Exams are looming – they may be in the summer, some months off or they may be a year or so away.  They are looming large and whatever result you get will have an impact on your future.  It may be that you are at junior school and it will determine your secondary school, it may be that you are doing exams that will determine which University or College you go to.  It may be your College or University exams, which will determine which job you get and where you will be, what you will earn, and thus determine the landscape of your future.  The pressure can be enormous.   The exams may seem like an mountain off in the distance – they’re not moving, they’re not changing size – they’re there and the time between now and then is only getting smaller.

I have worked for years as a very successful project manager so I am an expert in planning and delivering against a plan.  I also have study experience – I went to University from school and also achieved a BSc from the Open University in 2013.  When I am working with people planning their study, I use these my project planning skills and study learning skills to help them to construct an achievable plan to take them to their exams.

There are some things that you can do to prepare yourself and take the sting out of the tail of the exams.

  1. Start as early as you can, get into the right state.  That is what you know you should do… but from whatever point you actually start, hopefully in your lessons or ‘input’ of information stage, start doing weekly or daily practices to from the beginning to prepare the your notes for later revision… see below.  Now, it’s also important that you get yourself into the right mental and emotional state to study well… more about that on my next blog post.
  2. Prepare your notes during the information/lesson input.  If you’ve started early enough, these daily and weekly practices can get the information into a good state to revise later.  You may take long notes during lessons/lectures/reading.  Get these long notes into a good state so that you can read them and understand them to make shorter notes or mind maps for later revision.  Check your understanding with your teacher/tutor or do more research at this point for any points you’re not sure about – that’s what they’re there for.
  3. What if you’ve started late and missed some or all of step 2?  Don’t worry!  Now is the time to plan your time between now and the exams to retrospectively do step 2 and fit it in with revision.  This is where you need to get smart with notes and mind maps… so now is the time to do step 4.
  4. Plan, Plan, Plan.  So, the mountain of the exams is there ahead on the horizon.  You may be doing many different subjects, they may have separate exam papers.
    1. Get yourself access to some project planning software – microsoft project is an obvious, but expensive application which doesn’t work on a mac – but it can be rented on the cloud and be used via the internet.  There are other applications too.  A spreadsheet could work, but does none of the date scheduling for you.  If you work with The Balance House, I can do this planning for you.
    2. TOP DOWN PLANNING: Break the plan down into papers: List your exam papers and create a plan for each one.  If you’ve only got one paper, split it into sub categories.
      1. Plan in long notes: Then we need to chop the exam paper mountain down into smaller hills, and smaller hills, so that each week and month is manageable and you are constantly progressing towards your goal.  If you’ve been doing step 2, then this is an ongoing weekly activity for each subject during information input.  If you’re starting at Step 3, then you need to get the long notes scheduled in and fit it in with ystudy planour other activities and all the papers’ notes.
      2. Create mind maps: Then chunk the long notes down into mind maps that can be learned.  Most people learn well from pictures, even if their 1st preference isn’t visual.  Mindmaps are pictures and easy for the brain to recall – if it remembers where something is written on the page, it will remember what it says.  It could on average take about a week per paper to create the mindmaps from the long notes.
      3. Plan your revision.  The form this takes will depend on the subjects you’re taking, but it will focus on the mindmaps and then chunking those mind maps down smaller and smaller until you have one mind map per paper… and behind each of the branches in the mindmap, you will be able to recall the information you need for the exam.
  5. Execute your plan.  Now you need to do the work!  Have a look on a weekly basis to see what you’re scheduled to be doing that week and do it.
  6. CALIBRATE: Review your plan.  Review your progress against your plan on a weekly basis.  In the early days when you start out, you will be guessing how long it takes to do some of the tasks, so we need to review this and adjust the plan accordingly, to ensure you remain on track to deliver in time.  What is working well, what needs changing?  Do you have a group of friends you can study with? Does that help or hinder?  If any issues are coming up that you can’t work out how to approach differently, raise this with your coach.
  7. Give yourself treats and breaks along the way.  This is key to keeping your motivation high.  This will be frequent 5-10 minute planned breaks within your study time and then larger treats say on a weekly basis to reward yourself for your progress.  The treats are your choice – they could be a night out, meeting up with friends, having a night off study to watch TV, a holiday.  Something fun to do.  Many of our exams are done during childhood, teenage years or during early adulthood – a time where we should also be having fun.  It’s important to keep these rewards scheduled in our plan to keep us motivated to study and to keep a happy balance in our lives.
  8. Time for the exams.  There are some things you can do to prepare yourself mentally for exams.  What you focus on here will depend on how you feel.  Read my next blog post on how to pass exams, which will cover that.

If you’d like to work with me on planning and maintaining your studies, please do get in touch.  I work using Skype or Webex and have the planning software to create a robust, visually helpful study plan.  I will prepare your plans with you and review your progress against that, so that you feel confident that you are on track to pass your exams.  Get in touch to schedule a session.