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After the Semester is Before the Exams

Should I make to-do lists and stick to short bursts of learning? Six tips to help students master the examination period

Freiburg, Feb 12, 2020

After the Semester is Before the Exams

Phto: Harald Neumann

The lecture period may be over, but it’s still not yet time to put your feet up and relax. That’s when another kind of intensive work begins for you as a student: you may be revising for written papers, preparing for oral exams, researching literature or writing term papers. So after the semester is before the exams – and expertise alone is not a guarantee of success. The team at the Central Academic Advice Office (ZSB) of the University of Freiburg is there to help students with many things, including how to overcome exam nerves or improve time management. Lara Wehler asked Ute Benninghofen and Anna Mielich from the ZSB for a few tips that might make the examination period easier for students.

Revising for written papers, preparing for oral exams, writing term papers: the university library is also well-attended when there are no more lectures. Photo: Harald Neumann

Overcoming the fear: exam nerves

“Exam nerves can hit many people in different ways,” says Ute Benninghofen. It could range from sleeplessness to a permanent state of nerves through to going totally blank in an oral examination. “Students who are affected can get help from us at the Central Academic Advice Office. We have a duty of confidentiality and our work focuses on the individual.” Benninghofen makes three suggestions:

 Visualizing success increases self-esteem, says Ute Benninghofen: roll up a piece of paper for each task you complete and keep it in a clear container. Photo: University of Freiburg

  • “It helps to learn in installments. You can choose how long for yourself. One possibility is to concentrate on work for twenty-five minutes and then take a five minute break. Remember quality beats quantity: it doesn’t work if I sit and try to learn for eight hours at a time in the university library. Two to four individually structured installments are far better.”

  • “Don’t pay attention to shortcomings,” is her next tip. “It’s important to focus on what you can already do. Especially if you have the feeling that your efforts aren’t enough and the fear is growing. Visualizations can help here. For example, roll up a piece of paper for each task or learning session you complete and throw it into a clear container.”

  • The final suggestion from Benninghofen is “get over the reward principle.” She explains: “Many students use the method: once I’ve completed this I’ll treat myself. But that’s bad for self-esteem. I can always treat myself, especially in stressful times. When I’m doing well, I’m also more capable.”


Prioritize like a professional: being organized

There are books to return, e-mails to answer, a written exam to prepare for, you still have to re-register for the next semester, and don’t forget a birthday present for your house mate! When there are a lot of things to do all at the same time it’s easy to lose sight of things. Anna Mielich helps students to be better organized and set goals: “Students should draw on their own experiences and find out how good they are at being organized and what helps them.” There are all sorts of methods – and Mielich reveals three tips here:

 “Do the worst job first,” advises Anna Mielich if you are wondering what order to do things. Photo: University of Freiburg

  • “My first tip is to note down everything I have to do. Then I can prioritize individual tasks, preferably including a date. Time-management techniques like the ‘Eisenhower Matrix’ can help with this. In this method every task is sorted into four fields with grading from ‘very important’ to ‘unimportant’ and then completed according to their priority.”

  • “Do the worst job first,” is her second tip. “Preferably think each day what you have to do and which job you like least. Sometimes these jobs don’t take up the most time, but we keep putting them off and then have a guilty conscience. That eats up a lot of energy which we could better invest elsewhere.”

  • Mielich’s final piece of advice is: “Think of the whole person. We all have not only our duties, work or studying. We also have to take care of the house or fulfill social obligations, for example. So it’s important to take everything into account and also plan time for events and deadlines that don’t have anything to do with studying.”


Central Academic Advice Office (ZSB)