stress of first year exams

(33 Posts)
arosagirl Wed 15-May-13 19:57:18

my son is coming to the end of his first year studying bio medical sciences. although he has coped ok with the course (after an awful lot of commitment and hard work) he is really panicking about his upcoming exams and is worried sick. I have no doubt on his efforts but he seems to think whatever he is revising is not 'sticking' and he's really concerned he'll fail his first year exams. does anyone have any suggestions on revision techniques or how he can calm himself down? I feel helpless!

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Numberlock Wed 15-May-13 20:23:16

Has he spoken to his tutors or someone in a general student advisory role?

creamteas Wed 15-May-13 21:08:03

First, get him to seek out support, there is likely to be lots on offer but he needs to approach them.

Second, get him to find out what happens if the worst happens. In most of the unis I have worked, students who fail a piece of assessment and/or a module get a chance to resit in Sept with a capped mark (usually 40, the pass level). At most unis, the first year doesn't count towards your degree, so a fail and capped mark in your first year has no long term implications.

Sometimes, knowing that the worst that could happen is not that bad, helps take some of the pressure off.

arosagirl Wed 15-May-13 21:24:55

thank you numberlock and cream teas for your replies. he has spoken to his lecturers but has been disappointed by the response. they have basically told him that he has to revise every single thing that he has been taught and obviously the extra from reading around the subject. piles and piles of paperwork in front of him seems to have spooked him and he now doesn't know where to start first! i think he's afraid to ask about the worst case scenario as he doesn't want to feel that he's a failure before he's even started but i will definitely bear that in mind if things don't improve over the next week. he seems to put himself under an enormous amount of pressure. is there anyone at the uni he could speak to rather than his lecturers who may have a more caring and guiding role. i know the lecturers are really busy at this time of the year. Any advice gratefully received as this is new for the both of us! thanks again.

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Numberlock Wed 15-May-13 21:27:05

Could he speak to some second year students on the same course to see how they handled it?

arosagirl Wed 15-May-13 21:36:31

I'll suggest that to him, thanks.

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Numberlock Wed 15-May-13 21:40:00

Good luck to him.

I remember the leap from A levels to first year uni being quite daunting. It got easier in the second year onwards.


arosagirl Wed 15-May-13 21:51:00

That's reassuring, i'll tell him that. I think he's a bit concerned that things will get harder but if he gets his learning methods right I'm sure he'll feel much happier. Luckily he's got some good friends so that's a massive bonus! Thanks Numberlock.

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Numberlock Wed 15-May-13 21:53:56

Let us know how it goes.

I think it can be a shock coming from school where you're spoon fed to uni where you're left to your own devices (ties in with him finding tutors' comments rather unhelpful - 'just get on with it').

Metbird Wed 15-May-13 21:56:05

I'm facing first year exams in a similar subject, with the same warm words of advice - just learn everything - mmm. This is how I am tackling it:
1. Go through the syllabus - and highlight in green everything he is happy with, highlight in red everything that is uncertain, and everything else is amber.

2. Plan to cover all the red areas first, then amber areas. Break it down into small chunks - 20-30min study max, then 5 min break, then 5 min revision of what he has just covered. Then move on to next 30 min study period.

3. sleep when tired. Your brain cannot properly absorb and retain information if you are tired. In fact you do most of your learning when you are asleep. Therefore no overnight cramming!

4. Work with a small group of friends. They will have different strengths and weaknesses, which you can use to help you revise. Challenge each other to teach key concepts - Use a whiteboard and start 'mini' teaching sessions.

5. Use the online resources and student consult resources that most textbooks have. Anatomy - try these resources


For other subjects - Great screencasts on Khan Academy

6. Don't worry too much - revise, eat well, exercise and sleep (especially important the night before the exam). If you do all this you will have done more than most of your peers.

Right, that's me done for the day - 6 hrs of off to sleep to put all my learning into practise.

Good luck...if you want any more tips - or a online study pal - PM me

webwiz Wed 15-May-13 21:56:28

Has he had a look at some past papers? He might have a choice of questions then can target his revision a bit more rather than trying to cover everything.

arosagirl Wed 15-May-13 21:59:45

I will do Numberlock, really nice that people are interested, thanks.

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Numberlock Wed 15-May-13 22:01:22

My twin sons are 17 so this will be me in a year's time!

arosagirl Wed 15-May-13 22:04:30

Wow Metbird, some brilliant advice there. I'll definitely pass those details on to him. It's always great to see things from another student's perspective. At times like these mums aren't always much use! I'll suggest he joins mumsnet so he can see this thread. Thanks very much, and sleep well!

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arosagirl Wed 15-May-13 22:06:21

Thanks webwiz, i think that he's checked some out but I'll suggest he tries to find more.

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webwiz Wed 15-May-13 22:14:01

He needs to have a look at the structure of the paper rather then just the questions themselves. DD2 was completely freaking out at the amount of stuff she needed to revise for her Jan Algebra exam (she's a 2nd year Mathematician and has exams twice a year) but when I looked at one of the past papers she only needed to do three questions out of six which meant she was better off knowing a smaller number of topics really well rather than trying to cover everything.

OddBoots Wed 15-May-13 22:20:35

I'm a student too and revising for exams, I listened the the BBC radio programme 'All In The Mind' last night and they were discussing the most effective revision methods, highlighting and notes seem to be ineffective, the best method is testing yourself often in regular sessions spread over as long as you can - they compared it to how one would rehearse for some kind of performance.

cafecito Wed 15-May-13 22:27:32

I need to lurk on this thread. I'm studying medicine yet have no idea how to study hmm if he has time, my best advice is to reduce each topic onto one page. Pictures are good for a topic like biomed. Anatomy can all be made into your own regional picture book using different colour pens (though this may not feature so much for him). Crash course books are pretty fab too. I second sal khan's videos on khanacademy for basic concepts and things like organic chem and maths, if that's relevant for him. Pharmacology - pictures, concepts, receptors, mechanisms.. then more detail on top. pathways- again, pictures. Try drawing out a pathway from memory.
Agree highlighting (and reading, in my case) is totally ineffective.
For my best results I have done mindmaps in the past.

