Because there sadly can be no Erasmus year without these dreaded things...
Now that the season to be jolly is over, it seems only adequate that the time period which should take its place is one of the worst of the year: January/February exam season. Whilst this time is definitely more ahhhh than tra la la la, we do have to remember to put it all in perspective; they are only exams. It is true that we do often get scare-mongered into believing that messing up in our exams will lead us to future unemployment, homelessness, and effectively ruin our lives, this isn't that likely to be the case.
One of the most daunting aspects of studying during your Erasmus year has to be that fact not only are you trying to cram into your head all the information that you have neglected to learn thus far during your time here, in the space of two days, but the fact that you are also doing this in a language that does not share the soothing sounds of your mother tongue. Yet, this isn't necessarily the monstrosity of a challenge that we have built it up to be in our heads; if we approach this coolly, calmly, and collectively, restraining our inner headless chicken of stress, it really isn't that bad.
Here are just some pieces of advise to help make your exam season go as smoothly as possible:
1. Don't be afraid to use materials in your own language.
A lot of people get put off using sources or reading materials in their mother tongue, for fear it is "cheating" or that they are not making the most of honing their language skills. At the end of the day, however, these exams are not trying to just test your language skills; if you are not literally studying Philology/Modern Foreign languages, your department will most likely be lenient on any grammatical/lexical errors that occur in your paper. What they are trying to test is your knowledge and understanding. Thus, if you are attempting to study the nonsense that is Kant in a second language and you're just not getting it - relax! Try it in your own language to actually ensure you understand it then use other materials in your new language to help you with any terminology you might need (explained more in the point below).
2. Equally, be sure to also use some materials in your new language as well.
f you get time, try reading your primary text, if you are doing an essay subject, in both languages; not only will this aid your understanding and help you find the translations for your much needed technical terms, but it will also be very beneficial for your refreshing your grammar and reminding you which pesky words you need to re-learn. Thus, this will not only help you have the content side of things down, but it will also be beneficial for the stylistic and linguistic sides to your exam.
3. If you are having issues with certain words, make pictures in your head to try remember them.
There may be that odd sneaky rat of a word that you just cannot remember but you know you are going to need for your exam that may want to make you pull out your hair and scream. However don't to this - very few people can pull of the bald look. Instead, just try do some quirky little things to help you remember it, such as making a picture in your mind, drawing it out literally, or breaking down the word into more easy to manage parts. For example, if you are trying to remember the word "lograr", meaning to achieve in Spanish, you could think to yourself that you would rather achieve a log than €1000,000 - the fact this is (most likely) so untrue, should really help this stick in your mind and help you when you are under pressure to remember them in that ticking time-bomb of a room known as the examination hall.
4. When you enter the exam room, write down words straight away that you are worried about forgetting.
Whilst we are on the subject of words, it is worth putting down all those now beautiful mental pictures/deconstructed words you have created straight away onto your exam paper. This just simply means that, as the pressure risks seeping in to your head as the harlot we call time has its wicked way with us, you know that you don't have to worry about trying to remember them or having to look them up in your dictionary; they will be there beaming at you and reminding you that everything will be alright in the end.
5. Remember that reading will take you slightly longer.
Just to go back a little in time, to that anxiety-inducing yet boring as hell period in which you are attempting to study for these manifestations of hell we call exams, it is important to remember that reading will take you a little longer than you are used to. It may be the case that in your own language you can read and make notes on a chapter in an hour, but here it is most likely to take more than that. Therefore, just be sure to go through your readings carefully and calmly, giving yourself plenty of time to do this before your exam, i.e. maybe don't just give yourself the hour before your exam...
6. Try reading difficult bits in a funny accent.
Sounds stupid but really is effective in helping you remember those darn passages that will not just stick in your mind. Whether it is the language that is difficult or the content, reading it in a silly voice will help your brain guard it in your mind, as it attempts to comprehend how much of a weirdo you really are, and thus will not be too hard to retrieve in the exam. Plus, as it will now be safely stored in your brain, you will find yourself subconsciously mulling over it, to the point that it will actually become clearer as time passes due to your brain constantly unwrapping it of its mystery. Thus doing those stupid things that people would judge you for actually pay off at times!!
7. Don't use too many words in your notes.
Writing out notes in full sentences really does not help you, as in reality, we can only remember a small fraction of those beings of conjoined letters that stare out at us from the page. What it makes more sense to do, then, is draw mind maps, little diagrams or just write the key words down to act as a remember; your notes should be something you can visualise in the exam and act as a prop to help you remember the content that you know is lurking in your mind somewhere. Plus, it does help you not get too bogged down trying to remember exact sentence formations and structures whilst writing; just make sure that you look over some grammar before you enter the exam if you are worried about letting your sentences flow freely.
8. Essay Plans/ Introductions.
Rather than using your notes to ease your language fears, wait until you have make them and have to content in your mind, to practice not only writing in your new language but also applying the information as well. You just need to find or create an exam style question that relates to the module you are studying and try, with firstly but later without notes to see how much of the material you really understand. You don't even have to write the full essay, just the introduction and a rough plan will do as they are sufficient to know where any content might be lacking.This is also great as if you try write a sentence and you suddenly realise you have no idea how to actually express it, it gives you some time to look over grammar, words, and just generally be aware of the areas you may be weaker in.
9. Ask a local friend to check your grammar on a practice introduction/essay plan.
Most people are willing to help out their Erasmus comrades as they can only imagine how difficult it is for you so don't be afraid to reach out to people. As you are not giving them a full-blown essay, it shouldn't take too much time at all for them to check over your work and correct any lexical mishaps/grammar blunders and thus ease your mind of that niggling fear of them occurring in your exam (provided you take the time to learn from your mistakes that is...). If this friend is also a course friend, they may also help you understand any content that you may have understood slightly wrong in your mind - bonus!
10. Do a study session with other friends.
People are awesome; through them we learn almost everything they know, whether it is through simply their words in a book or a screen, rather than their being and presence. Thus it is probably a wise idea to do a gathering before your exam with some of your finest course chums and have a natter about your module over some of that god send known as coffee. This is great as not only will this help you with any misunderstandings or just help you with realise what you do actually know, but it is actually an enjoyable way to study. We run the risk of not socialising and being hermits of stress and anxiety during exam season, which is really not good for our emotional and physical health. Therefore adding a bit of socialising to your studying will just boost your moral a little bit more and help you feel upbeat during this beast of an exam season.
All I have to say now is simply good luck! Work hard and prosper like I know you can.