Top 10 tips for exam preparation (revised)

Posted in: exams

As the exam season comes around (see: Student Guide to Exams: 2020/21 Semester 2 assessment period), here are our top 10 tips for improving your exam scores, slightly amended to reflect our current situation!

1. Attend online revision sessions 

Revision lectures and workshops are designed to help you focus on key semester one content. 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 class mate to check your answers. While exam types may vary this year due to stay-at-home coronavirus restrictions, 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. Speed writing 

Practise writing (fast) with a pen – you've probably not done this since the last exams you sat, and your wrist may be a bit rusty.

10. Logistics

Make sure you know how to access your exam, when they are, and how long. Check rules and regulations (for example, your seat number for specific exams, bring your student ID, what you're allowed to take into the exam, mitigating circumstances and so on). You can usually find this information in your course handbook.

Not forgetting... one bonus tip...

11. Cuddly toys! 

Prepare an 'exam pack' in advance which might include your favourite pens, pencils, spares, highlighters and any other 'props' you find useful. This will avoid an early morning panic search for a biro at the bottom of a dusty drawer.

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.


See also:

Posted in: exams

Support for Online Exams short course