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Learning in parallel: This is how you successfully prepare for several exams at the same time

by Tim Reichel

A short time ago I happened to read an interview with the Chinese star pianist Lang Lang. I'm usually not interested in this type of music, but the headline of the newspaper article made me curious. It was a quote from Lang and it went something like this: "A concert is a test every time."

Whenever Lang goes on stage and sits down at his grand piano, it feels like an exam for him. He is excited and knows that now is the time to perform. He prepared himself for days and nights. For this one moment. Then the lights go out and the people in the audience go quiet. It starts; he plays the first note.

And now imagine that Lang would play the violin, flute and cello next to his piano. Not at the same time, of course, but if two days after his first concert he had to play a second and shortly afterwards a third with a different instrument, then he would give less relaxed interviews, but would be stuck in the preparation like a madman. I don't want to cast any doubts about Lang's qualities. First, I can't judge that, and second, the boy seems to be really successful. Likeable at that.

But many students struggle with this multiple burden.

At the end of the semester, you cannot relax and devote yourself to one exam preparation after the other. No: You have to prepare for several exams at the same time. On average, every student in Germany has 6 to 7 exams per semester. And the corresponding examination material sometimes varies so much that it creates the feeling of being enrolled in two or three completely different courses of study.

Learning in parallel is tough. It requires solid planning and a great deal of self-discipline. If you yourself often have to study for different exams at the same time, then you know what I mean. Without the right strategy, you are in a fix, you will quickly find yourself under pressure and run the risk of being overwhelmed by your exam phase.

So that you have it a little easier next time, I wrote this article for you.


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Learning in parallel is different

Conventional exam preparation (for one exam) is very different from a preparation phase in which you have to study for several exams at the same time. The most serious difference is that you cannot focus exclusively on one topic, but have to split your concentration.

This circumstance prevents the bundling of your mental performance, which leads to a higher energy requirement during learning and overall to a greater expenditure of time. The problem with this is: Many students only recognize these additional resources (especially the time aspect) when it is almost too late and the exam dates are dangerously close.

Tales such as “You just have to start earlier” or “Then you just do two or three more hours a day” don't help - apart from the fact that such advice is superfluous crap anyway. What is most likely to get you further in this situation are adjustments to your learning strategy and pragmatic tips that you can implement immediately.


10 tips on how to successfully prepare multiple exams at the same time

During my studies, I myself often had to study for several exams at the same time, so I know from my own experience (and that of my fellow students) which strategies can work - and which don't. In addition, through my work as a study advisor and student coach, I am regularly in contact with candidates from a wide variety of courses.

Based on this experience, I have put together ten tips for you that will help you successfully prepare several exams at the same time.

Let's start.


Tip # 1: get an overview!

Before you start your parallel exam preparation, it is important that you have a solid overview of the relevant subject matter. This is important in any kind of strategic consideration, but it is especially important in your current situation.

Due to the multitude of different contents, connections are often not clear at first glance. There is also the risk that you overlook important topics or overestimate little things. Therefore, collect all the materials you can get your hands on about your exams and modules and make a list of the most important content for each.

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Tip # 2: Limit the fabric!

Especially when you have little time to study, you need to narrow down the subject matter in a meaningful way. This means: You choose topics that you will deal with intensively and at the same time delete other content from your learning list that you consider to be less relevant for the exam.

If you hesitate to delete it: Make it clear to yourself that you will never have enough time to study a topic “completely” - even if you only had to prepare for a single exam per semester. There will always be aspects that you cannot take into account for reasons of time. You have to make a preselection, preferably as early as possible.

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Tip # 3: check your calendar!

Most students keep an eye on their exam dates relatively well. They know when which exam takes place and clearly mark these dates in their calendar. What they, on the other hand, disregard with alarming regularity are their upcoming obligations around the exam dates.

Therefore, check your calendar well in advance and make sure that there are no scheduling conflicts in your exam week and during the preparation time. If you have three doctor's appointments during your exam preparation and have to take on a double shift in your part-time job, you are making life difficult for yourself.

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Tip # 4: plan optimistically, but stay realistic!

Individual planning is essential for parallel learning. INDISPENSABLE. If you think that you can study for three exams at the same time without a schedule and still earn money, go to exercise, and see your partner regularly, please. I'll see you in a few weeks when I give you my order at the McDrive. Without realistic planning, you will fail.

BEFORE you prepare for the exam, you have to think about what you want to achieve and set specific goals. In the next step, you assign suitable measures to your goals and knit an individual action plan from them. This should also be optimistic - but stay realistic in your considerations - otherwise you will put yourself under too much pressure and make yourself unhappy.

