Ben is back… You must have wondered why I’ve gone completely silent ever since Christmas (or maybe you didn’t really miss my long blog posts). Well, I’m finally back out of my cave today because my exams have ended. (Yes, I’m know I’m blessed that all my exams are in the first week!)
I’m going to share some tips about how to deal with exams and then about what happened while I was away.
Dealing with Exams
Here are some exam tips from the teacher, so take your pen and paper and start jotting down notes… Nahhhh, I’m just kidding! But I am here to share some tips on dealing with exams from my experiences as a student and also as a teacher. So you get something special, from a teacher’s point of view. Do note that all of this is subjective because what works well for me might not necessarily be the best for you but I do hope most of them are applicable to you.
- Conducive Environment for study:
Find a place that you feel comfortable reading. You should have good lighting, a proper chair that maintains a good posture. Slouching over isn’t just bad for your back, your body registers that you aren’t very comfortable and you’ll end up being very fidgety. Most undergrads love the Library so it’s bound to be packed. But I do believe that if you’re in the quiet corners of the Library, you’ll be comfortably revising. You’ll find that most Masters students tend to avoid the Library. Partly because there are plenty of undergrads that you’re competing with for space but also because many of us have not been students for a while. For us, as long as you have a desk that you can do work, you’ll just work from there. So most of us end up staying in our own room, which in my case, was like a cave as I hardly came out of it except to eat, to the washroom and to go for my exams. Everyone has a preference though, it’s up to you where you like but the important thing is that it is a place you can focus. Unfortunately, I’m not convinced that Starbucks/McDonalds are good study places. The music they play is often too loud and the constant human traffic can be distracting. “But I can put on my headphones” (Don’t worry, I’ll come to that) I’d strongly suggest you find a place a little quieter even if you’ve got your headphones on.So yes, a comfortable study corner. Just make sure it’s not so comfortable till you end up falling asleep.
- Get off Facebook/Instagram/Snapchat/whatever distracts you:
“But I need it to contact my friends” No you don’t! Not while you’re studying. You need to be focused while studying. Don’t allow a Facebook notification, Instagram post or Snaps drag you away from what you need to do. With smartphones, we’re easily drawn away from our notes as low as it beeps or vibrates. Logging out of all forms of social media during the exam period does more good than harm. I enjoyed the benefits of that this time after a friend suggested I completely go offline and her advice was the best thing because it meant that I could fully concentrate without being concerned about what people were sharing. If your friends are trying to contact you through social media and they realise you’re not responding, they’ll know to send you a text message. Obviously, you shouldn’t go completely dark and disappear. All I’m saying is, stay away from the distractions. Messages from WhatsApp and Telegram are part of our daily lives now and they’re our primary modes of communication. (Facebook Messenger on your phone can work without Facebook being logged on so that’s no excuse)
I’m a big supporter of using music to help you study because I do believe in music’s ability to facilitate learning. I once did a research paper on the power of music and how it can be used to help babies’ brain development and improve memory so it’s a resounding yes to having music as part of your revision. BUT… the choice of music is very important. Songs with lyrics that tell you to party and dance and have fun are obviously not suitable as accompanying music for revision. Remember that the music is supposed to support you while you’re studying, not distract you.I’ve realised that many of my students put their headphones on while studying and have noticed the same for many people here at the library when I walk past. I think it’s good that headphones are cancelling out the disturbances from the surroundings, but truth is, if the environment is disturbing you, it’s not a good place to be studying anyway. The best thing to do is to find somewhere when there are less distractions. Try not to tune the music up too loud too. We all know it’s bad for us.One thing though, if you’re working on a practice paper and timing yourself, lose the headphones and the music. You want to recreate the exam conditions as close as possible. You’re not going to be able to listen to your music while you’re in the exam hall anyway.
- Being realistic
This might come as a shock to you but this is my advice to all my students who sit for their GCE O Level exams every year. If you can’t grasp everything, make sure you grasp what is enough to get you a decent grade and make absolutely certain that you know everything else well. There’s no point stressing over something that it’s beyond your mental capacity when you’re days away from the final exam. You should have clarified that way in advance. Essentially, it’s damage limitation but it’s going to help you focus your revision on what you know well. Obviously, if what you don’t know makes up more than 50% of the course, then you’re in deep trouble and you better clarify it with someone who is willing to help you.
- Go to your Professors
Students somehow have the strange misconception that teachers and professors are terribly evil and mean people who set impossibly difficult papers to slaughter all students. I know I’m defending myself here but we’re not. I have never ever set questions/papers to intentionally make students fail. At the end of the day, the point of the exam to gauge how much students have understood from the course content. So if you have problems with understanding the course content, do approach your professors. They’re not going to eat you! They’ll be rather happy you’re going to consult them because it stops them from looking forward to the pile of scripts they’re going to be marking at the end of the exam period.
