These exam tips aren’t for disabled-students only, although disabled students face huge extra hurdles at this time of year. These are general tips and tricks – they are non-disability specific, so lots will be inadvertently left out. Over time we hope to produce a lot more advice, including suggestions from Disability Support Advisors and other people in the know. We are a forum, though, so there will be someone else who is coping or has coped with similar challenges. You are not alone. It’s really important that you know that.
First up, let us be clear: you are not lazy, and you are not behind. People succeed in very different ways, and revision is only good if it is useful and sticks.
There is no shame in exam accommodations. If they think you need them, then take them. If you think you are entitled to them, then take them. You are not cheating. Universities generally make you do the legwork. So apply for accommodations and make sure they’re sorted now – there’s still time, and you may be your only advocate in this, unless you have a sympathetic advisor, personal tutor or other supportive academic. The best way to do this is ensure you’re registered with the University Disability Support Service, who will notify academics of your condition and what needs it creates around exams. They are there to support you. If you can, make as much use of that support as possible. Find out who in your department is responsible for supporting disabled students and ask for their help too. It’s their job to support you as much as your tutor or the Disability Support Services.
Make the most of your accommodations, and ask what is possible. In my undergraduate finals, I used hot water and flannels to bring down swelling in my hands during 3-hour exams in my extension time, by asking to be put in a room with an en-suite loo and getting accompanied to the sinks. Practice with the accommodations. I don’t recommend doing full practice exams more than a few times, particularly if you are essay-based, because of exhaustion – just do it for the timing. When you do practice your timing, do it properly, self-consciously checking your writing rate, and working out your time markers clearly.
Plan first, work second. This applies whether you have problems with concentration, depression, pain or mind-fog. There is no point blitzing all the books with no direction. You are studying for a specific exam, on a course with objectives. Find the course guide, know what you’re aiming for, and what the mark guidelines are. Re-read your previous assessment feedback, and know your weaknesses. Know what advice you’ve been given to improve them, and how to implement it. If you have question choices within your exams, know your topic strengths and what comes up. Past papers are key. You’re not revising to be the world expert – you’re revising for an exam. Start with the course outline and past exams, and use them to structure your work all the way through – with catch-up days, and at least a day before each exam for past paper practice and a calm overview, and as much rest as you can manage.
Plan for yourself: this is not a competition. People work differently, and if you find a study group that works for you, great, but many of us disabled students need breaks, rest and alone time – don’t let other people inadvertently make you feel guilty for this. Note your triggers for exam panic, and try to avoid them: if it’s working in the library in silence for long periods, or too long on one topic, or too many books in front of you.
Find a study space that works for you. Access to heat or hot water for pain, stretching space, the right software, break space that’s calming or lively, the ability to take meds, and the avoidance of stressors can all be a factor. Watch out for travel time to the space, and if you have pain or mobility issues, maybe have a secondary space option that works for you if possible. If a long bus journey or walk helps to get you in the mood, then factor that in. And don’t be afraid to change spaces. I find working in the library nearing exams is just too much pressure, but some people need that.
Keep a handle on your health. These are just exams, and they’ll be over, but your mental and physical health will stick with you afterwards. If you have a long exam period, plan your meds etc. accordingly; talk to your medics, if you have them, to make sure you have prescriptions and a plan for appointments that work for you. Eat as well as you can – you need the energy, and not only from glucose tablets. If you’re in a shared house or in halls, get in on group cooking if that works for you. I recommend a thermos flask. Keep drinking water.
You must have time off, otherwise your brain will switch off. Work out how you need them; I need evenings most days for hot baths and non-movement, but some people need daytime space. Do whatever works for you: morning meditation; exercise; comedy nights; day trips; film nights – nothing is a waste of time if it makes you feel less stressed, calmer, and more focused in your “On” time.
If you can, find your safety net. Talk to friends, not just on the same course. If you felt there was a friendly academic who’s on your team – we do exist – then think about talking to them about the course, or revision strategies.
University exams are tough. Doing them with a disability is even tougher. You are an awesome, amazing human being just for being you right now. You can do this. And we’re here if you need us.
Article kindly submitted by @inverted_duck.
Image: ‘Solo Exam’ by Xavi. Licensed under Creative Commons 2.0 (Generic)
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