If this were a normal year, the written exams for the state certification of my future translation colleagues would already be over. Due to the lockdowns and subsequent interruptions of regular schooling, they have been moved to the end of May. So in a little over a week, my students will be sitting their five exams – four translations and one essay -, and they are getting a bit antsy, to say the least.
We as teachers are doing our best to help them prepare and also calm their worries (or even fears) as best we can, giving them material to read and practice, discussing various topics, talking about typical translation mistakes and how to avoid them, giving them pointers on how to handle any hitches (not understanding something right away, momentary blackouts etc.) during the exams as well as how to finish in the allotted time.
What we cannot help them with is how they prepare at home, and currently, that is an even larger chunk than usual. Even with the possibilities the digital world gives them to study together, it is hard if you are not used to setting your own schedule – and sticking to it.
For some, self-discipline is not as much of an issue, but others really struggle with not having someone else tell them when to do what. And since every person learns and studies differently, unfortunately there is no template we could just hand out.
Nevertheless, there are some things that apply regardless of your personality and that you can do to help with using your time efficiently and without frustration (or at least less).
So following are my tips for (not only) my students on how best to prepare for examinations.
- Find a quiet and comfortable place where you are not constantly interrupted by other people or distracted by the outside world. That does not mean you have to lock yourself into a dark room in the basement, on the contrary: daylight, fresh air and sufficient space are absolutely necessary! But particularly if you don’t live alone and at least some of the household also have to stay at home, having your own space with a door to close and that is not a thoroughfare is a must. If you don’t have that option, try to at least get a quiet corner (maybe even on the balcony, weather and surrounding noise permitting) and use for example noise-cancelling headphones or earplugs if there is unavoidable noise.
And make sure you’re comfortable, whatever that looks like for you. You will spend quite some time there, so however you arrange your tools and material, try to do so in an ergonomic way so you don’t end up with back or neck pain.
- This may seem a bit strange, but make sure you also have room to practice writing things by hand. Doing everything on the computer has become the norm these past few weeks, but the exams will have to be done with pen and paper.
- Make a plan about what you want (or need) to do. List it and assign times, i.e. how long each task should take – and add in some buffer! If you «get in the flow», feel free to stay with it, even if the schedule says otherwise. If you hit a wall, feel free to do something else, or take a break, but try do it that day regardless, even if it is a bit less than planned. The important thing is to not beat yourself up over it, but to do at least some of it, and do that bit well. And if there are things left over at the end of the day, incorporate them into the next day, unless you’re willing (and mentally still able) to do some overtime. And remember to get some «manuscript time» in, too!
- Don’t forget to take breaks. Maybe you have heard of the Pomodoro method (learn more here): Set times for working and times for breaks (with intervals that work for you), and set a timer to remind you of each. And again, as I said above, don’t be too religious about it if your flow is different, but try to stick to the overall plan for the day and the week.
- Turn work into a game. Applying game mechanics to your strategy can make work and study a lot more fun. You can create your own game where you set your rules and rewards (like an extra break, a sweet treat or an extra episode of your favorite show on Netflix) or you can use the help of applications like Habitica or SuperBetter that turn each completed task into points and rewards.
- If you are a normal human being, then you will become distracted and lose your concentration. Especially if your workplace isn’t as quiet as you’d like, getting interrupted by even the smallest thing can potentially cause even the best of plans to not work. So try to minimize the distractions you can influence:
- Set your phone to silent mode (maybe even airplane mode) or at least turn off the notifications, especially from social networks. You can check your email, Facebook and Whatsapp and whatever else you’re into during the breaks. And letting a call go to the mailbox is not the end of the world! If it’s really that important, they’ll call back or leave a message.
- Put a sign up on your door to remind others that you’re working and don’t want to be interrupted (unless there’s an emergency, of course).
- Find ways to help you concentrate and stay focused. There is a great article with 6 Tools to Keep Let You Focus Better at Work over at Hongkiat that might inspire you.
The most important thing though is to not let yourself get frustrated and give up. Some days are better than others. And the good thing about being at home and on your own is that you can just call it a day and do something to relax when you are at the point where your brain just won’t take in anymore. Just make sure that when you come back to it, you catch up and don’t let things fall by the wayside!
If you need help or support, don’t be afraid to ask for it. You are not the only one preparing for these exams. Call each other, organize group chats to study together – and also to relax together. And don’t be afraid to approach us teachers. We are here to help, especially in these different and difficult times!
And remember: You can do this! The last three years have been about preparing you for this (and for life after school, of course, but right now the exams are the focus), and if you have been present and participating, you have already learned most of what you need to know. All you’re really doing now is reviewing and practicing. So there really is no need to panic or get all nervous and anxious.