- Get help
Obviously you should always go to your Professors or fellow course-mates for help when it comes to academic content. Help here also refers to emotional and stress help. If you need to talk to someone about coping with exam stress, do that. Don’t keep it within yourself. Having a support group is always helpful that’s why I’m thankful that I have a connect group here in Guildford who are praying for me and encouraging me during my exam period. Your support group could be your family or your close friends. People you’re comfortable to share your exam worries with. Meet them up and have a chat.
- Take a Break
The revision period should not transform you into a studying machine. You’re human. You need a break. That’s where your support group comes in. It could even be your flatmates. Meet them, have a chat, have a coffee/tea with them and just take an hour’s break from all that notes. Don’t keep cramming stuff into your head without resting. Your brain needs to recharge every once in a while. Go for a run/go to the gym. Get those endorphins into your system because they’ll energise you and give you the extra push you need to carry on revising.
That’s it then. The 7 things I feel are most important to take note of while revising to ensure that you deal with those exams. It really is in the mind! If you walk into the exam hall knowing that you’re well-prepared and you’ve won half the battle. That optimistic mindset can even unlock something you thought you forgot while attempting a killer question.
Back to why I was away for so long… Of course, there were the exams that I was preparing for. With the exams over for me, I can get back to writing, so you’re going to hear from me more over the next few days since I’m really free now…
So… I was back home in Singapore during the Christmas break and you know when you’re home, you’re just too busy running everywhere you don’t ever have time to do anything. Oh and did I mention that I also spent the week after Christmas in Taiwan? (Will have a post dedicated to that and one for Christmas too in the next few) Was there till the 3rd before scrambling back and realising that I had to prepare to come back to Guildford again…
Problem for me was that I still had a Analytics Report to submit on the 10th and I had not started working on it at all. Remember a few posts ago I shared a screenshot of my Analytics project. It’s the same one! Issue was that I hadn’t touched it since that day I did the screenshot so getting back into the groove of doing it was tough. In fact, I only started working on it again on the plane from Singapore back to London! This is a terrible example of last minute work and to think I’m a teacher that frequently nags at my students for being last minute.
Truth is the bulk of the work was already done before I left for the Christmas Break so it was just getting down to finalising the algorithms and writing the report. Here’s the screenshot of the “finalest final” version of my Analytics models:
Obviously, it looks nothing like the previous one because this has so many more things in it. Regardless, with the algorithms part done, I had just about 2 days to finish up the report. Funny how you become a lot more efficient when the deadline is looming! I attribute this to how the Singapore education system has trained us Singaporeans to be, which can’t be a bad thing. So I submitted it with plenty of time to spare because I had to be at the University of Surrey Representatives Development Conference that was organised by all the lovely people at the International Student Recruitment Office.
It turns out that my reading week was jam-packed with plenty of activities because I was up for the Surrey Business School Online Webinar on Wednesday morning too. It was as if I couldn’t start on revising for my exams just yet. But yes, the Online Webinar was a really fun experience. It was good to be able to share with Prospective Masters students about how it is like to be an International Postgraduate student. I benefited from being one of the attendees at last year’s session so it was nice to be paying it forward this time.
After that it was just me shutting off all the social media distractions and really focusing on my revision. I had the same experience with marking those hundreds of scripts… Once you’re in the zone, it’s like you’re stuck in a cave. You just want to get it done. But as mentioned above, know when to take a break.
Before I forget… Guildford decided to give all of us a little Thundersnow last week too. Here are some photos (taken with my phone) of the snow that came down on Thursday evening and Friday morning that got lots of people screaming for excitement as it’s been a while since it snowed here. To be honest, the snow was more of an inconvenience to me than it was exciting because I had to go to Tesco to get some groceries to prevent myself from starving.
The view from just outside my window. Quite that decent bit of snow that’s really useful for chilling your drink, which I did!
Was really refreshing to have that on a cold night while having a chat with my friends in the warmth of our house.
Friday morning looking across to BBC Surrey at around 8am (I think). Notice the footprints? That was me going out to collect my drink the night before.
And the sun had to take away the natural refrigerator by melting the snow 🙁
I mentioned the need for taking breaks in Point 7 earlier and I ensured that I got plenty of them 😀 I did that by scheduling my breaks to be times I went into the kitchen to whip up something special to treat myself.
At times, it was a nice Kaya Toast, with half-boiled eggs and a nice cup of Milo.
And other times, it was pulling out the wok to prepare yourself a nice 煮炒 dish in the most Singaporean way possible.
Of course, my little trip back to Singapore meant that I brought back some Chinese New Year goodies including this wonderful box of Kueh Bahulu!
I also switched out the Christmas decorations and replaced them with the Chinese New Year ones. We do it every year back home in Singapore, whether it’s at home or in school. I remember last year that my Secondary 1 boys won the best decorated class for a seriously wonderful effort…
Here’s how they look at night after I completed the final touches to them after I had finished my final Econometrics paper today!
There’s so much more to share about since I was last writing on Christmas Day and I’ll get to that in my next few posts.
Till then… To all students: All the best for your revision! And for the rest, have a blessed weekend! 🌈