First exam season in the UK

Hey Everyone, Khevon from the Caribbean here! Been a while since I’ve dropped some first hand info, so with exams finally done, thought I’d go through how that process works and how it affected me.

A Quick Overview
The teaching semester runs from September to Mid December, where by this time, all course work has generally been submitted. The exception to this is often found in 100% course work modules which occasionally have submissions for major projects in the module as late as January. For courses with exams, I met a different approach to what I had grown accustomed to at home. That difference is exam timeline, generally, from Primary School to University the exam period is the month of December and ends at latest on the 23rd of December. This isn’t the case at the University of Surrey and at most Universities in the UK. The exam period starts in early January generally around the 10th of January, this means there is a Winter Break from mid December to Early January. This break provides additional time to study and catch up with modules prior to doing the exams.

The pros and cons

This additional break was useful in my opinion. I used it to complete my notes for all my courses I was behind in, and start the process of properly studying the relevant topics for exams. I had opted to go home for a portion of this break to spend the Christmas and New Years period with my family as the second semester and summer semester would mean I was going to be absent for an extended period of time. The break allowed me to not engage in as much of a ‘cram’ of the knowledge and I could separate the time into goals I set for my self each day.

While the additional time was a blessing to properly learn the work, as is needed to do open book exams. I found it a challenge to study during the Christmas and New Years season, and though it was a period of time I associated from past years with relaxation, it was heavily filled up with thoughts of exams and late night preparation for those exams. It was also a challenge to stay motivated during the Christmas season, and to remember that though I was on ‘vacation’, I wasn’t on vacation and the semester was in full swing. Burn out is a real phenomenon that students go through and has to be properly managed especially when doing a masters full time; as one goes from Semester 1, straight into dissertation work and Semester 2. I experienced my first feeling of burn out for the degree in between my third and my final exam. It wasn’t extravagant nor did I want to quit or anything like that but I had been studying for exams from December 15th and it was now January 24th , it was my first experience with such a long exam period and it took tolls on me to stay focused and motivated. By that time period I just wanted to get the last exam over with, as I was fed up with practicing and reviewing. It took a lot to snap my self out of it, especially because it wasn’t the time to take long breaks, and I still needed to focus. I opted for taking shorter breaks, and not staying in my study environment for those short breaks.

What I found worked

  • Ensuring I took time to go outside each day. This is particularly difficult during the winter season where the motivation to go outside is less as it’s colder. However even if I had to force my self to take an hour outside to run errands or just to move my body, it was worth it. Its best to aim for midday times, so you can get a bit of Sun too.
  • Watching my diet and keeping up with my vitamins. This one is self explanatory, during the exam period its important to keep your body as well fueled as possible and ideally with a balanced intake. This gave me a bit more energy and I felt it helped keep my spirits up here and there.
  • Creating detailed but ‘to the point’ notes. This one may be more relevant to our current open book exam world but it was really crucial to my exam period. Many of the questions I faced, were not answerable from memory. It was having a comprehensive group of notes that I had practiced with, so I knew how to navigate through it (to find what I needed quickly) that helped me answer many questions I would have had to pass on normally.
  • Moving on. Particularly in my first exam, I ran into a paper that was both long winded and difficult. I don’t know how I did but I wasnt confident in doing well on the paper at all. I dwelled on it for a day or two and I noticed it distracted me from properly prepping for my second exam at first. It isn’t easy moving on when you put in a lot of effort preparing but it is super important to fight with your self to move on from disappointment early in an exam period.
  • Setting goals. This speaks to both the preparation and undertaking of exams. In prep time I tried to make the work seem not so mountainous by setting individual daily goals that were manageable but when put together allowed me to cover the material needed. In terms of the exam it self, I found it useful to know how much was needed to pass and to meet other goals that I had set for myself. Particularly when exams are not going well, it allows for us to focus on meeting the bare goals we need to pass and to refocus in a timed environment to do the best we can.

To Everyone doing exams in the future, I wish you the best of luck in those exams and your future endeavors. Remember that you are not alone at the University, many people are also going through the struggles that you may be facing and the University has set up several resources to seek assistance where needed to combat any difficulties you may face in this tough time period.