We asked Cambridge YouTubers and Studygrams for exam advice
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If you’re anything like me then you have been *attempting* to revise and failing miserably. I sit down to do my work and immediately get distracted by Crushbridge, Camfess and even Toope’s emails – any reason to stop revising is a good enough reason for me!
However, recently I have realised how screwed I am for my exams – it is the official one week countdown until my first paper and I have (only now) decided to get my act together. In order to do this, I reached out to the students who are most equipped to help me deal with my exam crisis – the YouTubers and Studygrams of Cambridge.
Covering English, Medicine, Classics, Architecture, Natsci and Hispol they have broad ranging tips and specific mantras to help get you through this term. From revision tips to subject specific advice – I wanted to share the inside scoop with you too! After all, we’re in this together!
Where can you find them: YouTube
Anna says the key is balance and planning out different revision exercises. ‘During revision and exam period, I think a lot of students put their physical and mental health secondary to their studies, when in reality a healthy mind and body is so important. Making sure you get enough sleep, eat well and take breaks away from screens is vital. I like to paint or go on a walk, something that has no pressure on it and can revitalise my mind.’
‘Studying English, it’s hard to know how to prepare for exams or what to revise, and ultimately it can feel like an endless task.’ To get around this around try ‘reading the mark scheme and examiners reports, doing practice questions or making essay plans. I also look for reading around my subject that genuinely interests me, that way I can actively want to pick it up and learn and think without it feeling like a chore. I’m currently reading Stephen Fry’s ‘The Ode Less Travelled’ for example.’
‘So this is what (online) exam season looks like in Cambridge, huh? It’s sounding all too familiar already. Everyone’s irksome Summer bugbear that attempts to ruin birthdays and severely impact social lives. Do you know what we really need? A little bit of mental ammo to support our approach to this common ‘bugge’!’
What’s most fundamental? ‘Mindset. It’s our choice to hold a certain attitude about something, right? Therefore, that should allow us to choose between harbouring anxieties and fear or bearing optimism and confidence.’
While it’s important to put in the work, its also key not to ‘neglect your well being, otherwise it will neglect you! We aren’t programmed productivity machines!‘
‘Lastly, adopt a rhythm that works for you, and enjoy it! Have the confidence to work according to how you feel is best. More crucially, know that this does not have to mirror your friends’ work pattern. Have fun with owning your own time and creating your own structure.’
Remember – ‘you are the one who is really in control. Don’t try and win a battle with the ‘bugge’ and end up crashing with broken coffee mugs and exhaustion. Pace it steady, and look after yourself, to win the war with the exam ‘bugge’.’
College: Trinity Hall
Where can you find them: YouTube
‘I’m Callum, a first-year but 21-year-old architecture student and YouTuber who’s been through my fair share of different sorts of exams, having also studied engineering for a year. As an architecture student, I actually don’t have exams now – rather I have one big deadline at the end of each term to submit all my design work in one portfolio. However, I think this actually gives me a really unique perspective on work ethic and revision as, since it’s literally impossible to cram a drawing or building model in at the last minute, all of my work requires a sustained work level over long periods of time: maintaining a healthy work-life balance is absolutely crucial.’
The secret to keeping up consistency and not crash and burn out? ‘Focus less on your immediate quality of work and instead try getting into a good habit. Don’t sit down and attempt a 10-hour shift in the hopes of making up for a weekend of no work. Instead write down a very loose timetable that you will work for two hours, go for a walk, chat to some friends and then do another hour.’ Scheduling time off is as important as blocking in the work – make sure you have something that is totally distracting from work.’
‘Beating yourself up about not doing good work now will only put you down in such a way as to stop you from being productive tomorrow too. Once you build a good balance of work and breaks, you get into the swing of things, and your productivity during working hours will slowly improve over time.’
‘It’s like going to the gym – you have to build the regular and consistent habit before you can gradually start increasing the weight. If you expect to cram in 10-hours of productivity you are only setting yourself up for burnout! Look after yourself, be kind and run the marathon not the sprint, stopping off at every water station!’
Subject: Natural Sciences
‘We’ve ALL heard how first year NatSci is supposed to be the most intense year out of the three – and we’ve almost made it to the end! So first of all, I think we need to applaud ourselves and each other for just getting through the year!’
Remember you’re not superhuman, ‘at least one out of the four courses we take in our first year ends up being students’ least favourite, the exam of which they do not perform well in. And that’s completely okay.’
‘In fact, my DoS likes to repeatedly emphasise that the Cambridge NatSci courses is intended to be explorative, allowing us to experiment with a range of courses to hopefully enable us to specialise in a subject area that we become interested in by the third year. This explains the 0/100/100 weightage we have. I personally feel that the no-classing decision and automatic progression to the next year no matter what is truly a blessing in disguise. Nobody really cares about our first-year transcripts anyway. I find that when I break our situation down this way, I realise that there really isn’t much to be stressed out.’
“Many of us have taken a broad range of courses this year. So, try and remember that first year is meant to pique our interest in the sciences, and as long as we don’t truly hate our degrees at this point, we’re on the right track. If you enjoyed your courses this year, focus on strengthening your foundational knowledge and appreciating the content as you revise instead of fixating on your result.”
