Top 10 tips for exam preparation

Posted in: academic skills, exams

Whatever type of exam you'll be sitting this exam period, here are some general top 10 tips from former Academic Skills Course Leader Tom Reid on how to improve your exam scores.

1. Attend revision sessions

Revision lectures and workshops are designed to help you focus on key content from the Semester. Your tutors will probably provide lots of hints about what areas to focus on during exam preparation, so make attendance of these a priority.

Make sure you find out where you can access these sessions and, if they're being recorded, on which Moodle page you'll find the Panopto file afterwards.

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 through the Library.

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

There’s a limit to how long the human brain can concentrate and the quality of our learning steadily decreases if we don’t take frequent breaks.

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.

Do this every day and you’ll feel much more confident by the time the exam day arrives – no late-night cramming sessions required.

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'll 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 this blog for more on these
  • the scope (or limitations) - what should you include and what should you not include?

6. The TEA approach

For humanities and social science subjects, it can be useful to focus on these three areas when revising:

T = Theories (relevant to the exam question)

= Examples (how examples, cases or research evidence relate to theories 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 (avoid alcohol!) - regular rehydration will keep your brain in tip-top shape.

8. Study groups

It's a great idea to form study groups with your course mates 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 etc by checking Academic Registry's 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

If you’re taking any online exams, re-familiarise yourself with the assessment platform Inspera.

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

Good luck! 

Posted in: academic skills, 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