Exams
Exams

Time Management

Time management strategies

  1. Prioritise: You probably have a lot of things to do, so assess how important and how urgent the tasks are; then make sure high priority tasks get done first and are not put off on a regular basis. Avoid time wasters!
  2. Be specific: Make the task as specific as possible - we tend to follow through then, especially if we write it down. For example, instead of telling yourself “I’ll do some statistics this week,” try “I’ll do 3 descriptive statistics problems Tuesday at 7pm.”
  3. Small bite-size pieces: It’s easy to feel overwhelmed, so try breaking tasks down into smaller sub-tasks. Once you’ve started it’s easier to keep going.
  4. Use all available time: This is an especially good strategy if you are pressed for time. You don’t necessarily need a block of time in order to study. Students often have time between classes, travel time, etc. There are lots of study tasks that can be accomplished in short periods, such as reviewing main points of a reading or a lecture.
  5. Structure the environment: Find a place, preferably one you can use regularly and with limited distractions. Make sure you have all the essentials so you have no excuses.
  6. Establish a routine: We are creatures of habit. If you always study at a certain time or day then it will be easier to get into concentration mode. Also, it is better to study briefly and regularly

These are just the basics, find out more on the Academic Skills Blackboard Module

Blackboard

Organising your materials

  1. Once a week clear and sort out loose papers and handouts etc. into colour-coded or labelled files and folders. One colour for each subject.
  2. File lecture notes etc. in the correct file as soon as you get home.
  3. Label file folders, boxes, notebooks etc. using colour codes or pictures.
  4. Use a pin board or whiteboard near your desk or computer to hold important information.
  5. Use a wall planner in addition to a diary, or put all your diary and timetable into Microsoft Outlook and link this to your mobile phone or Google calendar in MyZone.
  6. Set up different folders for different modules on your computer desktop rather than having lots of individual documents cluttering up the space

Planning

  1. Create a master schedule that indicates on a term or year basis when holidays, exams, reports, essays etc. are due. Post it in a prominent spot!
  2. Create a weekly schedule.
    • At a regular time, e.g. Sunday evening, plan your week taking into account your master schedule and your study goals for that week
    • Mark out commitments such as classes, labs, work, sport, meals, etc.
    • Make a list of your study tasks - be specific and prioritise.
    • Schedule into available time slots these study tasks.
    • Consider the purpose of the study task - if it’s working on an essay, more time will be needed therefore schedule a block of time. If the purpose is for review, say to scan a text then make use of the odd half hours available.
    • Schedule tasks that may require maximum concentration during your “peak” or periods of maximum alertness – this varies from person to person.
    • Allot times for relaxation, exercise, etc. and be sure to include a “Cease study” time that allows time to unwind before sleep (and it gives you something to look forward to!).
    • Monitor and Evaluate: review what has been accomplished at the end of a day and decide if the schedule needs to be changed the next day.
  3. Some students work better off a detailed daily To Do List. Again, at a regular time (for example last thing at night or first thing in the morning) plan your day taking into account your master schedule and the study goals for the week.
  4. When you have finished a study task, cross it off your timetable or list.
  5. Avoid too much detail - a schedule has to remain flexible or it becomes a dinosaur! Everyone has different needs; perhaps start with just organising study tasks for certain classes. Or only list your priorities.
  6. Schedule in rewards, for example your favourite TV programme after doing a task you were dreading.

You'll find downloadable weekly, monthly and annual planners on the Student Learning Development website and in the Blackboard module

Planners

5 Minute Video

Watch a five minute crash course on time management here

Time management video
Academic Skills Blackboard Module

Top Tips for Exam Season!

Exam Tips