Top 10 tips for exam preparation

Posted in: exams

As the exam season comes around, here are our top 10 tips for improving your exam scores.

1. Attend online revision sessions 

Revision lectures and workshops are designed to help you focus on key content from the Semester. Your tutors will probably provide plenty of hints and nudges towards what areas to focus on for exam prep, so attendance should be on your priority list. Make sure you find out where you can access these online and if they're being recorded, on which Moodle page you'll find the panopto file.

2. Practise past exam questions

Practise makes perfect as they say, and working on past exam questions will help you revise content, identify gaps in your knowledge, and sharpen your exam writing skills and techniques. Try writing under exam conditions, and ask a classmate to check your answers. While exam types may vary, past papers can help you unlock your knowledge and tap into key ideas.

You can access previous exam papers for your subject here:

3. Revise a little often, and not at the last minute

The human brain can concentrate for around 40 minutes at the absolute most (hence falling-asleep-syndrome in 2 hour lectures!) It's important that you study frequently, but in short bursts of highly concentrated effort. Establish a revision timetable and stick to it. Work on a specific topic focus area for around 20-30 minutes, then take a break - coffee, exercise, movie, lunch etc, then return again for a second round, but this time work on a different topic. Review, repeat, recycle. It's important that you do this every day so as to avoid cramming and all-night panic attacks the day before your exam.

4. Active revision

Don’t just read and read (or copy and copy) your notes and hope the content will sink in. You need to activate your learning. Try reducing notes from full length to one or two trigger words (usually the nouns that hold key ideas). Then rebuild content from memory without looking back at your original notes. This way you will reconstruct meaning rather than recycle detached and abstract ideas, identify gaps in your knowledge, and most important of all, stay awake!

5. Answer the question

Sounds easy, but it's even easier to misinterpret or only partially address all aspects of the question. You need to practise unpacking and analysing exam questions quickly, to identify focus topics. Look for:

  • the focus  -  what is the specific topic within the subject area?
  • the instruction words -  analyse, discuss, explain etc - see previous blog for more on these
  • the scope (or limitations) - what should you include and what should you not include?

6. The T.E.A. approach

For humanities and social science subjects, there are three key areas to revise and to try to include in your exam answers:

T = Theories (relevant to the exam question)

= Examples (how example or cases illustrate theory into practice and/or help support your answer

= Authors (key academics, researchers, writers, experts, companies etc connected to the question topic)

Also, consider any controversies, issues and problems, and possible relevance to current events and research developments.

7. Eat well, exercise, and early nights

Feed your brain with nutritious food. Stodge, sugar and chocolate will slow you down. Think greens, fish, salads, veg, pulses and low fat foods (I know it's awful, but it's only for a few weeks!)

Go for a run or walk in your break times. Don't slump on the sofa and watch 'Homes Under the Hammer'! Exercise will energise you, especially when you feel tired, and sharpen those important cognitive processes.

For a few weeks, get up and go to bed early. Your brain is most efficient in the morning - believe it or not! Keep regular hours and build this into your revision regime.

Drink lots of water (not beer!) - regular rehydration will keep your brain in tip-top shape.

8. Study groups     

See if you can form online ‘study groups’ using your preferred social app, where you can test each other using the past papers (see number 2), and talk out loud about the key points. Talking to others can aid memory.

9. Logistics

Make sure you know how to access your exam, when they are, and how long by checking the Semester 2 2021/22 exam schedule. Check the rules and regulations - you can usually find this information in your course handbook.

For online exams, make sure you have a quiet and comfortable place to take your exam where you won't be disturbed. If you live in shared accommodation, let everyone know your exam times and put a notice on your door to keep quiet.

10. Get to grips with Inspera

Re-familiarise yourself with the assessment platform Inspera - check out our online Inspera guide.

If you’ve done all these things, you should then be able to think positively about yourself, and go into your exams knowing that you've done everything you could. A positive attitude leads to confidence, reduces pre-exam nerves and leads to a positive outcome.

Good luck!

See also:

Blog updated April 2022.

Posted in: exams

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  • Thank you for your helpful tips. I will certainly implement this in the upcoming semester. Until then, I will train the speed writing, since I have still great problems.
    I would be happy about more tips

  • This are very tips. Especially No.2 suggestion above. Past questions have proven to be so effective when preparing for any exam. With past questions, students can predict how the exam will be. I'll really appreciate these post. keep it up.