How to prepare for exams
Don’t do what Nivine did!
‘Don’t go to your lectures!’ my roommates told me when I started studying law five years ago. ‘They’ll put everything online, so you can just watch it back.’ Seminars were nonsense as well, they said. ‘Unless you want to earn a bonus for your exam.’
Well alright, I figured. Sounds like a holiday.
Two weeks before my exam, I went to the UB and looked at Nestor for the very first time. As I unwrapped my book from its plastic, I realised there was no way I could study the entire book in just two weeks.
‘Make sure to start your studies in accordance with the schedule on Nestor’, says law student Esli van den Berg. Right. Except I didn’t see that schedule until it was too late. It took me three exam periods to realise that lecturers put these nifty schedules online to give students a timeline of how to learn the material. I ended up learning stuff I didn’t need to and missing things that were important.
Esli is a student ambassador, informing aspiring students about what it’s like to study at the UG. ‘The best thing is to attend all your lectures and seminars. That way you can keep up with your classes and you don’t have as much work to do for your exam’, he advises.
That’s exactly what I didn’t do, and watching all the recordings for a class can easily take a week. That didn’t leave me with enough time to actually study.
I wish I’d had an Esli five years ago to tell me what to do. I also wish I hadn’t listened to my roommates. In the end, I bought a summary of my book, but I had no idea what I was doing at the exam, and I got a measly 4 as a result.
Fortunately, the very same thing happened to Esli the first time he sat an exam. ‘I fixed it by going into what I can only describe as a study quarantine. I locked myself in my room for two weeks to cram as much material into my head as I could. But honestly, the best thing is to just go to class and keep up. Prevent all that stress.’
Another tip to get through your enormous textbooks and the endless list of articles: plan everything. Create an overview of everything you have to do each day. ‘Make sure your targets are realistic, though. It’ll allow you to have a clear goal, and at the end of the day you’ll be happy to have finished it’, says finance master student Teije Hiltermann.
Setting targets is great advice. When I had just started, I made plans simply ‘to study’. That meant I was satisfied whenever I’d done even the smallest thing. This usually ended up not being enough. Now, I schedule some extra studying time on Sundays or Tuesdays when I know I have to be at hockey training on Monday. After all, it’s important to also have fun. ‘It’ll help you keep at it’, confirms Esli.
Both Esli and Teije say you absolutely have to start reading your textbook at the start of class. Teije always writes a summary. ‘Not on my computer, but in a notebook’, he says. ‘Physically writing it down really helps me.’
Then when the exam comes up, all you have to do is read your own summary. ‘You won’t even have time to read the whole book again.’
Don’t forget to take breaks while studying. You can’t just keep going forever; your brain needs to relax every now and again. That’s why we’ve got those fifteen-minute breaks in between classes.
The first time I went to the UB, I took the whole break thing a little too seriously. Every time someone asked me if I wanted to join them for a cup of coffee, I did. I stopped when my roommates commented that I was out in the hallway much too often.
How often you need a break is something only you can determine. I find that taking a break every hour works best for me, but Teije studies for three hours before taking some time to relax. Some people work better in the morning, while others are at their best at night. Find out what works for you and plan accordingly.
To prepare, get an old exam. It’ll give you an idea of what to expect in terms of questions, since most topics are discussed every year. ‘Honestly, you can’t start soon enough’, says Esli. ‘If you want to truly prepare, tag along with an older student to a lecture or seminar. Take note of how they prepare; then you’ll know what to expect. And go over an old exam with them.’
I didn’t figure this out until after my first exam period, and I had no idea how many questions they’d be asking. I didn’t have nearly enough time to answer the questions I did, and I didn’t even notice there were more on the back of the paper.
Finally, go to the UB! If you can, find a spot where others are studying as well. It’ll help to see that they’re working hard, and there won’t be as many distractions. If need be, you can always ask another student for help. That’s the great thing about Groningen: there are students everywhere.