Surviving your take home exam

Take home exams sound good in theory. But somehow around hour 40 it doesn’t seem that awesome. Preparing for take homes just plain sucks – how can you motivate yourself to read things now when you could just do it later? You need a strategy to get through. The following tips can help you be prepared and come out the other side vaguely intact.

Before the exam is released:

1. Know what the task actually is

Sounds kind of straightforward, but you should figure out as much as you can about the exam before it actually starts (don’t forget referencing requirements). If you’re being asked to perform a task you haven’t had much experience with, have a flick through old exams and practice at least parts of them. Ask your lecturer if there’s a sample answer or past responses available for you to look through. 

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2. Break it down

You should break down the exam into as many small parts as possible. Let’s say you have to write two essays across three days. One task might be “select essay questions,” or “write a dot point outline.” Smaller tasks are much less intimidating but also allow you to plan your time more effectively; you can allocate a certain number of tasks to the first six hours of the exam, for instance. This will help you manage stress and set a time to stop for sleep. 

3. Plan backwards

When you’re allocating your small tasks to your schedule, try starting at the end. For example, give yourself the last 20 minutes to attach a cover sheet and submit your assignment. And the 20 minutes before that for one final read through. And the hour before that for formatting and layout. While this doesn’t always work out, you don’t want to be having a meltdown and literally making up references 10 minutes before the exam is due. Not that I’ve done that, I’m just saying it could happen.

4. Preparation isn’t just about studying

    1. Food: organise all your meals ahead of time. Consider making a pot of soup the day before and stock up on snacks. You won’t produce quality work by fueling yourself with nothing but red bull and toast.
    2. Playlist: depending on the length of your exam, you might find yourself having a late night session of busy work (don’t give yourself hard things to do after 8pm – leave typing and referencing for the evening). This is when you need your motivational tunes to get you through. You are doing fine, and they are going to hear you roar, damnit!

During the exam:

1. Sleep

I know it’s tempting to work through the night, but you aren’t going to get anything decent done when you should be in bed. You’re much better off having a rest and working faster during the next day, I promise. That said, this isn’t a truly foolproof strategy because it’s so hard to sleep when you’re stressed. I recommend taking at least a 30 minute break between finishing work for the day and getting into bed. Have a hot bath, stretch, have a cup of tea – just give yourself some time to wind down. If this doesn’t seem like it’ll be enough, consider a sleeping aid if that’s something you’re comfortable with. Personally, I like valerian when stress is affecting my sleep – it’s herbal and you can find it in most supermarkets. Just make sure it’s something you’ve used before. You don’t want to find out you react poorly to anything halfway through an exam. Talk to your Doctor if you’re not sure about your options.

2. Dealing with stress

This is probably the hardest part of any take home exam. Before your exam starts, acknowledge that it’s probably going to be a pretty shitty time. Find a few things that relax you and have them ready to whip out when things get ugly. Actually follow through with this – it’s very easy to say you’ll take care of your stress before you actually start experiencing it. Download Simplemind or Headspace if you haven’t already, they are magnificent. Take 15 minutes to do some yoga. Take a break to watch some Netflix. Remember to be nice to yourself.

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3. Enlist a buddy

If you are like me, and like to spend stressful times dressed in a unicorn onesie, you might not want to go into uni during the exam. That’s fine. Just make sure that, at some stage, you talk to someone. If your exam is just one day, arrange to meet up with a friend for dinner afterward. If it runs for a few days, call a friend, or your parents, just to make sure you actually talk to someone other than yourself.

4. Crush it

Attitude is important. Even though I know you might want to curl up in a ball and weep, the best way to get through this time is to believe you are totally owning it. Don’t let yourself get bogged down in the idea that your work isn’t that great, or that someone else is doing a better job. You’ll work much faster and much better if you let yourself believe you are doing well. You will also sleep much better at this level of self-delusion confidence.

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And afterwards treat yourself to some cake or something. You’ve earned it.

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Good luck!

– Jacky

PS: Check out our Instagram to see Jacky tackle a take home exam this past weekend!

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