The perfect storm: how to nail your first exams

We are nearing the end of term – and I’m sorry if saying that out loud makes it real!

When I was a student, I avoided exams so fiercely that I put off my first-year accounting subject until my final year (choosing a communication degree helped). Certain units are more fortunate than others when it comes to exams – but if your first exams are looming, we have a few tips on how to survive and come out the other side with a smile.

If you don’t have any exams, head back to reading our previous #How2Uni blog about improving your assignments (and maybe go and have an ice cream to celebrate as well).

There are three stages of exams, and I like to think of them as similar to a storm: the build-up, the big event, and then the aftermath.

The Build-Up: How to prepare for an exam

First, you’re going to need to accept that you have an exam coming up.

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I cannot understate the importance of the following instruction: check your Examination Timetable and mark those dates clearly in your calendar.

You’ll find how to do that here:

Once you have a date to work towards, the build-up really starts.

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Review your study notes, see if your lecturer has provided specific instructions on what to study (sometimes the odds are in your favour!), and make sure you’re clear on what you’re allowed to take into an exam. This could be the amount of notes you can take in, to your textbook or calculator, or even what kind of pen or pencil you’re allowed to write with – it’s always worth checking. 

Also remember that you’ll need to take your student ID (or official photo ID) on the day of the exam.

Fun fact – I used to sleep with my review notes under my pillow the night before an exam, to let the knowledge ‘sink in’. Given how little I can recall about accounting, the jury is still out on whether or not this is an effective technique.

The Big Event: What to expect on Exam Day

Eventually all of your preparation has to come to an end.

Excuse me for a moment here while I sound like your mother: get a good night’s sleep before (don’t stay up all night studying!), eat a good breakfast, and don’t try and learn any new material on the day of the exam. You’ve studied, so trust your brain to recall what it needs at the right time!

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Take a few minutes at the start of the exam to make a plan, divide the questions up into the time that you have, and tackle a few easy ones first to give you a boost in confidence.

Avoid the temptation to panic if the exam is harder than you thought. Just focus on one question at a time and do the best that you can.

Also, don’t forget to read over your work one last time before you hand it in – I always found at least one error to fix!

Finally, your time is up, and you’re done.

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The Aftermath: Moving on

There aren’t many feelings in the world better than walking victoriously out of an exam room. You’ve done the best you can, and there are a few glorious weeks of break in front of you (unless you have more exams, of course)!

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Now is the ideal time to try and sell your textbooks for the term. Next term’s students are starting to get organised, so post the books you’d like to never see again on a site like the UCROO Marketplace.

UCROO is the official CQUni destination for buying and selling secondhand textbooks, and listing your books takes less than two minutes. Make some cash and have an end-of-term party (or, buy your books for next term!).

Most of all, don’t forget to take some downtime and congratulate yourself for finishing your first term of uni. This is a big milestone, so enjoy the feeling!

– Sarah

For more great tips and tricks, sign up for our official social network UCROO and follow us at the #How2Uni group.

This blog was written by SJ ‘I’ve totally got this’ Pierce, a past student of CQUniversity and current Associate Lecturer – Public Relations.

SJ 'I've totally got this' Pierce (

A past student of CQUniversity and current Student Communications team member, Sarah-Joy fully sympathises with caffeine-driven assignment deadlines and the inevitable feeling of overwhelm…

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