Right now, I have exams headed my way and I am a whole year behind shock plan to start Friday <gulp>

Kowalski Wed 15-May-13 22:28:05

I'm a mature student in 2nd year studying biology, so was in a similar position last year, made harder by the fact I left school many years ago! I managed to pass all first year exams, which was a shock! First year doesn't count towards degree mark, so results aren't too much of an issue as long as you get the 40% pass mark.

Metbird, love your advice! Will be taking it on board smile

cafecito Wed 15-May-13 22:29:27

webwiz, agree in some topics you can 'question spot' which is very good. I can't do that on my course at all but I have friends on biomed at a different uni who can do so easily by looking at past papers. It cuts out what you need to learn.

Ehhn Thu 16-May-13 00:02:33

At King's college London the main library has copies of old papers- maybe worth your son looking for something similar.

I concur with the other techniques mentioned here. Also, he needs to break the course down into small chunks and set very specific pieces of information that he is going to learn. E.g. In 45mins I will be able to describe these two processes. Once he can write out the info without looking, he knows it.
He may also find images/drawing diagrams of processes helps. I got a dyslexic student to learn all the tudor rebellions by getting daft pictures eg perkin warbeck was a bottle of becks and Essex rebellion was a pic of Essex girl. Amazingly, the boy didn't forget them then...
We put so much emphasis on making notes and learning words, but unless you regularly learn lines like an actor does, our brains don't process it very well as it's not a skill we use that often. Hence students often get that feeling that it isn't going in. Telling the story of the information works as well, even making it a silly story to learn a series of information. If he doesn't feel he has time to do all of this, save these methods for the red-marked material from the traffic light system mentioned by poster above.

sashh Thu 16-May-13 04:53:23

Has he actually taken any study skills classes or got a 'how to study' book? Both very useful.

The student support department and or SU tend to run things about how to study. The OU publishes some fabulous books.

What kind of learner is he? Does he need music or silence, does he prefer to write notes or pictures.

One thing I found useful was to pic a topic to revise. Get notes and the CORE textbooks, too easy to end up with 15 - 20 books.

stage one - post it notes, the small ones.

Look in the index, and put a post it note on the page where each subject is mentioned so it could be 'phospholipidbilayer'.

I've found other people can be bribed to do this bit as you only need to look at a word and put a post it on the page.

OK now take 1 A4 piece of paper and describe that one thing using all the sources. Do you really understand it? Could that one page be given to someone and they understand the concept? Do the texts agree? Sometimes they appear not to but it is the way they have been written.

Keep it to just that topic. Do not include things like sodium channels or other parts of the cell. Each one of those gets it's own sheet.

A4 is a maximum, some he will be able to explain in a couple of lines.

Get someone else on the course to read them if he can and then it depends on his style of studying, I would put them in a ring binder. I have known people plaster them around their room and even inside cupboards and the fridge so that every time you pass the paper you read it.

Move the papers around after a few days, the one on the back of the toilet door will probably be the best read.

And remember

Sleep, good quality if you can get it. Eat well, and eat something before the exam.

My hippy technique when reading the notes is to have something smelly, if he is allowed an oil burner or candle then that's fine, if not scented tissues or even scent/aftershave on the pages.

Play some music, classical or at least nothing with words.

Eat something like mints or chew gum.

he idea is that the memories are stored in different bits of the brain (most probably BS) when you go to the exam wear the aftershave or rub scented oil on your wrist, listen to the music on the way to the hall and take the same mints with you.

You are then using all your senses to remember (told you it's hippy stuff) and a wiff of scent can trigger a memory, hopefully of what you have been learning.

arosagirl Thu 16-May-13 08:40:59

Thanks everyone for your brilliant advice. My son has now joined mumsnet and is able to read all of this for himself so I'm sure this will be a great help to him. Hopefully it will help other people in this position too. Countdown to the end of the exams and a long summer now........

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Metbird Thu 16-May-13 20:25:39

Hi everyone...especially cafecito, I'm studying medicine too!

Another good tip past on to us by our lecturers is to try and make connections between different parts of the syllabus. Your brain retains information my making connections to information you already know, so first off you need to ascertain what you already know. The process can be broken down like this:

1. Take your 'red' subject - be confident, even although you may think you know nothing - you do because you have been to lectures (you do go?..) and have done the reading.

2. Write down on a large piece of paper - or better yet, a whiteboard - everything you know on the subject, making connections and linking every idea and concept you come up with with another point. This process works even better in a small group, because everyone will know something different and be able to fill in the details for everyone else immediately - a quick win

3. Now compare what you know against the syllabus - be pleasantly surprised at what you know! You now go away and revise your notes - adding concepts and ideas to the knowledge map as you go - keep making the links.

4. Once you have finished, try and record your work -

a. Either keep the paper and possibly tidy it up, add colour, drawings etc because you know have a fantastic revision map which you can return to before the exam, confident that you have covered all the work on it.

b. Transfere it to C-Map (free online software - just google it) making sure that you have made all the connections and links.

I hope this helps...most of all try and interact with the information as much as possible, in as many ways as possible.

Good luck!

arosagirl Fri 17-May-13 12:28:30

Metbird. Once again thank you for your great advice. I know that my son has started using some of your tips already! Hope your exams go well.

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