Exams

Exam Survival Guide

It’s that time of year again and arguably, out of the two exam seasons we undergrads have, this is the hardest one. The truth is, the festive season is over and exams are upon us leaving us with two choices: sit and wallow or get ourselves together and show these exams who’s boss.

I know it’s not always as simple as flicking a switch and becoming a revision machine.  Over my years of studying, I’ve managed to come up with some simple yet effective ways to combat the exam time blues, in a way that makes me feel studious yet relaxed, and achieve the grades I deserve.

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  1. Positive Mental Attitude

‘My philosophy is if you worry, you suffer twice’ – Newt Scamander

Worry can be the devil in exam time. Whilst in small doses, a little can spur us on and actually improve our drive to do well, too much and we collapse under our pressure. So be positive! I start off by picking out the negative thoughts I’m having, which currently happen to be:

  • I can’t do this, I don’t know anything.
  • Maybe I should just drop out now and buy a load of cats.

I then turn these thoughts around, choosing to focus on the positives rather than the negatives:

  • Yes you can, you’ve done loads of exams just to get to this point.
  • Buying cats is not a viable life plan even if you want it to be. Stay in school kid.
  1. Take regular breaks

It’s all well and good planning a fifteen minute break and just using it to check Facebook but try to be more mindful! Remember that there are great services on and off campus to help us make the most of these breaks. Some of my personal favourites are:

  • meditation sessions at the Main Library
  • Workshops at the Counselling Service on managing stress and finding motivation
  • The Buddhist Centre based in Manchester’s coolest district, the Northern Quarter, has daily lunchtime meditation classes and is next door to a really tasty (and cheap!) café in northern quarter.  Win, win, right?
  1. Nourish Yourself

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Eating fruit and drinking water is obviously the goal, so make sure you have plenty of those to hand. I have this terrible habit of skipping meals in favour of revision but eventually my concentration wanes and my hangry, irritable side comes out. Taking time to eat a good hearty lunch is not a waste of precious revision time, but a way of improving the quality of the work you get done.

I’ve also found that cooking up something nutritious and fun is a good way to allow you to focus on something else. Try my favourite food blog Hot for Food.

  1. Get Outsidepic1

We all need a bit of fresh air and time away from our computer
screens If the sun is out (I know, funny joke) head to the park with a few friends for a stroll or if it’s a bit gross, take a trip to the supermarket to stock up on revision fuel. . Not only does it break up revision stints but it allows us to remember that the world exists outside of our busy minds.

  1. Make a Plan

Whatever your revision style, taking time to make a rough guide of what you are going to do is invaluable.

For those of us who struggle with the motivation to revise, this can also be a great way to split up revision into bitesize chunks and make the task more manageable. Remember, you don’t have to do everything at once and once you start, you’ll probably realise that you know more than you originally thought.

  1. Treat. Yo. Self.

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You’re working hard. Really hard. So instead of just working your butt off or wallowing in self-pity until that end-of-exams victory night out that we all look forward to, choose to reward yourself for the work you are doing as you go along. Using realistic goals from your revision plan make sure you have something to look forward to when you complete them. It can be a coffee with a friend, buying your favourite chocolate bar or going out for a cheeky Nando’s (or a cheeky Chiquito, which is way more fun to say). By celebrating the little things, you allow yourself to appreciate all the hard work that you do every day and it makes revising all the more rewarding.

(This is my ultimate tippy top tip and I’ve found it motivates me above everything else. Try it, I promise you’ll feel better for it)

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 Remember to trust in your own abilities this exam season. You’ve already achieved so much to get to this stage. Whether this is your first year of university or your last, you have got yourself this far and whilst it might seem daunting now, in a few weeks times you’ll be able to look back and know that you gave it the best shot you could. Just remember to look after yourself and use the resources available to get the most out of this challenging time of year.

Good luck!

How to achieve more

Glancing at the clock and wondering where the day’s gone?  Fretting over a mountain of work and imminent deadlines?  Wish you had more time for hobbies and new activities?

We’d all love to have more hours in the day or a time-turner like Hermione’s, but sadly we can’t bend the laws of nature and magic apparently isn’t real 😦 .  But there are many things we can do to improve our efficiency, make the work day more productive and ultimately achieve more.

As someone who’s juggled a social life, part-time jobs, society committee positions and a full-time degree, I’ve learnt a few tricks over the years to keep myself afloat and still get the grades I want.

