Tips to prepare for exams and assignments

Assignment and exam periods can be one of the most stressful times for university students. Some prepare for these for the whole term, while others cram the entire term’s content the week before. Regardless of the method, most students are familiar with feeling overwhelmed and could use any help they can get.

Our 30 Minutes a Month alumni participants have been in those shoes and know the struggle all too well. We asked them to share their best tips and tricks to prepare for the end of term exam and assignment period.

Stay organised

Staying organised is extremely important during exam and assignment periods. Whether using a planner, collating to-do lists or colour coding, every little bit will help – you just have to take the first step.

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“Write to-do lists and schedule time in your calendar to complete different tasks. Try to be realistic with allocating a suitable amount of time to tasks, and don’t get too concerned if it takes longer than the time you set aside. It’s also helpful to track the due dates for all your tasks so that you can prioritise your time and have a good idea of how much work is involved in each task. For example, compared to writing a long essay, preparing for a quiz will only need a short amount of time.”
– Luke Giles (Bachelor of Health Promotion, 2010)

“Make lists, colour code tasks or themes. I also have lists of lists. Create a plan from your tasks and themes, use a diary, notebook, or both. Make sure to create your plan at the beginning of the semester and factor in known family events, appointments, and social activities. Break your tasks into smaller chunks and use a diary, coloured post-it notes and flags in your diary so tasks and themes can be easily rearranged.”
– Janey Kyle-Scott (Graduate Certificate in Tertiary and Adult Education, 2021)

“Write a list, even if you’ve already completed some tasks, add them in and cross them off for some quick wins and to remind you how far you’ve come. Set goals, break assignments into smaller pieces and give yourself targets to reach in small, achievable chunks. Just suck it up and get it done.”
– Tenille Dittman (Bachelor of Business, 2018)

Plan ahead

Use the resources available to you, and plan ahead where you can. Managing your tasks ahead of time can save you from feeling overwhelmed towards the end of the term.

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“It was my first time studying in a distance format. To get things organised, I found I needed to do a lot more planning than I had in the past in face-to-face formats. I think the three most important things in my planning were:

  1. When planning a particular activity, dedicating a specific time I wanted to spend on that activity really helped with prioritising.
  2. I also set some specific time in my weekly schedule dedicated to planning. This allowed me to plan generally in the long term and more detailed in the short term. It also allowed me to re-plan any activities I had not finished, and it allowed me to plan for specific items like assignments. This was very useful when trying to fit in my placements as I could not study as much for several weeks.
  3. Plan in my social time like exercise, time with friends, and recovery time from catching up with friends the night before!”

– James Brown (Bachelor of Paramedic Science, 2019)

“Start revision for your exams early and start researching for your assessments early, take notes. Keep a wall planner and a diary to help prioritise your work, for example, assessments, exam due dates, lectures etc.”
– Yashna Lal (Bachelor of Nursing, 2021)

“I actively plan ahead so that I have time to complete planned activities and a few pockets available each week to deal with the inevitable unplanned ones. I set a few hours each week of focus time to focus on any high priority tasks or regular tasks that would otherwise be pushed back.”
– Clifford Horwood (Master of Business Administration, 1996)

Manage your time effectively

Developing the correct time management techniques during your university studies can set you up to complete your tasks on time for the rest of your life.

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“Starting prep for exams as soon as all content is known, breaking small chunks off for study periods, for example, weekly content. For assignments, I set tasks for myself, starting with an overall plan for the assignment, maybe the outline or structure of how I plan to write it, and set myself only one topic/paragraph/small section to research and write about per day or a set period of time. I am less likely to get overwhelmed and give up this way than staring at a WHOLE assignment and trying to background research every area at once. Also, get someone to read over your assignments to check for grammar and whether things actually make sense! If that’s not possible, give yourself time to go back a day or so after finishing to read over it with a clear mind.”
– Naomi Robinson (Bachelor of Psychological Science (Honours), 2018)

“Make sure to have good time management. Record when things are due using colour coding on a calendar or post-it notes. Use reminders on your phone and computer and post-it notes on colour coded packs.”
– Kellie Wellard (Bachelor of Learning Management (Secondary and Vocational Education and Training), 2011)

“I like breaking up my study with sessions of computer games. So, I simply factor in game time with my study plan. This way, I know how much time it will realistically take to complete my study goals, e.g., assignments and preparing for exams while having a few game sessions in between. Who says I have to choose one or another, provided I plan ahead!”
Emma Craige (Bachelor of Psychological Science (Honours), 2021)

Don’t forget to be kind to yourself

Although your studies are important, there is nothing more important than staying kind to yourself. Keep reminding yourself of the end goal and why you are studying. Sometimes a change of perspective is all you need.

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“The day I had a light-bulb moment about exam stress was pretty memorable! I was always stressed to the eyeballs, to the point that I performed really poorly because my brain was too soaked in stress hormones to remember a thing. But one day, a friend pointed out how pointless stress was at that point. I had already learned everything I would learn; I had either put in the work, or I hadn’t. Either way, stress would only turn my brain to mush, so I just had to have faith that the work I’d done was enough. I also reminded myself that no exam was ever written to try and trick me. The university, my lecturers, and everybody preferred that I passed, and the only way I wasn’t going to pass was if I didn’t have a satisfactory level of knowledge or understanding, in which case, I didn’t really want to pass anyway because I would be unsafe in my practice. Although this is all very obvious, the way it occurred to me that day was an instant weight lifted from my shoulders.”
– Michelle Goldenberg (Bachelor of Nursing, 2021)

“Always back yourself.  Never forget why you began studying. Always be kind to yourself.”
– Edmond D’Albret (Diploma of Human Resources Management, 2022)

“Try not to compare yourself to your peers. While it can be great to encourage yourself to study just that bit more, you may find yourself thinking, “oh my god, I’m only 250 words into my assessment, and this person is almost finished!” or “my assignment isn’t nearly as good as theirs, am I even going to pass this one?”. When you realise that other people’s progress or success is not a reasonable measure of where you should be in your studies, it can help tone down those stress levels.”
– Kodi Warner-Magnussen (Bachelor of Environmental Science, 2021)

Even though the end of term can creep up within a blink of an eye, remember, it will also be over just as fast, so keep going. Exam and assignment periods are only temporary, but your health and well-being are not. Above anything, it is important to look after yourself and ask for help if you need it.

Stay tuned for next week, as our alumni will share who they used to ask for help when they were feeling overwhelmed about their studies. If you’re an alumnus and are interested in sharing your experience with current students, join the 30 Minutes a Month micro-volunteering program.

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