Approaching assessments this term

31 March 2023

While many students will be focusing on exams for the next month, you might also be doing some longer assessments instead of exams, so UCL alumna Catherine Tang has put together some of her tips for planning and achieving those assessments.

Student with laptop

I have always enjoyed non-exam assessments a bit more (and even took that into consideration when choosing electives). Essays seem less stressful to me because they allow a more liberated planning – given the deadline, we can all adjust to go at our own pace to complete the coursework.

This brings me nicely on to the topic of preparing for non-exam assessments. It’d be nice to stick to our normal way of studying and not treat the tasks as something special: when we are given the right to balance our own time, it differs little from our regular learning cycle: preview – review – note-making (not that I preview). I’ll be repeating this suggestion for three times (I hope it will become an emphasis, though I am aware that you may get distracted by my unnecessarily flowery examples and forceful imagery / metaphors / symbolism). Finally, I’ll give a short paragraph of cliché advice on how to make plans.

1. Where makes you the most comfortable?

I love libraries. The Italian room in the Main Library is my favourite – there’s nothing particular about their desks, chairs or floor, but I enjoy the vibes. It feels weirdly poetic to be surrounded by all sorts of books in a language I cannot interpret.

Student Centre is my second pick. I hear people chatting in German, English, Japanese, Mandarin and probably Italian as well and instead of getting distracted, I feel de-stressed (probably as I get constantly reminded of the fact that UCL is a global family).

Apart from those, you may find the following places pleasant:

  • Your home (with Australian singer-songwriter Tamas Wells playing out loud, or a candle lit with the scent of orange blossoms)

  • Your friend’s place (if they feel pleasant with your invasion and are willing to sacrifice their fridge)

  • A cafeteria through whose windows a canopy of cypress projects her shadows and stretches long across the slim street to shake hands with the oak tree on the other side

  • The Portico stairs near the statue (whose name I have regretfully never acquired, but whose neck I have once decorated with my Slytherin scarf)

Find a place that gives you the feeling of “this is just another beautiful day in my life”. Really.

2. Are you a lark or an owl?

I don’t think it helps when you force yourself to get up at 6 o’clock just because you have an essay, if your usual studying pattern is to concentrate with the aid of rich starlight (depending on how cooperative your blinds or curtains are). Similarly, if your routine is to go to bed at 10pm, it’s probably unwise to force yourself and your paperwork to persist until 3am just because your peers do so. Changing your usual schedule can create extra stress and an implication that something intense is coming up. Also, forcing yourself to work during unusual hours usually decreases efficiency, because your body might not adjust this quickly and abruptly.

3. Mixing them up or reaching the stars one by one?

Some of us prefer switching between different tasks regularly so that we do not bore ourselves; others dislike getting distracted by different topics and prefer to complete an essay before fully committing to another. I think both work – I know I said this a third time, but still, choose your normal approach. This is exam season, but really, if you are used to dashing after deadlines during the winter and spring terms for non-exam assessments, summer should not make you extra aware of their significance in your transcript.

4. Don’t overcommit yourself when making plans.

In the beginning of this piece, I mentioned that I’d be including a lot of forceful imagery/metaphors/symbolism. Have I? I guess some of you are already fed up with an abundance of those, but in comparison to my poetry or novels, I have stuffed far too few of rhetorical devices in the body paragraphs above (no, not really!). Somehow, I was in a similar situation during my first (and almost second) year. Before the exam started and I got on with my essays, I was ambitiously making a plan of working eight hours a day and finishing everything in a week and a half.

Might not be a great plot twist, but my plans never took place. Instead, I had approximately five hours on my assessments each day (with occasional days off in between, where I occupied myself with Waterstones or occupied Waterstones with myself) and the whole process took me about a month.

Unless you are stressed because tomorrow is the deadline, or you are my best friend Ivana – it is unlikely that you can work for an extreme number of hours each day and still take in all the information (and contribute an understandable output). Let’s give ourselves a bit more time, but do remember to start early enough.

I hope you enjoy the process, everyone. I envy all of you who get assigned assessments – I miss those three of my summers very much, though some of those essays were very challenging. 

Catherine Tang, BA Linguistics (2020)