Here are some of my top methods for maximising productivity and achieving as much as I can:

Buy a planner

It seems obvious, but having one place to note down the times and locations of your classes, meetings and other commitments really helps you stay on top of things and seeing opportunities to  fit in other activities.  Staying organised and managing your time well is definitely one of the best ways to make the most of your day.  A two-hour gap mid-afternoon might be the perfect time to catch up on an assignment or hit the gym, or that class-free afternoon you have every week might be a great opportunity to squeeze in some volunteering.

Not only does a planner help you maximise the amount of work you can get out of your time, but it can also help you maximise the number of social activities and fun events you go to as well!

Make a to-do list

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Another simple idea but still certainly one worth considering.  Having a list of tasks that you want to accomplish (e.g. ‘email Dr Thingybob’, ‘look up blah blah for essay’, ‘buy hummus’) and splitting them into smaller, more achievable targets, will help you stay organised and motivated throughout the day.  By keeping this close at hand, like on your phone or in your bag, you can easily check your list if you have some spare time and want to fill it with something useful.  I send loads of emails whilst stood in lifts or in the queue at a shop!

Take breaks and observe your natural patterns

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Taking regular breaks whilst working on a mentally demanding task is often the best way to fight off the fog of fatigue, keep the brain juices flowing and maintain productivity.

But don’t just spend 5 minutes surfing the web or texting your friends – getup, stretch your legs and have a change of scenery. This is a much better way of shaking off the cobwebs and refreshing your hard-working mind.  Maybe go make a cup of tea with a friend or step outside to enjoy some fresh air?

Listen to your body

On top of taking regular breaks, try planning your work according to your natural rhythm.  By that, I’m not talking about the magical New Age energy field governed by the movements of celestial bodies, but the typical change in your mental energy levels over the course of the day.  For example, I find that my brain is usually at its best in the morning making this the best time to do my most mentally demanding work, like thinking about a project, writing a well-worded essay, or learning a new concept.  By late-afternoon my mind starts getting tired, so I usually go for a run or a cycle to help re-energise and get some fresh air pumping through my lungs.  I then save the easiest tasks for the evening or just go out and do something fun.  By observing how you tend to feel over the day and planning your work accordingly, you can really help boost your efficiency and get more done!

Make your health and fitness a priority

UoM exercise

A healthy body supports a healthy mind, so devote time to looking after your body and keeping fit.  Not only does exercise invigorate your concentration, boost your productivity and help your mental well-being, but it can also be used as a refreshing break from your studies.  Aerobic exercises are particularly good as they stimulate the release of endorphins into the body – natural painkillers and mood elevators that help reduce stress and revitalise the brain.  One of my favourite breaks is to go for a run around one of Manchester’s parks – it feels wonderful to see some greenery and it provides a great excuse to blast some music or have some time to think to myself.

A good diet is also essential for a healthy brain, so support your concentration levels with lots of nutritious fruits and veggies, and remember to stay hydrated too!  Omega-3 fatty acids are also needed for optimal brain health, so treat yourself to some oily fish like salmon now and again.

Get some sleep!

The amount of good-quality sleep you have also has a huge impact on your concentration.  We’ve all heard people saying that we need 8 hours a night to be healthy, but this actually tends to range between 7 to 9 hours depending on your physiology and how mentally demanding your work is.  Ensure you get a restful night by avoiding electronic screens close to bedtime, as these stimulate the brain and can make deep sleep more difficult.  Steer clear of alcohol if you’re needing some good quality zzz’s to help you through a tricky assignment the next day.  Despite its drowsy effects, alcohol can drastically reduce the quality of your sleep meaning that you’re not rested for the next day.

So there it is – my top tips for making the most of your time and increasing your productivity.  Give them a try and achieve more!

Procrastination Station

My favourite stop on the assignment route…

procrastination

Procrastination, we all do it. You’re probably on a little spree right now aren’t ya? It’s okay, me too. Welcome fellow procrastinators, *raises hand* my name’s Mary and I can testify that I am a full-fledged, self-loathing type 2 procrastinator.

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Hi there

If you’re reading this, the good news is that you’re highly creative, innovative and probably extremely motivated!

