A few months ahead of exam season I thought I’d share some tips/methods I found useful whilst revising for the summer exams in first year. As you already know, the modules in first year are content-heavy and with 14 modules to revise for this can seem pretty overwhelming. In addition to this, if you’re doing all BIOL modules they have a true/false style (with the exception of BIOL134 which is essay-based) and this may be a style of exam you haven’t encountered yet! But don’t worry – here are 5 revision tips which helped me feel prepared for first year exams.
1- Lecture notes
Lecture notes are a vital part of any university course, not only for exam revision and coursework but for ensuring you understand the content. When in the lectures, I found it easiest to type some rough notes, as this is quicker, but I’ve found that I retain more information by handwriting notes. To overcome this, I try and find time to make both typed and hand-written notes as part of my revision.
To start with, shortly after lectures I produce a more thorough set of typed notes containing the majority of content from the lecture slides as well as any extra bits of information I find in textbooks. It’s at this point where I look up anything which I’m unsure of, either on the internet, in textbooks or by emailing the lecturers. Typed notes have numerous benefits: they are quicker to make, you’re able to screenshot and insert diagrams from online textbooks/google images, and most of all the search function on files can be used to locate key words, such as specific proteins/cells/etc., within the lecture notes and to show where these words appear in separate modules. This is especially useful in first year as a lot of the content in the modules overlap.
If I have time within the week I hand-write a condensed version of the notes which contains the most important points of the lecture, but I often leave this to when I come to my revision before the end of module tests or exams. Making two sets of lecture notes can be hard to stay on top of so don’t put too much pressure on yourself! If you are lacking on time make the notes which are best suited for how you learn/retain information – either typed or written – and this is one way to make sure you’ve seen all the lecture content.
When exams are approaching, and I’ve made either complete sets of typed/written (or both) lecture notes, I try to condense the information from lectures onto flash cards. As flash cards are a lot smaller than A4 paper this is a good way to get the most important facts, equations and information into one place. They’re also a useful way to get family members or friends to test you on some of the content, or to take with you to have a quick read over before entering the exam hall.
All content which is covered in the modules can be examined, including concepts focused on in workshops and practicals. Because of this, it’s useful to make sure you’ve read over or made notes on the workshops and practicals for each module. Often feedback and answers to any questions given in labs or workshops are uploaded to moodle – this is a useful source for making sure you understand the content as well as a way for you to test yourself.
4- Weekly online tests
The weekly online tests contribute to your actual marks for the modules but they are probably the most useful revision source I used! To make sure I could practice the questions multiple times without the answers being pre-saved from my original attempts, I copied and pasted the questions into a word document and removed the answers to give a full set of questions from each online test for each module. I then made a separate document containing the answers. Using this, along with any mock questions/answers that were uploaded to moodle, I practiced questions for each module repeatedly till I felt confident with them. This turned out to be even more useful as a few questions from the online tests and mock questions appeared on the real exams!
Another thing I found useful was that I often did better in true/false style exams when I used the ‘D’ (don’t know) option when I really wasn’t sure. Obviously with a 50/50 chance of getting the answer right or wrong sometimes it can be worth the gamble to guess, but with the negative marking a lot of the time it worked in my favour to get 0 than lose ½ a mark.
5- Breathe, relax and take regular beaks
My 5th and final tip is so so important. It’s so easy to get caught up in the stress and anxiety that exams bring, and I’m definitely one to worry about and dread exams, which is why it’s important to make time for yourself during the exam period. Regular breaks have been found to make revision/studying more efficient so go for a walk, meet up with friends, treat yourself to something you love, read a book – just make sure you take time to do the things you enjoy. Sometimes it’s helpful to put it all into perspective: exams are not the end of the world, and no matter what grade you get it does not and will not define you. Breathe, do as much revision as you feel happy with, do your best – that’s all you can do at the end of the day and that is enough.