With just over a week to go before the University of Cape Town (UCT) goes into exam mode, students have either already started studying or are about to change gear and spend the next few weeks glued to their books.
With so much to read and remember, it’s easy – and natural – to feel overwhelmed. Perhaps you’re struggling with technique, maybe with what to eat or where to set up your study nook. Fortunately, your fellow students are on hand to share their favourite strategies for getting through the exam period.
Replicate exam conditions
For actuarial science honours student Nicholas Petersen, it’s all about replicating the exam conditions as best you can.
“Study at the same time of the day you’re writing your exam. Apply the same amount of time pressure. Mark it strictly,” he said.
Petersen added that sitting in the Sports Centre on exam day can be intimidating but studying in a similar environment can help. He suggested setting up a single desk under similar lighting and laying out your stationery as you will on exam day.
In addition to replicating the exam environment, finding and creating the ideal study space is important for students.
Lufuno Neluheni believes “a calm environment is key”.
“I would suggest studying in the library [and] studying at the lower section of the library, the quiet section if you really need to cram your stuff,” she laughed.
Sibusiso Magagula, a first-year accounting student, agreed.
He spends his study sessions in UCT Libraries’ Hlanganani Junction, which provides a quiet space with no interruptions.
Time of day is also important for him. “I find it better to study at night because that’s when it’s quiet … and there’s no one to disturb me.”
A bonus tip from the accounting student is to use previous test papers as practice exams.
Food and friends as fuel
Your nutrition should not be neglected either.
Business communication postgraduate Muhammed Suwayd Sablay said that while you should eat the foods you enjoy, you should avoid overeating and consuming rich, fatty foods that will make you fall asleep.
“Also, fruits are always a benefit,” he said.
Nicole Haird, a dietetics honours student sitting alongside fellow dieticians in the making, echoed Sablay’s food tips.
She recommended healthy snacks during exam time but cautioned that these must be balanced.
“So often people eat just a fruit ... or some other carbohydrate by itself. But this can cause a spike in blood sugar levels which then ends up with the drop coming on the other side of that,” she explained.
So, ideally, students should pair an apple with some nuts or peanut butter, for instance, for balance and to ensure optimal studying energy levels.
But perhaps you see exam time as a chance to treat yourself. Friends Lucia Anthony and Casey Fredericks love to snack on chips and chocolate. In fact, Fredericks won’t start a study session without a peppermint chocolate.
“Snacks are so important. One of us is always eating something or drinking something while we’re [studying],” laughed Fredericks.
But outranking snacks in study essentials is a study buddy. Anthony and Fredericks usually study together, diving into the books for a few hours and then stepping away to relax, talk and joke.
A bonus tip from Anthony is finding a playlist to get you into the right mood to study, preferably something to calm you down. Her preference is old-school R & B.
Third-year anthropology, English and linguistics student Zoe Robertson also finds music essential.
“Music definitely helps me. It takes me out of a headspace where I’m [stressing]. It takes me to a place where I can enjoy myself and feel myself and know that I’ve got this,” she said.
Her genre of choice?
“A lot of K-pop. A lot of bubblegum pop to get you excited.”
Rest and meditation
A common tip from students is to get the right amount of sleep and to set aside time to rest and “re-centre” through meditation.
Media masterʼs student Zimasa Mpemnyama won’t compromise on taking time to rest. She respects her biological clock and, instead of working counter to it, ensures she’s on campus during the day and resting at night.
“The best tip I can give for exams is to rest and give yourself time to do the work,” said Mpemnyama.
“So, rest and take constant breaks.”
Femina Bompaka, a first-year film and media studies student, sees nurturing her spiritual side as key to her success.
“Meditation is important, and this might sound clichéd, but prayer as well. It keeps you focused and stops you from procrastinating.”
She added that studying in colder weather helps.
“I believe that when you feel colder, it helps with concentration, it keeps you awake, you become aware and you remember much easier,” she said.
Third-year student Hannah Mather, who is studying a triple major in politics, philosophy and English literature, knows the value of “sleep hygiene”.
This means getting enough quality sleep – between seven to eight hours – preferably without the aid of any medication.
“I find when I’m not sleeping enough, it’s easier for me to get overwhelmed. You need to sleep to consolidate information and once you learn that, you’re like, ‘I am not going to compromise on my sleep’,” said Mather.
“That is vital.”
She recently started allocating 20 minutes every morning to meditation and as someone who is “naturally anxious”, this helps her focus and re-centre herself.
Her final strategy for surviving a stressful exam period is committing herself to socialise. She makes sure that she spends time with friends every evening, allocating roughly two hours to relaxing every day.
“You need that break because studying all day for how many weeks straight ... that’s also not healthy.”
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