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What Kanye said

And if by any chance you’re up against a really scary deadline… From the sovereignty of the isles of procrastination to you, breathe. I believe in you. You will get this done, because you always do! That’s one of our many attributes, working under immense, albeit self-inflicted, pressure.

Diamond

Many speculate that the habit we know today as procrastination dates back to ancient Roman times, when the action of… Well, inaction, was regarded very highly. Wise leaders would sit around, simply pondering, not partaking in any other task for hours on end, unless they absolutely had to!

Professor Adam Grant off Wharton Business School, PA claims that some of the finest speeches in human history were re-written at the last minute, including Martin Luther King’s iconic ‘I Have a Dream’ and Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg address.

Mozart once got himself stuck in such a hard-core procrastination rutt that he ended up finishing the music for his opera, Don Giovanni, hours before its premiere in Vienna in 1787. Legend has it; the ink on the musicians’ scores was still wet, minutes before the opening curtain call…

So firstly, don’t feel bad!

In the words of Henry Miler, ‘Life, as it is called, is for most of us one long postponement.’

Film Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban

However…

Taking procrastination too far, to the point of hindering creativity, limiting full potential and suffering from the effects of sleep deprivation (not a joke), can be damaging both physically and emotionally. So… Like the good natured citizen of putting-it-off-sville that I am, I’ve compiled a few of my very favourite bad habit busters for your reading and GIF-viewing pleasures below.

Prioritise

For many of us, listing can easily become a source of distraction. (Serial post-it note user here). However, when you reach that moment of realising the proximity of an ill-fated task and the palm-sweats hit, writing or typing out a list of manageable sections in order of importance can actually be quite helpful, not to mention calming.

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For example, *worst case scenario* say you’ve left a written assignment to the last minute, take a moment to assess the placement of marks. Will it be more important to perfect each bibliographic reference as you come to it, or will your professor look more favourably upon a well thought-out, coherent structure? For those of us who stave off work till the last minute, it’s worth producing drafts of increasing quality as opposed to handing in an incomplete, abruptly-finished piece.

It’s so much easier said than done but… Try not to be a perfectionist!

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We can’t always elicit the kind of review Magneto gave Mystique’s natural form in X-Men

Break Tasks into Manageable Chunks

Similar to the advice above – breaking large, and overwhelming tasks into subsections can really increase the approachability of the beast!

You can also think of this in terms of time: For example, if you’re finding it really hard to concentrate on a task without veering off into another 40 minute session of Candy Crush, give yourself small, achievable goals:

– Work straight for 30 minutes (or more) without any interruptions

– Take a 5 minute break

– Repeat!

Once you conquer one chunk, you’ll gain momentum, and I guarantee that as the blocks accumulate, you’ll feel more inclined to power through without that scheduled break you assumed you’d so desperately need!

Publicise your Goals

Don’t be a private procrastinator – the most dangerous breed! Try to publicise your intentions, perhaps not on a large scale (the world doesn’t need any more gushing Facebook posts) but in a more intimate style: Talking to classmates, close friends and family about work and the personal goals we set for ourselves, can often add that extra dimension of much needed pressure that pushes us forward! Fear of embarrassment can be one great motivator!

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Cut out Temptations

Temptations can be anything from the elastic band on your desk, to the background noise of your housemate watching First Dates that you just can’t tune out! In the latter case, I’d advise moving to a quiet study space where there are as little distractions as possible. Even being in a more focused environment like the Main Library or the Alan Gilbert Learning Commons (open 24 hours) can make such a difference to your frame of mind. I personally recommend the cosy Muriel Scott section of the library!

Focus on the Reward

Or perhaps the consequence of not completing a task in good time.

Try to imagine how good it will feel, knowing you submitted an assignment, truly content with your efforts. Or, if you feel a more negative spin is required, think back to how infuriated you were, or will be, handing in a piece of work you know, that with the adequate time, you’d have the potential to do so much better on!

OG2hHwW

Don’t create ragrets you have the power to prevent!

Treat Yo’ Self

This last one is so important! Reward yourself for achieving those small milestones as well as the big, even if it’s something as small as cup of tea after working for an hour. For those of us not quite as close to the bright, white light of procrastination remission, it’s worth training our minds into a more positive work ethic, and if that means investing in a hot chocolate every once in a while, then cheers to that!

Hot Chocolate

And once the madness of submission, presentation or even performance is over, don’t forget to relax and catch up on a few episodes of that show you’ve been so good at avoiding!

