How to handle two exams on the same day like a pro

Posted on Posted in Exams

I know what you’re thinking. One exam is bad enough. But two exams on the same day? That’s rough.

When you need to smash out two exams on the same day you need battle tactics, hacks, tools and strategies. I’ve broken this blog post down into six sections:

What to do…

1. Six to four weeks before exams
2. The night before your exams
3. Two to three hours before the first exam
4. In the exam
5. In between the exams
6. After the exams

Let’s jump right into this…

1. Six to four weeks before your exams

Start preparing early
If you want to do well in your exams, you need to focus on achieving two things:

  • Obtaining a good understanding of the course content
  • Being able to retain and recall the course content efficiently under pressure

To achieve this, you need time. Time to master the course content. This can’t be done overnight by simply re-reading all your notes. So this is where you need…

A revision plan
Grab your unit outlines (these state what you’ll be examined on). Have a look at what you need to know for your exams. Rather than just reading through your notes and assuming you’ve covered everything, cross reference back to your unit outline. Make sure you’ve covered all your bases.

Use effective study strategies
Highlighting is not a good way to learn information. It’s a starting point but it should never be the end point. Either show your highlighters the door or combine your highlighter pens with the following strategies:

  • Create mind maps
  • Draw pictures and diagrams on whiteboards and mirrors
  • Make flash cards
  • Make summary notes
  • Take practice exams
  • Teach someone else a concept (or teach your wall)
  • Watch short videos relating to course concepts (check out Kahn Academy)

You want to mix your study sessions up. This will stop your brain hurting.

Switch between subjects
Practice switching from studying English for 25 minutes to maths for 25 minutes (or whatever the two subjects are that you have scheduled for the same day). This will train your mind so it can easily jump from one subject to another which is what you’ll need to do on the day of your two exams.

2. The night before the exams

Get to bed early
You will feel the urge to keep studying into the early hours of the morning. But don’t do it. You know what you know at this point. Your top priority needs to be sleep: get lots of it (8-10 hours) and make sure it’s good quality.

Implement a transition time (at least 10 minutes) between studying and bed. Dim the lights, turn off all screens, do some simple stretches, meditate, etc. This practice will help you transition from having an overly active mind to a state of calm, which will help you to sleep better.

Without a good night’s sleep, consider that you’ll have the mental capacity of someone who is legally drunk when you enter the exam room. Can you afford to go into an exam being mentally impaired? I didn’t think so. So get to bed! But before you do that, there’s just one more thing you need to do…

Pack everything you need for your exams
Lay out your clothes. Pack your calculator, summary sheets/mind maps, spare pens, a water bottle, etc. If you have everything you need for both exams packed and ready to go before you hit the sack, this will be one less thing you need to worry about in the morning. This will also help you get more restful and restorative sleep.

Visualise success
Close your eyes and take a minute to mentally rehearse going through the exam process successfully. Visualise yourself standing tall and feeling confident outside the exam room. See yourself entering the exam room, reading the questions, answering each question quickly, sticking to your time plan, and finishing bang on time.

Building a mental movie of the exam process will help to decrease your stress levels and boost your confidence levels on the day of the exam.

3. Two to three hours before your first exam starts

Eat breakfast (something nutritious)

Quite simply your brain needs it. Consider the fact that when you wake up, you haven’t had anything to eat for 8 – 10 hours. How can you possibly get by on nothing until lunch? Something has to give. And it’s going to be your ability to concentrate in your first exam. Check out some healthy breakfast ideas here.

Avoid energy vampires
Energy vampires will suck your energy from you before you enter the exam room. How do they do this? They go on about the fact that they’ve hardly studied and they’re going to fail. They operate on the misguided assumption that worrying about exams will somehow make things better. But it never does. All it does is deplete your finite energy reserves.

You’re going to need a truckload of energy to get through the day. It’s best to keep away from these people.

Call it quits on studying
Don’t try to learn anything new. It really is too late by now. Focus on what you know (not what you don’t know). If you’ve worked with your unit outline, there’s a good chance you’ll be able to answer a lot of questions in the exam.

What you can do is look over your summary notes and/or mind maps for the exam that is first up to refresh the main ideas.

4. In the exam

Stay calm
What do you do if you come across a question you don’t know how to answer? Whatever you do, don’t freak out. Freaking out will drain your finite energy reserves for the day.

Expect that there may be some questions that you initially draw a blank on. This is normal.

Here’s what you need to do when you come up against a question that stumps you:

Stay calm, skip the question, and repeat to yourself, “There will be a lot of questions I can answer here”. Move onto an easier question. Focus on gathering as many easy points as you can.

It may be that half way through the exam you realize how you need to answer that question that you drew a blank on. But if you freak out, you diminish the likelihood of any insights occurring.

5. In between the two exams

You may only have 2 hours or less before the next exam. That’s not long. Use this time wisely. Focus on replenishing your energy reserves and clearing your mind. Here are some suggestions on how to do this:

Forget the exam you just took and go straight home
Don’t discuss the exam with your friends. Let it go. It’s over and done with. Finito. You can’t do anything to change the result. You need to channel all your energy into the next exam.

Time out for your mind

Consider doing one of the following restorative activities: meditate for 5 – 10 minutes, power nap (14 – 29 minutes: set a timer so you don’t oversleep), or spend some time in nature (a park or your garden will do the job).

Avoid spending time on Facebook or YouTube. This may be how you relax after school and on weekends, but it’s not a truly restorative activity. It may actually deplete your energy reserves and put you in a negative headspace. For best results, keep away from any screens.

Psyche yourself up
Most feeling mentally and physically tired at this point. This is where you need to turn up the volume on your positive self-talk. Author Jessica Bennett states:

“The words you tell yourself can actually change the way you see yourself – boosting confidence during a nerve-wracking event. So write yourself a Post-it or talk to yourself in the mirror”.

Don’t dwell on the fact that you may have more exams to sit later in the week. Focus on the fact that you’ve just knocked one off and you’re about to smash out another one shortly.

Do a quick power review of your summary sheets
Spent 15 – 25 minutes looking over your summary sheets/notes. This will help to prime and prepare your brain for what’s coming up. Again, do not try to learn any new content. You know what you know.

Have some food (but not too much)
Your brain is going to need some food for fuel but not too much. Sure, you’re going to feel like treating yourself to a burger and chips after your first exam. But resist the urge.

Having a heavy lunch will make it harder for you to concentrate. You need to be mentally sharp. I recommend having a banana, some nuts, and perhaps a smoothie (but one without too much sugar). Avoid anything white and/or processed (white bread, chips, biscuits, etc).

6. After the exams

You have just smashed out two exams in one day. Regardless of the outcome that is a champion effort. Take a moment to let that sink in.

If you can, take the rest of the day off. Go do something fun. You deserve a break. And you deserve that burger and chips you resisted having for lunch. Go stuff your face. You earnt it.

To sum up

If you do what works (i.e., prepare well in advance and manage your energy levels on the day) there is no reason why you should feel stressed or anxious about taking two exams on the same day. Worrying isn’t going to change a thing. You’ve done everything you can to be ready for this experience. All you need to do is show up and do what works.

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