Miguel Panao | Professor and Author

Finding ways to improve scientific writing and academic productivity.

No way to escape exams: how-to find hope instead of despair

3-Thoughts to help you overcome exams successfully

If you’re studying for exams, do you feel nervous before entering the room? Do you feel fear and anxiety about how are your going to perform? What makes you feel like that? What do you complaint the most when preparing for your exams?

When I was a student, I got nervous before the exam because it is the most natural and human thing to feel. You want to show your professor what you know, but also to yourself, and fear, anxiety are mixed feelings in the uncertainty of the new challenges you going to face. Even if I felt this when I was a student, today, it is no different, but being on the other side I listen to a few common complaints.

“Time to study.”

“Short time between exams.”

Students say the biggest problem in preparing for an exam is not to consolidate knowledge. No. It is a mix between time management and exam management. And this hurts. After spending a whole semester speaking about how important it is to work every day for every discipline, like eating or taking a bath, listening to these complaints hurts. Not because they didn’t listen. No. Because they didn’t believe it was possible.

I believe the time spent at the University is the best time to prepare for the rest of your life. Although I never left to work at a company, as a Professor, I work at a company called University, and if I knew the value of working on my academic productivity, I could have gone farther, regardless how far I’ve gone.

Listening to my students, almost all of them, even the best ones, I notice there is a general approach of being uncomfortable studying for any other subjects except the subject of the closest exam. The problem is they might have a week, for example, to study for that exam, but only 3 days to study for the next, if not 1 day. Here are 3-thoughts on what can you do to overcome fear and be successful in your exams.

#1. Everything, every day

I systematically recommend you study for every exam, every day, and eventually dedicate more time to the closest ones. And a good method to stay focused is the time-chucking method (see this excellent book by Damon Zahariades). Usually, the method consists in 4 half-hour blocks of 25 minutes focused on the task at hand, followed by a 5 minutes break. However, if you think you need over 25 minutes to focus on a subject, you simply adjust the time-blocks. There are some apps like “Be Focused” which help you with, or even Google. If you typeset “timer for 25 minutes” you’ll get a timer that beeps once you finish. Handy and it’s free.

#2. “What gets scheduled, gets done”

This is a sentence I’ve heard from Michael Hyatt which still resonates within me. The need for planning you study time is key to your success. If you don’t already know what you will do with your study, you spent most of your time organizing yourself. Plan the day ahead in the previous day, or spend some time planning a study week and fulfill it. Also, don’t forget to reward yourself every time you accomplish what you planned. This motivates you to keep investing in the preparation phase.

#3. Learn the ability to task-switch

The problem of studying for different disciplines is the fear you’ll forget what you studied for a discipline corresponding to the closest exam if you study for the next ones simultaneously. 

I think this is a myth. 

It is psychological and you can overcome it if you practice task-switching while learning. I understand it is difficult to change topics and sometimes focus on different “languages”. For example, production management and heat transfer. But doesn’t this happen during class and you do it, right? This is similar to task-switching, not multi-tasking. You need to keep practicing task-switching and remain focused. This will be useful in your future professional life.

To overcome the exam period successfully, it’s more a question of mindset and method than anything else. How?

  • Diversify, while keeping your focus with a time-chunking method

  • Plan your study time in advance

  • Work on task-switching to boost your learning performance

QUESTION: Do you have any experience on preparing for exams that could help other students?

About Miguel Panao

I am a Professor at the University of Coimbra in Mechanical Engineering. I am also author of books in the fields of environmental ethics and Science and Religion. From the several research projects, this site is personal and dedicated to the search for the best approaches, tools, techniques to improve scientific productivity.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.