Three-step plan for exams

I had this insanely elaborate blog entry planned out before my finals season started. However, before I got around to posting it, I ran out of time, and I had to prioritize what was most important (which coincidentally is a running theme in this entry). So here’s that very same entry – originally intended as a guide to final preparations for either GCSEs or SATs or whatever else you have coming up at the end of the semester.

In my case, I had to prepare for both an oral exam and all my written university exams. In addition to this, I had to write even more essays (this has really been the year of the essay for me, which I guess was to be expected when studying literature).

So here’s a guide to how to prepare for both oral and written exams, and getting through all of the course material leading up to your finals:


Simplify your daily choices – avoid decision fatigue:

This is a technique I have applied for many years, and I’ve included this year’s work plan above this passage. It is in Norwegian, but the basic gist of it is that it’s sort of a rough outline for what I have to get done every day leading up to the exams to stay on track.

Through this, I avoid having work pile up through procrastination, and I don’t lose 20-30 mins each morning, trying to figure out where I’m at, and what I need to get done.

This also helps with the terrible feeling one can get before an exam, where you feel as if the amount of work you have ahead of you is insurmountable.

  • So in this step – figure out exactly what you have to know before the exam in these easy steps:


  1. Go through old exams, and make a document where you include all the old exam questions.
  2. Match this up with notes from the lectures and classes you have attended. What has the professor/teacher focused on the most in each of the modules?
  3. Create categories for all the questions, either by chapter or by theme (I have provided an example from my geology course, which again, is in Norwegian, but you see what I’m getting at.)
  4. Repeat for all your upcoming exams.


Portion out your work – trim the fat!

Which leads us to the next part of my three-step-plan to a stress-free exam period, which is portioning things out. In this part, you are going to have to trim the fat. What I do is that I combine all the questions that are similar, and create one more comprehensive and detailed question for each of the themes sub-questions. I try to dedicate equal time to the entire syllabus, because you never know when your professor is going to throw a curveball at you. So here’s my approach to portioning out your work:

  1. Count the days leading up to all of your exams, and create a document that has all of the dates in it.
    • Now this part is important – DO NOT use your regular planner. This is you declaring Martial Law over your work habits, and a planner you have to search through to get to what you need to get done will only add to the inevitable decision fatigue you’ll feel throughout the exam season. Have it on one very visible page, print it out, and hang it somewhere you cannot avoid seeing it.
  2. Figure out your fudge ratio, and be honest with yourself – how much can you sustainably manage to do in a day?
    • NOT how much can you force yourself to do, but how much will you do without passing out at the end of each day. If you are already strapped for time, try to use the days leading up to the exam to get an overview of everything, instead of aiming at the world champion title in statistics or chemistry or whatever subject you are struggling with.
  3. Leave the final day before every exam open so you can figure out where the gaps in your knowledge are, and close them.


Give yourself a break, literally.

I have blogged about this so many times, but take many short breaks, preferably by doing something active, like going for a walk or a run, or some other exercise that you like. Sitting and working all day will only make you sluggish and tired. My best tips for how not to spend your breaks:

  1. Turn off all your social media alerts. Deal with it before bed.
    • You do not need to deal with all that femo, and agonize over how you are not able to go to every party or go out into the sun. And if you spend all your time snapchatting how much it sucks having to revise for your exams it’ll only suck even more when you get back to work.
  2. Do not sit down to watch TV.
    • If I had one dollar for every time I lost track of my five-minute break time by sitting down and watching whatever crappy sitcom was on TV while I was having my break this exam season…

Just a few closing words (and a little shameless self-promotion):

I did a few extra things to keep myself on track, which might not apply to everyone. However, if you are the kind of person that is always coming up with new ideas about things to do, whether it is creative projects or practical things that need to get done, I highly recommend carrying a book with you, to write in whenever you feel a pang of inspiration.

This is sort of an adapted version of Tim Ferriss’ morning pages, where he tries to put his “monkey-mind” away before getting to work. My monkey mind never seems to let up throughout the day, so taking five minutes perhaps two or three times a day to sort through whatever creative plans you have for the evening or projects you want to get done over the summer helps me not derail from my work plan.


As far as the shameless plug goes, here are the links to some of my most read blog entries, which I think can be of use whether you are in an exam season, or if you just want to get your study habits sorted out in time for the next semester.

How to get organized for the new semester!

Finding YOUR best way to study!

Gamification of habits


Have a great summer

  • Benedicte
Three-step plan for exams

Gamification of habits

I’m working on a proper blog entry, but in the meanwhile I thought I’d share some tips about habit formation. Some tools I’ve been using is the app HabitRPG, and a simple excel spreadsheet.

I found out about HabitRPG about a year ago, while lurking on /r/productivity on reddit. This app works the same way an RPG does, in rewarding tasks you’ve made for yourself with XP. You decide how much value each task should have, based on how difficult you find them. Some are dailies you can tick off on your list and not worry about until they are active tasks again, others are habits you can do as much as you want, and still receive rewards each time you repeat them.


This app is free, and is accompanied by the website, where you can join parties, guilds and do challenges. I really recommend it, because it is a fun way to create new habits, and perhaps break old ones. It uses the instant gratification of receiving XP and finding items like pets, armour etc. to feed the “habit loop”. The thing that makes it the easiest to form a new habit is instant gratification. That is why making it a habit to check your social media sites is so much easier than perhaps to do three sets of 15 push-ups every evening. You might not feel like you are getting stronger each time you do the push-ups, but with social media, you get the instant gratification and entertainment you crave, so you keep coming back. After a while, people might say “have you been working out?” but by then you’ve already been pushing yourself every night the past few weeks, without any form of reward. That is where I’ve found HabitRPG to be a great tool. I often feel as if my revising amounts to nothing, and that the study session did not pay off to the degree that I wanted it to. However, if I keep at it for many weeks straight I will see results, perhaps in how much faster I can do a task, or my being able to understand something I previously could not. This reward is far from instant, so getting potions to hatch new pets, or a new sword for my avatar right away is much more gratifying.


The excel spreadsheet is something I’ve been working on this week, with the help of my father. He used it while working on his PhD, to break down bigger tasks into smaller ones that were less daunting than just “finish your PhD!” For me it’s a tool to spread out my workload before my upcoming exams, so that I know how much time I can use on each chapter. I also use it for my workout schedule. The great thing about formatting in excel is that you can use as many tabs as you want, colour coordinate them, mark specific dates, like labs, exams etc. You have to set aside some time to create your own formatting to suit your needs, as well as planning REALISTICALLY how much work you are able to do in one day. If you plan to do too much each day, you will burn out, and not do any of it. You need that instant gratification of marking a task as “done” on your list, because leaving them unfinished will only make you feel disappointed in yourself, which you shouldn’t be, because in my opinion, just doing one of the many tasks you’ve set for yourself is an accomplishment.


By the way, I know I did not stick to my posting schedule over the Easter holiday, and I’m sorry! What I learned over the break is that I do not concentrate well when working with other people, which was last week’s study technique. Since I spent a lot of time goofing off, I did not want to write a huge blog entry about something so subjective. Instead, I’m making it up by finding out techniques to learn whether you are an auditory learner, visual learner, kinesthetic learner or if you learn best just by reading.

Looking forward to the results! I think I can make some interesting findings 🙂

– Benedicte

Gamification of habits