Beating the clock: How to finish assignments and exams faster

Timing is everything when it comes to exams and assignments - let's show you how to beat it! Here's three of our best tips to tackle that looming pressure.

a month ago   •   5 min read

By KIS Academics
Photo by Malvestida / Unsplash

All students at least once, and often many more times, will face time pressure during school: Exams, Assignments, drafts, group tasks and even homework. You are not alone! This guide will help put your mind at ease, while giving valuable strategies for time management and stress reduction.

Our Top 3 Tips

Deadlines and The Grace Period

The most important thing throughout School and University studies is knowing your deadlines - without knowing when assignments are due or exams are scheduled, you’ll struggle to keep to them. The best way of course to be on top of this is to have them written somewhere; whether you use a diary, calendar or phone reminders, it doesn't really matter, but it MUST be something that works for you, and it helps if you have everything in the same place. It’s cliche, but the most stressful times of the year are when you’ll forget things, and they're certainly not the times you want an assignment sneaking up on you.

So, write your deadlines down somewhere, keep track of them, remind yourself of them and check them regularly, and then what? A grace period. I personally aimed for 2-3 days of grace before all major deadlines, i.e. have your drafts written, assignments finalised, revision list covered etc. I did this for a few key reasons. For drafts/final assignments, it gives you time to think, time to re-re-read, to cut words, change paragraphs, add or subtract things that you change your mind on and it just cuts out a huge amount of stress. This grace period is one of the best times to bust out the highlighters, and mark yourself against the criteria sheet. Make sure you’ve got 2 –if not more– sentences that address each dot point. Having an extra few days after you do this gives you plenty of time to make big or small changes to your assignment. For exams, have finished working through your revision list with a few days out. This gives you time to look over that concept your mate stressed you out on, do that extra practice paper your teacher gave you, and just relax. If you’ve kept up each week and studied effectively, anything you do the night before, or god forbid the morning of an exam, won't help you at all, so take this time for yourself to relax. Watch a movie, eat with your family, walk the dog, help your younger brother with his homework, anything except stress yourself out over that one question you forgot to ask your teacher about.

The key takeaway here is to know when to plan, know when your deadlines are and work for a few days before them, this will let you plan your time to fit everything in, and when the going gets tough, you’ll feel like you have a extra couple of days to finish everything up.

High Yield First

This one is an exam focused tip, in particular STEM exams, use your perusal time to identify high yield questions and attack them first.

Sounds great, but what is high yield? Some of you may have been told by your teachers that you should ‘do the easy ones first’, but that's not quite it. The highest yield question is out of the questions you’re comfortable with, the one worth the most marks; conversely the lowest yield question is the one you have no idea how to approach, worth just one mark. Use your perusal time to get a good feeling for which questions you are super comfortable with, the ones that will take some time and effort, and the ones that you’d rather not have to answer.

Then what?

You approach the high yield questions first. They might be big questions, but if they are worth a lot of marks and you're comfortable doing them, then it's well worth spending the time on them early while you’re fresh and have plenty of time on the clock. My worst exam nightmare was flipping over to the last page to find an 8 mark question I knew exactly how to do with only 5 minutes left, and so I used this strategy, and that nightmare never came true.

There's the cliche tips too, calculate how long you’ve got for each mark, mark a question or identify a paragraph you’d like to have finished by the halfway mark, don't leave early etc. These are all great tips, and you’re unlikely to receive bad advice from your teachers or mentors, but the high yield strategy was explained to me by a teacher early in year 11, and I saw noticeable improvements in both how I felt about exams, and actual performance.

You First, Always.

It’s all well and good having clear timelines and deadlines for all your work, but it's school, it’s a busy and stressful time for all, you’ve got other commitments, internal and external pressures, and hey, you’re learning. No one is perfect and plenty of things aren’t going to go to plan, but the most important thing is you. Deadlines will sneak up on you, you may get results that you weren’t quite happy with, and there’ll be exams you don't quite finish, and that’s okay.

When the going gets tough it’s important that you’ve got your routines and strategies to rely on, but the important thing is to put yourself first. If you need it, take a day, take two days, be honest with yourself, but you’ll be counterproductive if you force yourself through a night of study if you’re not in a good state.

Don’t let missing that one deadline have a knock on effect, no one ever sticks perfectly to their study plan, so don't let that affect everything else. If you don't quite finish that draft, it’s not the end of the world, try not to let that throw out the rest of your schedule and mental health. As cliche as it sounds, Year 12 is a marathon, not a sprint, you can afford to slip up, it’s normal and it’s okay, so get back on that horse and keep working hard. You got this.

At the end of the day, you can't do everything. You’ll need to prioritise your commitments and hobbies with work, sport, family, friends, and sleep. Figure out what's important to you, and put that first. Managing your commitments will allow you to allocate time to your school work, and if you clearly set your time out then it makes it super easy to stick to a study plan you can manage, and by using those 3 top tips to maximise your time, you’ll see some real improvements.


Written by KIS Academics Tutor Ned Woodgate. Ned is currently studying a Bachelor of Medicine/ Bachelor of Surgery at JCU and is well on his way to becoming a doctor. You can view Ned's profile here and request him as a tutor.

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