Exam meltdown approaching: 5 tips to surviving the exam apocalypse

The end is nigh! After months and months of painstaking reading and taking notes; after weeks and weeks of courses and group meetings; the end of the world is finally upon us. Okay perhaps end of the world is a bit of an exaggeration in explaining the exam period, but there are certainly times when it feels like the world is about to come crashing down (especially when you’re dying to reach that character limit mark so that your paper is just the right amount of characters to be able to turn your paper in). In fact, looking back, by the end of many of my exams, my experience has been a bit like this:

Exams are a sonnuva…

Especially during the cold winter months, preparing for and taking exams is really something I’d rather do without. Besides – who can resist their warm bed with the comfort of Netflix and the glow of the computer screen on these dark Danish evenings/nights/mornings? Certainly not me! That being said, there will eventually come a time when I’ll get more serious and realize the episodes of Parks and Rec can wait and go into panic mode searching for the best deal on X.Ray energy drinks at Bilka or Føtex so that I’m able to make it through the exam period. We’ll see when that time comes…

Now, going into my 3rd year as an AU student (yikes!), I like to think that I am a bit of a “pro” when it comes to taking exams, though the reality is that I’m nowhere near anything professional. Even with the wide range of exam types I’ve had over the last 2 years, there is always something new I can learn and techniques I can try to perfect. For that reason, I’m a big fan of following Study Metro’s Facebook page, if anything for the dozens of applications and programs I’ve downloaded (and as of yet, haven’t learned to use) to try and save me time once it comes to finding literature and citing sources.

There have been a few posts here by various international extraordinaires (myself included) on exams at AU and about our varying exam styles, so I’m going to try to make this specific post as neutral as possible, especially since my exam schedule is pretty strange this semester and I highly doubt that many people have the same types of exams as me. (If you’re interested in grabbing an insight to more of the posts that have to deal with studying and exams, check out the “studying” category in the blog.) This time, instead of telling you about different programs to download or specific techniques for all the many different types of exams we have here at Aarhus University, I thought instead I’d offer 5 tips to surviving the exam apocalypse:

5 tips to survive exam-ageddon

  1. Check your studieordning (academic regulations)! This word is thrown around like crazy in all of my classes (especially the Danish word) and I would bet that 75% of the international students have never even bothered to figure out what this means. Not only will the academic regulation for your program let you know about each class you will be taking during your studies, but it will also tell you the learning outcomes you should achieve for each course (aka what you will be graded upon for the final exam). I can’t even begin to tell you how many times checking my academic regulation and making sure that each of the aims for the course are presented in my paper have helped me restructure and figure out whether I’m going in the right direction. These things are little cheat sheets that many international students don’t know that much about. They’re your friend…use them!
  2. Prepare for each exam for a week (at least) before you have it. Okay – this tip is living in an idealistic world, but something I’ve tried to do for each of my exams is to take the week before I have the exam and prepare for NOTHING ELSE besides that for the entire week. It’s hard, I know. But if you want to do well, you have to be in the right mindset, which means that you don’t have other exams on your mind and you don’t have anything else distracting you. I’ve done my best on the exams when I’ve been able to sit down a week before the exam and go over the syllabus, the readings, and my notes a week before I had to sit down and write or prepare for an exam. That way, not only was the literature fresh in my mind, but I also didn’t spend half the time searching for where to find the right quote or going through and looking for what literature would be best for the questions. I knew because it was all still fresh in my mind and I was able to hit the ground running as soon as the exam period started.
  3. Know what your professor is looking for (and make sure you do it). Want to know a secret that I’ve come to learn over the years? Now, it’s a big, big secret so you can’t go telling anyone once I tell you. Are you ready? Okay, here goes……Your professors aren’t out to get you. *GASP* This tip goes mostly for longer written papers, but I think, in general, it can go for most exam types. It was weird to me in the beginning to flat out ask my professors what kind of paper they were looking for but after having some classes with mostly Danes, I’ve come to find that the professor will be quite honest with you and let you know exactly what kind of paper they are expecting. Mix that with the aims of the course that you’ve checked in the academic regulations and you’re definitely on the right track to get that coveted 12. The professors aren’t out to trick you nor is it “their job” to make you fail. They really want you to do well and the more you are clear on what they are expecting, the better you can produce something that, in the end, is good for the both of you.
  4. Get to know a referencing system and stick with it. One of my biggest problems since beginning at Aarhus University has been that I simply have used so many different referencing styles over my academic career that I just didn’t know where to begin when it came to writing something at a Danish university where the papers were much longer than what I was used to in the USA. Along with there being varying referencing systems and styles, there are also varying professors on the scale of caring to not necessarily caring about how you cite your sources. That being said, learn a referencing system (and style) now, and stick with it throughout your paper/career. It only makes it easier on you if you don’t have to look up again and again how to cite a certain type of source.
  5. Make a meal plan and don’t underestimate the easy foods. This is something that gets me every time. Eating is such a weird concept, isn’t it? We completely stop everything we’re doing to prepare and sit down to a meal. Regardless, sometimes, especially during an exam period, eating is such a stress factor. If you’re like me and also think this, one really smart idea is to make a meal plan during your exam time and go do the shopping before hand so that you’ve got everything right there at home and don’t need to take time out to figure that all out. Include little snacks so that in between meal times, you’ve got something to keep you going. If you plan for a few weeks and make sure to include some of the easy foods (spaghetti with an easy tomato sauce is not JUST student food), then you’ll be able to use your time a bit more wisely and be able to take breaks that are more worth your while.

So there you have it. If you’ve been in exam mode for some time now, some of these might be no-brainers for you. For others, sometimes having a little help is all you need to make it through the exam season. So for those of you who needed the help, I hope I’ve been able to open some windows (a terrible metaphor to use now that it’s in the negatives in Aarhus) if you feel like you’re being cornered with nowhere to go now that exams are approaching. *Shudders* Just the thought brings darkness. Prepare thyself, I say! PREPARE!!

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