One element of being a student which I haven’t yet mentioned is the one which often causes most dread, especially among mature students: exams. Now, it’s been sixteen years since I last faced a formal examination, so I guess it’s natural that I feel some trepidation. This is balanced by the fact that I had always done well in exams before, and I feel that I have a well-planned revision programme.
One of the nice things about the School is that all students take their exams at the same time. There are two exams, both three hours long, and the atmosphere in the days leading up to them is a mixture of nervous anticipation and stoic resignation. Nine months of hard work comes down to this!
But it doesn’t all come down to this, thankfully. On my course (Medical Statistics), the two exams make up a quarter of your final grade, so they’re important, but they won’t necessarily make or break your Masters. Also, the department do everything they can to make sure that all students are well prepared. We each have a personal tutor, who will mark past exam questions for you and explain where you’ve been going wrong. The timetable is also organised so that we have plenty of time to revise. When the day comes, I know that I’ll have no-one else to blame but myself!
My routine is pretty settled now. I work best in the mornings, so I get in for eight and head straight to an excellent coffee shop near the school, where I work for an hour whilst nursing a decaff latte. I’ll then head into school, where, ignoring the library, I’ll head to some informal seating on the ground floor where there is a ready supply of natural light. I’ve found I work best in short bursts, so after an hour or two there I’ll usually head off to find somewhere else to study. I’ve tried the school canteen, a park across the road, Birkbeck Bar and even a park bench by the side of the road! Anywhere where there is natural light and noise – I’ve discovered that I can’t work in silence!
The work I do generally consists of one of three activities. First, I went through all my notes from the year, attempting to answer the practical questions, and making flash cards of the key results I need to remember. Second, I’m working my way through all the past exam papers I can lay my hands on. And finally, especially as the exams approach, I spend the rest of my time flicking through the 300 or so flash cards I’ve made, in an attempt to commit everything to memory. I don’t tend to work late – maybe until around 4 or 5 in the afternoon – as I find that after that I stop taking anything in.
As I write this it’s just a few days until my first exam, and I’m trying hard to stay relaxed, making sure that I get enough sleep each night and don’t get too nervous. I feel as if I’ve done everything I can do to prepare, so now it’s just down to how well I it goes on the day. Wish me luck!