5 September 2022 

Written by Lizré Botha - Head of Department: School of Commerce

Dear Milpark students,

Every semester, just before the exams, my students usually ask for “exam tips”. In my almost 15 years of experience, the following eight essential tips have been tried and tested. Let’s have a look at each one in more detail.

  1. Set up your study environment.

Your study environment should be your “happy place” and a space in which you can be productive. For example, if you know you study best without any distractions, then you need to move into a space where there is no TV with Netflix, for example. However, if you know you focus best in a space in which background music is playing, then make sure you have a radio or some white noise at hand to help you concentrate. If you enjoy a new notebook or highlighter, invest in yourself and purchase these stationery items. Personally, I love a new notebook! The same can be said for a comfortable desk or chair. Never underestimate the power of those small things that make you feel comfortable in your study environment.

  1. Prepare a study schedule for yourself in advance.

Your study schedule should be your commitment to yourself. Remember, nobody can do the studying for you. You should therefore only set a schedule that is reasonable and that you can stick to. For example, if you know that Sundays are your “lazy” days, do not set aside time for study on a Sunday. Similarly, if you know that you do laundry on a Saturday morning, set this time aside for that purpose. Why? Because you should not set yourself up for failure: your schedule should be reasonable and realistic. If you miss your scheduled study time, it can easily lead to negativity towards your studies and procrastination. Also – nap when you need to nap!

Keep in mind that, for a more difficult subject, you should set more time aside for study purposes. And, most importantly, set up a day for rest, where you do not study at all, in order to re-energise and refocus. So again – nap when you need to nap! If you need to socialise and spend time with friends, include this in your schedule as something to which you can look forward.

  1. Be strict, and create and maintain healthy boundaries.

Share your exam and study schedule with your family and friends. In this way, they know how to support you and when to leave you alone to focus on your studies. Communicate your expectations and schedule clearly to the people involved in your daily life, or to those who have access to your study environment. For example, you would need to communicate to your employer that you will be unavailable on your exam dates. This includes communicating your commitments to your family and friends, so that they know they may not be able to reach you during specific times.

  1. Set clear goals.

Your goals are up to you! These goals can include anything you want to achieve someday. For example, it can include aiming for a specific final mark for a subject or qualification towards which you are studying, or even smaller goals you would like to achieve at the end of every week and/or day. Remember – goals should be achievable and reasonable.

If you set subject-specific goals, remember that, in some subjects, you will perform better, because you may enjoy those subjects more. In other subjects, you would really have to push yourself in order to pass. Do not allow this to demotivate you. This is normal, and every student must have an honest conversation with themselves in this respect, in order to come to grips with their strengths and capabilities. Remember, each of us has different talents and strengths. Be kind to yourself if you do not reach a goal for whatever reason.

Reward yourself with “little things” to celebrate reaching any of your milestones. For example, allow yourself 30 minutes of your favourite series for every two hours that you study. Alternatively, you can go walking with your dog after you review your exam overview slides. The rewards should be things that you want to do and enjoy doing, and that can motivate you to achieve your goals.

  1. Get a study-buddy.

It is always best to have someone in the “trenches” with you. Having someone by your side helps you both to reflect on or revise content together, while motivating each other. Set up study sessions together, which can take place in person or even online. Having someone to talk to during difficult times or when you are struggling with content will prove invaluable to your progress. Whether you decide to connect with one person or a group of people in this respect, allow yourself the gift of emotional support. Remember, you are not alone, and two brains are better than one.

  1. Keep motivated.

Exam periods can be stressful and, even if you start strong, sometimes you will need to “pick yourself up” after a difficult exam or a difficult study session. This is completely normal, and most students battle with low motivation at some point during the exam period. Invest in a motivational book or inspirational reminders (you can get and keep both of these on your phone). You can also write inspirational sticky notes to yourself and place these in your study environment.

It is important to reflect on how you can get and keep yourself motivated. Personally, I enjoy watching TED Talks that are motivating and inspiring. It doesn’t really matter how you get there, the important thing is to do what is necessary to “just keep swimming”.

  1. Get your ducks in a row.

Access your MyMilpark environment often, to make sure you have read all the details around your exam structure and what is expected of you. You should have your assessment guidelines, study plan, topic slides, study guide, textbook (where prescribed), exam instruction letter and exam overview session close by, especially when proctoring is involved.

Review the content of each subject and reach out in your tutor forum if you are struggling with something specific. You can also schedule a consultation session with your lecturer, if necessary. Do not wrestle with content problems in silence. Rather, ask questions and do not be scared to ask for help.

Start early, because if you start the night before, you run the risk of not getting the help you need in time. So, let’s get going!

  1. Sleep is key.

Get enough sleep and rest, especially the night before an exam. Our brains work best when we are rested. “Pulling an all-nighter” is a recipe for disaster and it is not a sound study strategy for your entire exam cycle. Do not underestimate taking care of yourself by eating healthy and drinking enough water. Go walking or running to get rid of unnecessary stress and anxiety. Reach out and ask for help if you feel overwhelmed, and remember, you are not alone.

Again, to reiterate one last time: nap when you need to nap!