Exam tips on a year abroad in Germany


Rachel Bermingham is an Irish student, currently on her Erasmus year in Germany

So you forgot you have to do exams abroad?

It happens to all of us. It’s incredibly easy to forget about keeping on top of your academic life while on Erasmus because there is just too much living to be done. I’m one of the lucky ones in that the grades I receive during my Erasmus year do not impact my final degree results so I just have to focus on passing my modules. This can lead to your work ethic falling to an all time low and at least once a semester you’ll be hit with the crushing realisation that you have to sit exams again.


Germany likes to do things it’s own way…

At my home University exam time brings a sense of collective misery with it. We finish our lectures, have a full week off to study and then begin a specialised two weeks of exams being sat in huge sports halls. Germany instead just turns that last scheduled lecture into an exam.

Having access to previous exam papers doesn’t seem to be a thing either. Instead,being even vaguely familiar with the layout of the exam is practically considered cheating. This year I went into an exam not knowing if I would have to circle multiple choice answers or write essays, as the lecturer saw it as an advantage if we were given this information beforehand.

Chaotic is how I would describe exam period in Ireland. People camp out in the library, make mountains out of energy drink bottles and post pictures online of people sleeping while studying. Here there seems to be no sense of shared chaos and misery around exams.

Ten minutes before an exam is due to start you won’t hear people shouting ‘’Well at least we’ll all fail together!’’ Instead you’ll see people calmly looking over their mountain of perfectly highlighted notes, giving the impression that these students actually feel well prepared.


The language of exams

When abroad it’s very likely that you’ll find yourself sitting an exam that’s not in your first language. Don’t panic, you can do it. If you know from early in the semester that you’ll be sitting an exam in another language, it’s helpful to stay on top of relevant vocabulary throughout the semester. For example, if it’s a law exam make sure you put some dedicated time in to learn specific law words you know will come in handy. It never hurts to learn some fancy exam phrases and synonyms that can stay at the forefront of your mind when writing so you don’t overuse the same word. You can learn your answers as perfectly as you want, but if you can’t understand the actual question in the first place you’ll be stuck with a hurdle before even the writing begins.

Suggestions to get through it...

  1. Start small by just opening the book for your module.
  2. Panic.
  3. Give up and start to binge watch a whole series on Netflix.
  4. Make a list of specific study goals.
  5. Keep well hydrated and well fed.
  6. Procrastinate by booking a trip for after exams. Always have something to look forward to.
  7. Remind yourself that you only have to pass it.
  8. Write ERASMUS everywhere on your exam paper in the hope that your corrector takes pity on you.
  9. Hope for the best.
  10. Celebrate because you deserve it. If you sat your exams in a second language, celebrate twice.


German people are known for being highly efficient and professional - the university library certainly reflects this. Instead of seeing people aimlessly scrolling through Facebook on their phone, with a book at the far end of the table, German library etiquette means no one’s there that isn’t working. I am still yet to even spot headphones being used, which led me to officially retire from Tübingen’s library so I could scroll social media during revision and not feel judged. It’s very important to find a place to study that works for you. Having people judge you for absent-mindedly watching Netflix in the library might actually be exactly the kick you need to make you do work.


At the end of the day, the things you learn in your Erasmus year will never be quantifiable by a grade on a piece of paper so don’t let exams get you down,or just start studying consistently throughout the semester… but where’s the fun in that.

Rachel Bermingham, currently on her Erasmus year at the University of Tübingen, Germany.

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