Fans

Thanks for reading fans! X

 

Differences between A-levels and university learning styles you need to know about

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By: Tasnim Chowdhury

My first ever lecture, I got there early, got out my notepad, pens and highlighters, ready to begin this new journey. But there was a teeny tiny problem; I had no idea what to do, what to write or how a lecture was even taught…

University can differ a lot to A-levels, and rather than leaving you in the dark, I’m here to tell you how the two differ based and tell you all about my experiences

Lectures

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Going from an A-level class of 15 students to a lecture theatre with nearly 250 students was a big change for me. In short, lectures are weekly classes where an academic teaches you the basics of a topic, which often they specialise in.

How you focus and take in information in lectures really dependent on the person. For me, writing up notes during lectures helps me understand what I’m being taught, for others it’s printing out lecture hand-outs or using a laptop to type up notes instead.

Something I’d advise is not to write or type up everything from the slides. You won’t have enough time and you might miss something important said by the lecturer which isn’t on the slide. Making brief notes is easier and saves time, anything you miss; you can catch up on from lecture slides.

What I’ve learnt from all my lectures is that each academic teaches in different ways. I found that some use hand-outs or booklets, others use lecture slides, some not at all , so in the first lectures you can plan out how to take in the info. There is never one ‘ideal’ way of learning, for me though, the most useful are lecture hand-outs and note taking.

Tutorials and Seminars

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Tutorials and Seminars are essentially the same thing. These sessions are a lot more
similar to A-Level classes. Groups are made up of 10 to 15 students with a seminar/tutorial leader, who is either an academic or a PhD student who specialises in the unit you’re studying. These weekly or fortnightly sessions dig into the topic you studied in your previous lecture. Here is where you will ask questions, discuss in groups, practice exam questions and get your feedback. In my tutorials, we usually work through worksheets which are relevant to the lectures and often are in the style of exam questions.

Again, like how every lecture differs; seminars and tutorial sessions also differ. For some, we work through sheets, we go over the lecture readings, planning essays or learning to use features for exams or essays.

My advice is to prepare for your sessions and have questions ready. This is the time where you can clarify on your readings or anything you find confusing. It’s easier to get a clear answer and ask for any examples to help consolidate understanding.

Group work

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Being assessed in your learning differs by each course unit. Sometimes you’re assessed on individual work but often its group projects. Group sizes range from pairs to 4 people, you work together to produce a piece of work which you submit together.

Working in groups is a great way to develop collaborative skills, leadership and communication. It’s also a great way to meet people in your course.

For me, in A-levels I never really had to do a group project or a presentation and when I did I worked with my friends. So this was a whole different experience, which isn’t too bad when you share the workload, communicate with your group and regularly meet up to see how you have progressed.

Readings

Each week, you’ll be assigned Pic4readings to supplement your learning in lectures. These could be chapters in textbooks, articles or journals.  Again, this was a massive difference compared to A-levels where the only reading I had to do was for English Literature. This was pretty daunting at first, but the readings weren’t so bad and did help my learning.

I recommend doing the reading bit by bit, so you don’t overwhelm yourself, anything you find important or helpful, make a note of it.

A really useful thing that the University offers is online textbooks. It’s a great way to save money and makes your readings accessible. The University library also has a high demands section, where you can take out a book for 24 hours.

So there it is, my take on the different learning styles at university and A-levels! I hope I haven’t bogged you down with too much info. Starting university can be scary but it’s also a massive part of your life and it can go by pretty quickly, so make the most of it!

Got any questions? Or if you’re a student, got any tips? Please leave a comment!

Tasnim x

 

Can we start dreaming about summer yet…

With exams coming to a close and a bright (and probably mostly wet) British summer well and truly in sight its time to take a look at what’s on offer here in Manchester in the coming months. Whether you love the odd festival, want to travel within to the country or explore some last-minute society events there’s plenty to choose from.

First and foremost we have Parklife. Featuring household names such as Ice Cube, Jess Glynne and Katy B this independent music festival sees over 70,000 people attend each day to sing, dance and scream along to their favourite artists. “However”, says the distraught student, “At £100 a ticket its much too expensive for me”. Well here’s the best news of all: if you are willing to volunteer and help out at the event you receive a ticket for free! So for those with tighter purses this may be an event to take a look at and with tickets disappearing fast, something to take a look at sooner rather than later. Parklife will take place this year in Heaton Park from June 11th to June 12th.

