This one goes out to all the students who are writing finals for the first time. You may think you know what to expect, but in reality you may be in for a surprise. To mitigate some of the shock, here are five common misconceptions students have about exams, and the truths (inconvenient or otherwise) that correspond with this experience.
Your Exam Schedule
Expectation: Your exam schedule will be perfect. Your first exam won’t be too early, and your exams will be evenly spread out so that you have just the right amount of time to study for each. Your last exam will be well before the final day, giving you an extra long holiday break to unwind and recover.
Reality: The perfect exam schedule is a myth. If your first exam is late and you finish exams early, there won’t be enough time in between for your finals to be evenly spread out. If your exams are spread evenly apart, then either your first exam will be early in the exam period, or your last exam will be late. Or both. Some unlucky students, will have to write an exam on the first day, and the last day, and their exams still won’t be spread out nicely. Rather than fantasizing about the perfect schedule, accept that it won’t be ideal, and figure out how to make the best of it. And be grateful, because no matter how bad your schedule may seem, there’s always someone who has it worse
Studying for Exams
Expectation: You only need to study the night before. It worked in high-school, why shouldn’t it work in university?
Reality: You should have already started studying. Sure, cramming the night before an exam worked in high-school, but this isn’t high-school anymore. The content is harder, the competition is tougher, and the stakes are higher. You need to start studying as soon as possible, and even then you may not feel prepared.
Expectation: You’ll never be able to focus. It was bad enough writing hour to hour and half long exams in high-school, there’s no way your attention span will for an exam that’s upwards of 2 hours. And how are you supposed to concentrate when you’re writing in an auditorium with hundreds of other students anyway?
Reality: It’s not that bad. It can be intimidating walking into the gymnasium or auditorium and finding your seat if you’ve never done it before. But once you’re at your desk with the papers in front of you, everything else seems to fade into the distance. Time passes quickly, and before you know it the proctors are coming around to collect your booklet. So don’t be too nervous about being able to focus, as soon as you start writing your tunnel vision will kick in, and nothing will be able to break it. Until that other student starts with non-stop coughing. . .
Expectation: Multiple choice is easy. There are only four choices, and at least one is always a throw-away. That gives you a 33.33% chance of guessing right even if you have absolutely no idea what the answer is. And if there’s an “all of the above option” you know it’s only when it’s correct.
Reality: Multiple choice is hard. This is university. There are five choices now, all of which seem reasonable. At least three of the incorrect answers will be the answers you get if you make the most common mistakes. And instead of “all of the above” questions you get “A & B” and “A & C” questions, which gives you a 33.33% chance of getting the correct answer if you know that A is right.
Expectation: If you fail an exam, it is the end of the world.
Reality: It’s not the end of the world. It’s important to keep some perspective on how much exams really mean in the grand scheme of things. No matter what grade you get, you will still have the important things in your life, whether it is your family, friends, etc. Of course it feels terrible to fail an exam, but you can always retake the class if you have to. Don’t let fear of failure get to you; just do your best and forget the rest. If you are having a hard time moving past this, reach out and talk to someone.
Hopefully you now have a more realistic set of expectations for this exam season. Unfortunately this may not relieve any of the stress you’ve been feeling, but at the very least you can divert your energy towards stressing about the issues that warrant it. Now what are you waiting for? Shouldn’t you be studying?