Reading tip: Why you should never lose sight of your goals while studying - a little story


Tip # 5: Define topic blocks

Each of your lecture consists of teaching modules. And these modules are made up of individual thematic blocks. These blocks provide the structure of your lecture and form the structure that your lecturer has come up with. At first glance, these topics are not always directly recognizable - the material appears too dynamic for this or the individual blocks are not directly distinguishable from one another.

Therefore, you have to become active yourself and define topic blocks for each lecture. Combine content into main and sub-categories and divide your examination material into individual packages. This way you can plan more easily, learn more purposefully and keep track of things

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Tip # 6: set up a study plan

After you have checked your timing, your line has been determined and the individual topic blocks are known, you should bring the material to be learned into a meaningful structure. To do this, create a learning plan for your parallel exam preparation and plan the required learning units. Since you have to study for several exams at the same time, it is essential that you coordinate your study sessions in order to make the most of the short time.

Try to set a specific study program for each day until your exams - even if you take a few days off or are otherwise busy. The main thing is that you think about a procedure and put it down in writing. Also plan sufficient buffer times and allow yourself short breaks in between.

Reading tip: How to create a learning plan for your next exam - step-by-step instructions for a relaxed exam phase


Tip # 7: never study without a break!

Many students tend to study fully during stressful phases and do without breaks. Even if you mean it well: With this strategy you will harm yourself in the long term. These marathon learning units may work for two or three days - after that, however, your body rapidly breaks down, your concentration wanes and your performance collapses.

In addition, your memory performance decreases, which destroys your previous work or weakens it to a large extent. Not very smart, is it? Therefore force yourself - even if you are under great pressure and have little time - to take regular breaks and recovery units. Learning is like high-performance sport: it doesn't work without regeneration.

Reading tip: Take the right break: How to make the most of your learning breaks and achieve maximum relaxation


Tip # 8: Take turns learning, never at the same time!

Don't get me wrong: “Study at the same time” doesn't mean that you should study for two exams in the same minute. You should not read lecture notes A with your left eye while repeating the definitions from lecture B with your right eye. Rather, parallel learning means that you take care of MULTIPLE exams at the same time during ONE period - however, the associated learning units run one after the other.

It has to be like that, because otherwise you would drown due to the overstimulation and in the end you would not be able to do anything of your exam preparation. Therefore, always learn alternately, but never at the same time.

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Tip # 9: Never study a subject all day!

A sharp focus is essential for your success in parallel learning. Many students try to achieve this focus by doing the same exam preparation for a few days at a time. They think that this makes it easier to stay in the topic and understand the content better. There is something to the theory and I know students who are successful with it - unfortunately only a few students.

But for most people (including myself) it is different: If we spend hours on the same thing, our interest decreases. We become bored, more prone to distractions, and waste time. Time we don't have. If you also belong to the latter type, it makes sense to mix up your study days. Learn in stages and work on different exam content throughout the day so that you have variety and stay focused.

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Tip # 10: Don't get nervous - encourage yourself!

In addition to the strategic and technical aspects from above, one thing is at least as important for the successful preparation of several exams: your attitude. Only with the right mindset will you be able to cope with your mammoth task and pass all the exams to your satisfaction. I experience many students who lose their heads under time pressure and learning difficulties.

They get nervous, overturn their strategy and trip themselves up with it. In the end, they fail not because of the exam material - but because of themselves. To prevent this from happening to you, you have to stay calm and encourage yourself. Even when the situation is explosive and little positive can be seen. Only with the right attitude do you have any chance of mastering your challenges.

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It is possible to prepare for several exams at the same time - and at the same time have something like a private life next to the university and aim for good to very good grades. But only if you do it wisely and adapt your strategy.

With the ten tips above, I have shown you how you can survive stressful exam phases and make the best of the situation. You need an overview and a plan, you need to narrow down the material, learn it step by step and in a varied way. Also, you have to stay calm and not allow yourself to be driven crazy.

It's all easier said than done - I know. But if you stick to two or three of the tips during your next parallel exam preparation, the way you work will improve significantly. You will be able to proceed in a more structured manner, learn more decisively and sleep more calmly. In addition, your grades will improve and, despite all the study, you will have at least some free time.

PS: If you are serious and can use more time and better grades in the long term, then take a look at my time management book: the Bachelor of Time. With this book, I've already helped over 15,000 students make better use of their time in their studies - I bet it helps you too.

Click here for the book (click!)


Image: © Lukas Budimaier / unsplash.com