How to effectively navigate your exams: AU Counselling Unit

Profiled by Mr L. Chiuswa (AU Counsellor)

As the semester is coming to an end, pressure will mount, the going might seem hard and the challenges insurmountable! Take heart, it is still possible to salvage quite a lot so long a proactive stance is adopted and sustained. This article shall attempt to tackle the issue of effective study techniques which can be employed for a successful semester.


Common Ineffective study skills

In order to succeed in studies, there is need to urgently stop and deal with some ineffective study approaches and habits. The following habits might hinder your success:


Cramming- Involves trying to stuff a load of information into your short-term memory in time for an upcoming exam. This has been proven to increase stress levels, and can lead to panic and anxiety, making it a lot harder to take in information. While this could work in the short term, you have to keep in mind that most subject matter is cumulative and builds upon what you’ve previously learned. So, in the long run, you’re doing yourself a disservice by memorizing information at the last minute because what goes in quickly is also likely to be forgotten quickly.


Multi-tasking-While multitasking might seem like a good idea because you feel like you can get several things done in less time, the truth is that you aren’t actually focused. People who focus on one thing at a time absorb more information and are more productive. When your brain is constantly switching between tasks, you are less likely to recall information. You can also wear yourself out more quickly.


Missing class-While there might be good reasons to do so, sometimes students miss class without a valid reason to do so. Missing class means you also miss out on the content, learning and interactions which take place. If this becomes a habit, it ends up self-defeating. This results in time expenditure compensating for what you missed instead of doing other tasks.


Allowing distractions- There are so many distractions in today’s world. From social media, thoughts (negative self-talk), phone, anxiety, disorganization. Recognize your distractors and plan your action accordingly.


Poor time management-One of the most challenging things is to manage time in the face of competing demands. There are only twenty-four hours in a day to be distributed among various tasks. Time management, like other skills, can be cultivated, nurtured and developed through commitment, consistency and practice. Failure to manage time will lead to an avalanche of effects that can stress a student over time.


Not sleeping- Some students spend the whole night awake, some without even a wink. This can be sustainable in the short –term, but the long-term effects are catastrophic! Sleep is not optional hence failure to get the recommended average of 7-8 hours can have serious physical and mental health ramifications.


Unhealthy eating- We are what we eat, so goes the age old adage. Rightly so, the food we eat can affect our studies, memory and retention. A well-balanced diet is essential for physical and mental health. It is cardinal to avoid “junk” foods which can clog the arteries and cause impeded blood flow. There is proliferation of some unhealthy energy drink to keep maintain energy levels. Take care to manage and control intake of unhealthy foods and drinks.


Use of drugs and substances- Drugs and substances cause physical and mental impairment and damage. The best thing to do is to avoid even attempting to take drugs. It is very easy to get hooked but painstaking to get unhooked! Remind yourself while you came to Africa University, the dreams that you want to fulfill. Drugs and substances affect the brain and the central nervous system making studying impossible. Avoid these at all costs!


Failure to manage stress and other mental health conditions- Stress levels hamper academic performance and so do other conditions such as anxiety and depression. When you communicate that there is something wrong, the mind faithfully prepared you for a “flight” or “fight” to evade the danger. Chronic stress will inevitably lead to ill health through “psychosomatic” illnesses such as peptic ulcers, headaches, indigestion etc. These impede studies to a very great extent. There is need to cultivate stress management strategies as a daily routine and deal with the root causes of mental distress. Seek help early!


Tips on effective study

There is a lot of work to be done in university, a lot of deadlines to be met. Some strategies which worked well in high school might be ineffective at this level of study. The following tips can assist in enhancing academic productivity:

Get organized – Lack of organization works to increase stress levels as you end up mixing up a lot of things. Have a meticulous plan well laid out for the day, week or even the month!

Attend class religiously –If you skip class, you may miss out on work covered by others and you end up getting stressed about the work you missed out on.

Take notes-Taking notes is a good memory aid and enhancer. The notes must be good and well taken for meaningful study to be obtained from them. There are several note taking strategies which you can research about.

Talk to your lecturer and ask questions- A good student asks good and relevant questions so that any hazy or challenging aspects of the presentation are clarified well in time. The student-Lecturer relationship must be sound for learning to be effective.

Space out your studies & take breaks-If you study continuously without breaks, the brain capacity for absorption and retention is hindered. It is thus imperative to take breaks after a time of study i.e. some study for an hour and then break, while others go for two hours. This depends on your unique capacity and limits, know yourself well so as to tailor breaks which suit you.

Create a study plan and stick to it- A plan is essential for study milestones to be attained. If you have a blueprint, it guides and enables you to focus on the tasks at hand guarding against distractions. A good plan alone is not enough when it is not adhered to!

Set up a quiet study space-This is essential so that you can maximize productivity in your studies. If you study at a particular place as a routine, your mind gets “conditioned” such that whenever you get to the place, you feel attuned to want to study.

Test yourself-The mind’s capacity to think and solve problems is astonishing! The more you exercise this capacity, the greater the capacity is enhanced. After completing a section of study, test yourself. This has been shown to enhance memory and retention,

Find a study buddy or group- Some find working alone good, but it is better to have a buddy or a group of classmates to discuss, critique and share ideas and strategies to answer questions. This enriches the study and learning experience while also leveraging on the power of diversity of minds in understanding concepts.

Use study Apps that abound today-There are so many apps which you can use to enhance the study experience. Research about these as a student.

Reward yourself-If you manage to adhere to a routine successfully and have completed set targets, reward yourself! This can be by getting a favorite snack or buying yourself ice-cream. Remember, behavior that is rewarded is often repeated!

Prepare for and anticipate the examination in advance- Most students burn the midnight oil just before examinations. This leads to cramming, an ineffective study technique alluded to in the foregoing. This creates undue pressure on work which was supposed to have been evenly distributed throughout the semester. Consistent effort during the semester is ideal and guards against stress levels skyrocketing at the tail end of the semester.



There are dividends to be realized if a well-organized study regime is practiced and adhered to. There is need to ensure that a routine is followed which creates a habit in the long term. As examinations draw near, the gear ought to also shift so that the terrain can be navigated smoothly. It is paramount to adopt and consistently manage stress so that studies are not hindered and progress stalled. For more information and assistance, kindly contact the University Counsellor.