Preparing for exams
As a form of assessment, exams:
- Encourage you to read widely so that you are more knowledgeable about your subject as a whole
- Ensure that you are the author of the work being assessed
- Enable the lecturer to compare individual student performances across the subject thereby enabling the assessment to be moderated fairly.
Without good preparation exams can be stressful. You need to plan carefully and revise systematically in order to sit the exam with confidence. The first step in exam preparation is to find out as much information about your exam as possible. This will help you with your planning of a revision timetable.
Make sure you know:
- When the exam will be held
- Where it will be held
- How much time will be available to complete the exam
- How the exam will be structured (and/or what type of exam it will be); (See section on different types of exams)
- What you can take into the exam room
- If you can look at past exam papers
- The percentage of total marks that the exam is worth
During the semester:
- Anticipate and prepare for exams - preparation reduces anxiety.
- Start preparing for exams from the first day of semester. Avoid cramming at the last minute.
- Schedule weekly exam revision into your semester study program - practice questions, revision discussions, consultations with your tutor, making summaries, etc.
- Exercise, eat well, and take regular breaks. Drinking water helps hydrate and relax your body.
- Take action to understand - discussing material with a study group or the tutor/lecturer can help you develop confidence in what you know.
- Develop a range of revision strategies - intense study, developing flow charts/diagrams, discussion and explanation with peers, consultations with tutors – to avoid monotony and maintain motivation.
- Access resources which can assist in developing strategies to prepare for exams and manage anxiety.
The top tip for successful revision is to make a plan; otherwise it is easy to waste your precious revision time. We recommend that you start your revision at least six weeks before your exams begin. It is helpful to look at your exam dates and work backwards to the first date you intend to start revising.
- List all your exam subjects and the amount of time you think you will need for each one. It is unlikely that the amounts will be equal. Many people find it advisable to allocate more time to the subject or topics they find the most difficult
- Draw up a revision plan for each week
- Fill in any regular commitments you have first and the dates of your examinations
- Use Revision Checklists or Syllabuses for each subject as a starting point. Look at what you need to know and try to identify any gaps in your knowledge. (A good way of doing this is to look at the results of past papers or tests you have worked through)
- Divide your time for each subject into topics based on the units in the revision checklist or syllabus, and make sure you allow enough time for each one
- Plan your time carefully, assigning more time to subjects and topics you find difficult
- Revise often; try and do a little every day.
- Plan in time off, including time for activities which can be done out in the fresh air. Take a 5 or 10 minute break every hour and do some stretching exercises, go for a short walk or make a drink
- You may find it helpful to change from one subject to another at ‘break’ time, for example doing one or two sessions of maths and then changing to Geography, or alternating a favourite subject with a more difficult one. It helps to build in some variety
- Write up your plan and display it somewhere visible
- Adjust your timetable if necessary and try to focus on your weakest topics and subjects
- Don’t panic; think about what you can achieve, not what you can’t. Positive thinking is important!
Revision Tips (Cambridge Students)
Revision is an ongoing and cumulative process. It is not wise to leave revision until the night before the exam. You should revise after each lecture and tutorial. Plan your revision across the semester.
The first thing you need to do formulate a revision timetable.
Formulating your revision timetable
For each subject:
- Schedule short revision times rather than one lengthy session: this helps with concentration
- Assign specific segments of work to each review time
- Alternate harder tasks with easier ones
- Combine different study activities in each study session
- Set realistic limits on the amount of study that you do
- Allow regular breaks for rest and relaxation
- Make sure that your study space is available when you need it (and is free from unnecessary distractions)
- If you lose concentration, stop studying and do something else, but before you stop decide when your next study session will be and what you will study.
Good planning and effective preparation will mean that you will not need any last minute cramming efforts.
There are many different revision strategies and the ones you use will depend on your learning style and the type of exam.
On the day of the exam the most important task is to remain calm and to keep focused on what you have to do. At this stage there is nothing to be gained from worrying about your preparation or lack of it.
However, there are strategies you can pursue to maximise your chances of success:
- Read through your revision notes to refresh your memory then put them away and concentrate on relaxation
- Get a good night’s sleep
- Stick to your regular meal routine on the day of the exam
- Before you leave home check that you have everything that you will need for the exam
- Allow plenty of time.
During the exam
When sitting an exam make effective use of your reading time.
All exams will have a designated period known as reading time. Usually this will be ten minutes, but in some units (e.g. law) reading time can extend beyond that to twenty or thirty minutes.
This is the time in which you:
- Check through the paper, reading through the instructions and questions
- Allocate your time and organise your strategies for answering the questions
It might happen in an exam that your inspiration suddenly dries up, or your mind just seems to go blank.
Do not panic.
There are a number of things that you can do.
- Pause and refocus your energy. Relax yourself by taking several deep breaths, hold them in and then count slowly as you let them out
- Return to your question. If your mind is still blank, try jotting down, on a sheet of scrap paper, any words or ideas that seem to be connected with your question
- Try visualising your notes or anything else that you have written that might be connected with the topic
- Do not force the issue if you still find your mind refusing to co-operate. Move on to another question. Often the information that you are trying to recall may re-emerge while you are concentrating on something else.