“If you didn’t really enjoy some of your courses this year, you are definitely not alone. At least now you’ve figured out what you don’t want to do in later years – which is still one step towards certainty.”
The best piece of exam advice? “My Dos told me this – it is really, really, really hard to fail. So, stop worrying about that! And this year, we don’t even need to worry about failing since that’s technically not even possible – what’s the need to stress then?”
“Do not burn yourself out! There is NO competition of who sleeps less during exam period! Stress impairs both concentration and memory ability! All of us know how to study – that’s why we’re here in the first place. But balancing our well being with revision is the tricky part. I like to remind myself that we will perform the BEST on our exams only when we’re physically, mentally and emotionally healthy.
“Going on short walks with a friend (or alone!) outdoors, getting some of that Vitamin D from this beautiful sunshine, trying to do at least 10-15 minutes of cardio daily, remembering to stretch and breathe intentionally – yoga and meditation practices are very helpful, dancing alone in your room, doing something creative, or whatever else cheers you up!”
“Take care of yourself, it’s the little things that are done frequently that ultimately count. Let’s get through the next couple weeks and then PARTAYYY!”
Note: Soph wishes to remain anonymous.
Subject: Natural Sciences
“My number one piece of advice is to remember why you love your subject. It’s so easy to get swept up in a panic during exam season which makes revising so much harder. Whenever I’m feeling demotivated, I take an hour or two to remind myself how amazing what I’m studying is.”
A hard truth? “It’s important to be honest with yourself about your weaknesses and areas of the course that you don’t know as well, then devise a plan to tackle it. I keep a list of mistakes or formulae that I forgot to ensure I don’t repeat the same mistakes.”
“I always cap myself at a maximum of 8 hours work per day to try and avoid burnout (although I definitely don’t do the full 8 hours everyday!) I also like to keep busy with things outside of academics to give my brain a break, I also find this helps to reduce procrastination as I know I have to get X done in order to get to Y on time.”
Subject: History and Politics
The best thing you can do in revision is simply, “turn off your phone and place it outside of your reach BUT if this isn’t possible then mute everyone except people who you are awaiting urgent texts from”
“A useful online extension that I recommend is Screen Shader!! This is designed to tint your computer display to a “cozy” orange color to reduce eye-strain and eye fatigue or alternatively, you can stare into the distance for 1 minute after 20 mins of computer use and do eye exercises.”
“Another extension is NOTION – it is my life! I would recommend downloading the template @twirlingpages and adapting it to achieve Ali Abdaal levels of productiveness.” Literally what more could we want?
Embrace the fact you’re studying at Cambridge! “Study somewhere that fuels your main character complex – my favourite spots are the window seat or the seat by the fishbowl glass window overlooking Sidgwick Avenue, or anywhere in the Seeley!”
The sneakiest exam tip? “The lecturers are the ones who set the exam questions so try to catch onto subtle hints throughout the lectures because if they have emphasised something it’s likely to come up!”
Keep yourself interested in your subject by “looking through Reddit threads on my subject (e.g. for POL4’s Bolivia and Brazil), listening to podcasts (would recommend the Revolutions podcast 10/10), watching documentaries (Emicida: AmarElo is SUCH an interesting film)”
“In terms of last-minute panic-prep, create a one-page ‘cheat sheet’ (except this year it’s within open-book exam guidelines to do so YAY) and plan out a brief essay skeleton, but more importantly, THINK about what your opinions of the question.”
“Lastly, remember that exams are not the be all or end all . You are worth so much more than grades, so don’t sacrifice your well being for aCaDEMic RIgOUR and also to my fellow POL8 paper takers, Wollstonecraft would be so happy!!! And excited!! AND PROUD of us!”
College: Trinity Hall
Where can you find them: Youtube
“Advice can be quite personal and I think one thing to mention before hearing mine is that what works for one person might not work for others. And to be quite honest I’m still not entirely sure what works for me, so coming up with my top methods is a little tricky.”
“Going into my first set of medical school exams, I’m definitely not feeling the most confident. But, as the saying goes, ‘we move’. Sticking with the theme of exploring different methods to find what works, I think my main tip would be to see the revision journey as a learning process, not just for the content, but for your future self.”
Remember, it’s normal to feel nervous around exams and that you’re not alone- “I will gladly hold my hands up and say I’m more nervous for these exams than I’ve felt in a long time, and although I’ve tried to do what I thought was right I’m certainly not confident that my approach was the one to take.”
“But instead of beating myself up about it, I’m going to do the best with what I’ve got and use this experience to try and get sorted for the – many – more exams to come. And very importantly, don’t forget – it’s been a tough year, but there are better ones coming! Take care of yourself first, and then tackle the other stuff.”
Hearing what these YouTubers and Studygrams have to say about revision is really reassuring! Even the people who seem to have Instagram perfect study routines struggle with procrastination! It has also made me weirdly excited to revise and try out some new revision methods – never thought I’d say that!
Whatever happens this term, remember that we have all done incredibly well to get this far considering this year’s circumstances! Despite the online lectures, virtual practicals and pressures of the pandemic, we have almost made it to the end! Revision and exams are the final push. So good luck and let academic rigour begin!
Cover image: Author’s own screenshots and Louisa Yapp
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