How to make the most out of your SWOTVAC

Lindsay Wong and Min Jin Oh are Unimelb Adventures contributors.

It’s that time of year again – SWOTVAC. You’ve been waiting the whole semester for this one week, free from lectures and tutorials, to study for exams and finish all of your research essays and assignments. However, even though a week sounds like a long time, it will fly by. Before you know it, SWOTVAC is over and you’re about to sit your first exam. So, here are some tips to make the most out of your SWOTVAC.

1. Make a study plan and follow it, but also take breaks!

It can be extremely helpful to make a study plan so that you can outline exactly what you need to complete and topics you need to revise during SWOTVAC, ideally before it starts. When making a study plan, remember to consider all the subjects you are taking and to focus more on topics or subjects that you find difficult or are weaker at. To stay on schedule, give yourself breaks in between each study session as a reward. Some people use the ‘Pomedoro method’ (25 minutes ‘on’, 5 minutes ‘off’), or 60 minutes ‘on’ and 10 minutes ‘off’. And don’t neglect those breaks! Those breaks allow your brain to rest and absorb what you have just learnt while simultaneously regaining your focus and preventing you from overloading your brain. However, during those breaks, try to stay away from your phone and things that are distracting, and instead do meditative activities such as breathing practices or taking a walk outside. There are also apps to help with this, such as ‘Tide’, which incorporates the ‘Pomodoro’ study-break technique. Not straying away from your study plan will ensure that you manage time as effectively and efficiently as you can during this short break.

2. Do past exams (if you have exams)

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Try to complete as many past exam papers or practice tests as you can during SWOTVAC. Past papers will give you an idea of what the actual exam will be like – it’s the closest thing you have to the actual exam! To better prepare yourself, you can complete the past paper under exam conditions and mark the paper by yourself afterwards. Timing yourself and refraining to look at notes will give you an indication of how prepared you are for your exam. Always take stock of areas or theories that you aren’t as strong at, to focus on as you keep studying and doing more practice exams. Remember that to improve, you can’t just ‘do’, you also have to ‘learn from’.

3. Eat healthy five times a day

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When the exam stress hits, it is easy to develop bad eating habits, and most of us are guilty of not giving enough attention to what we eat while studying. However, here are some general points to follow to keep your body in the best condition for exams.

a) Don’t skip meals: Your brain is constantly working, so give it the energy it needs to work at its optimum.

b) Eat less but more often: Studies show that eating five smaller meals than three big ones keep up your energy levels throughout the day without making you feel lethargic or bloated.

c) Eat healthy: Pack your meals with protein, such as lean meat, eggs, and fish, vegetables, fruit, dairy, and ‘slow carbs’, like legumes and beans. ‘Slow carbs’ last longer in the body and give you energy without the classic crash that you can get from eating too many carbs.

d) Minimize sugar and caffeine: Try to snack on fruit, veggies and nuts instead of processed snacks high in sugar to avoid sugar-crashing. Making your own trail mix in one of your breaks is a great way to take your mind off studying momentarily, and keeping your brain and body going. Water is always better than caffeine, but if you are someone who ‘needs’ caffeine, try to limit it to 1-2 cups of coffee or tea a day with little to no sugar.

4. Develop a consistent sleeping schedule

Sleep is one of the most important things your body needs during exam study. Research shows those who sleep after studying and have a consistent sleeping pattern retain information better. However, for some people, maintaining a consistent sleep schedule may be more difficult. So, first pick a time you want to wake up each day; if you have those dreaded 8ams, you may want to match your sleep schedule for that exam. It is recommended to get at least 7 hours of sleep a day for optimal performance, so record the latest time you can stay up until to ensure that you can at least get 7 hours of sleep before you have to wake up. Then work your study schedule around these times every day so you can keep this sleep pattern consistent leading up to your first exam.

5. Make sure you have done all of your readings, especially for take-home exams (essays)

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Take-home exams are usually a new concept that first-year BA students may come across in their first-year subjects. Essentially, take-home exams are essay(s) meant to be completed and submitted within a very short amount of time, usually in a few hours or a few days. They usually don’t involve external research – only required readings that have already been given to you over the course of the semester. To alleviate some of this stress, it’s ideal to have completed all the required readings from every week and to take notes from each one. Once you start your take-home exam after selecting a question, your notes from the readings will be at the ready and it will be easier to find evidence for your arguments. If you want to be even more prepared, take down the page numbers of where your evidence is from while taking your notes so that it is easier to cite later.

6. Ensure that you have enough time to revise

Taking notes and making study guides is one thing that must be done, but leaving time to revise can be tricky if exams are approaching faster than you think. It’s best to revise in the days before the exam so that you retain the most vital information in your short-term memory.  

Even if you haven’t started studying for exams yet, following these tips should enable you to make the most of SWOTVAC and the rest of the time you have before your first exam. Good luck!

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