Next on the list to look at is Pangaea carnival taking place on June 9th in the Student’s Union. Featuring 7,000 fellow student attendees, 15 different rooms each catering to a different music taste and fancy dress throughout its certain to be a memorable experience. Tickets are available from student reps as well as from the Student’s Union but similarly to Parklife, tickets tend to go fast so buy sooner rather than later!

For those less interested in partying and more interested in travel why not take a trip with the international society? Featuring a range of post-exam trips including excursions to the Lake District and the Snowden Mountain Railway it could be just the reward after weeks of exam-fuelled stress. Prices for trips range from £30 to £40 pounds, with members of the society receiving a discounted price and lower prices for children up to the age of 16. The society also runs summer language courses at a range of difficulty levels, catering to those interested in learning Spanish, French and many others. Classes run throughout the year however each class takes only a small number of students, so its best to decide quickly!

Lastly we have the Jazz Festival running from the 22nd to the 1st of July. Tickets can be as low as £7.20 per day and with around 8 acts per day it’s certainly worth a look at. The event takes place mostly in Northern Quarter and with the event attracting international attention due to it featuring original music; chances are you will see something new every day.

These are but a few events happening this summer and I for one can’t wait (mostly because exams will be over). I would highly recommend going to at least one of the events above if only to have some incentive to study hard for the remaining exams. And speaking of exams, I best get back to work…

Myths and tips – What I learnt from the university’s examination system

Everyone has their own study style and some people prefer one way of studying, while others have developed their own methods to suit them. Mine was a three-weeks-per-module semester. The first course ended and the next began until the first semester wrapped up with all four of my courses. But, wait. There were no exams! Christmas and winter vacations commenced soon after and time flew away until the exam week was right ahead on top.

I must tell you that it’s a myth that you will be able to prepare for the exams after the vacations. There’s no way you can prepare well enough if you had been partying all Christmas and extended it to the New Year’s Eve and opened up your eyes to study only a week before your first exam.

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‘Start early’. That’s my advice to you. Take one of the toughest subjects and spend some part of your holidays so that you don’t panic when you open your syllabus the last moment and find things you never saw before. Exams are a nightmare. What makes them worse is the long forgotten things you never had the time to revise.

 

But, the university does things in a smart way and that impresses me. Usually, revision lectures are conducted few days before your actual exams and you never know your instructor might give you a hint of what’s coming in the exam. While that’s pretty optimistic, but there is more. Some exams turn out to be successors to the past papers, often questions repeating like twins to the old exam questions.

 

Studying in a group is what helped me the most. Solving complex equations and playing with numbers can be time consuming and could be a waste of time if you are stuck on a problem that your teacher has not provided solutions to. So, when in a group, you could consult and check your answers quickly and move on at a faster pace. Conceptual questions can also be handled and if you need time on your own, you could actually study privately.

 

My recent exams reminded me of my CIE A level exams. The questions were phrased and structured like high school examiners did and it brought back all the good memories of my past. This was different from my Bachelors where I studied the American system and the examination style, variety of questions, layout and structure was always varying from one instructor to another. Having all exams structured with four questions of equal weightage, at least in my case, helped me handle the exams well. A constant style of exam makes you feel comfortable and helps you divide your time well.

 

However, what really bothered me was finding a study space during the exams week. All study spaces in the Main Library, Learning Commons and all other buildings were fully booked. I had not anticipated how much people study during the exams and it came off as a surprise because many people had been away all vacations and only arrived back from their homes one week before the exams. The crunch time was well-spent all day and night in the library and study spaces. I wasn’t used to such a thing. Perhaps the whole idea of having exams after holidays was a new phenomenon for me. This is the UK style and I’m still ambivalent of whether it helps students or not.

 

There is finally peace of mind now that exams have finished, but I know for sure how I will prepare for the next semester.

 

Aftermath of the Easter Holidays

Hello, it’s been a while! I am writing this post while mourning the lovely weather we’ve had the past two weeks. Should have known that this is Manchester and our amazing luck could only last for so long until the rain and grey skies returned to mock us. Oh well, at least I got a chance to see how pretty the University looks in the sun.

Mitali - Uni in the sun (more…)