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Surviving your First College Exam Season

Exam season is possibly one of the most daunting aspects of starting college. At any school, and with any major, midterms and finals are unavoidable. Late night study sessions ending in library naps, surrounded by energy drinks, have been very normalized on campuses. But, believe it or not, this miserable fate is in fact avoidable.

It is important to recognize that high school exams and college exams are completely different. In high school, most classes have lots of small assignments that cushion your grade, while in college, it is not uncommon for your only grades in a course to be exams. If you are taking lots of writing based courses (like myself, as an English major), you might find yourself writing essays worth up to 50% of your final grade.  

Final exams take place at the end of the semester, once classes have concluded, and there is a brief reading period to prepare. Midterm exam season can be a less official time frame, as these exams occur at any point in the middle of the semester. It is typical to see an increase in your course load approaching the halfway point of the semester, especially right before spring break. 

With all of that being said, here are my tips and tricks to ace your first exam season at the University of Rochester. 

Tip #1: Get Ahead

It is pretty difficult to be blindsided by exams. At the start of each semester, read (yes, actually read) your syllabuses through and through. The dates for the exams, readings, etc. are almost always listed. I like to take the first week of the semester to really get organized and make a game plan. 

This is especially helpful if you are anticipating a particularly busy semester, or have any scheduling conflicts that need to be addressed ahead of time. As someone on a sports team, the first thing I do at the start of the semester is look through my exam schedule and address any conflicts with practices and races ahead of time. The sooner you do so, the more accommodating professors are. 

Looking through syllabi also allows you to get ahead. I like to try to get a few classes ahead on readings in the beginning of the semester, while classes are still getting started. If there are major essays or projects that are due on days I know I will be out of town or preparing for an exam in a different class, I try to get a start on those, too.

Simply scrolling through your courses on Blackboard (the website the University of Rochester uses for course materials) once they open only takes a few minutes, but will save a lot of trouble down the road. 

Tip #2: Keep Some Variety in Your Schedule

Okay, so now you’re in the thick of exam season. Whether or not you followed tip #1, you are probably going to feel overwhelmed. This is when you have to go against your instincts and NOT bury yourself in the library all day. We’ve all tried it, and this is possibly the quickest way to burn out. No matter how busy I am, I always find that I have more productive study days when I try to stick to somewhat of a schedule. Getting outside, getting a bit of exercise, and talking to friends/doing something you enjoy is a small fraction of the day, and is infinitely more productive than staring at a book until your eyes go numb. Even if you don’t feel like you have time to hang out with anyone, simply going to a dining hall with friends is a good break from the books. 

Tip #3: Try out all the Libraries

Studying in pajamas in bed is tempting, but it is also a pretty quick way to ensure that you will pass out on top of your textbooks, or worse, have dreams about studying (it has happened to me!). I like to take exam time to explore the different libraries here. It adds variety to the day and helps me stay focused. 

When I want a silent vibe to really focus, I go to the Periodical Reading Room, which is actually where I am sitting as I write this blog. If I am not really in the mood for the silence, and want a more relaxed study session, I get a group of people to fill a booth at iZone, Gleason, or Q and I. Recently I have also become a fan of finding classrooms or conference rooms to hunker down in with big groups. As a third year humanities student, I just discovered the Humanities Center as a study spot. Better late than never! Different libraries have different vibes and aesthetics which are actually pretty fun to try out and see what you like. 

The Periodical Reading Room, one of the quiet libraries

Tip #4: Collaborate

Maybe you came from a pretty cutthroat high school, but at Rochester, I firmly believe that the most competitive aspect of this school is getting in. During exam season, there is a sense of community and solidarity that you are all going through the same thing, so don’t try to go at it alone. Studying with friends can hold you accountable, and can also make the experience more enjoyable (well, as enjoyable as studying can be). Finding a booth or classroom with your friends can help keep you focused, help you share notes and review topics, and is a great opportunity to take embarrassing pictures of your friends when they fall asleep on top of their books in the middle of the library (hey, it happens to everyone).

Exam season is a very tiny fraction of your college experience. While it is a stressful reality of college, it is realistically a small part of your semester, and if you are prepared, it is not as miserable as the horror stories will tell you. 

Good luck!

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