Exam Study Tips & Tricks

As the majority of the students in the UK begin to prep for exams websites start throwing out articles such as this one; “Top 10 revision tips for your final (or first-year) exams“. That’s one of the more sensible ones out there and advises students to make revision timetables and eat regular meals. At the grand (“old”) age of 27, I’ve spent a good portion of my life studying for exams. When I was in secondary school we actually had for every subject every half term – yep, that’s right, every half term. Not just at the end of every term. Then there was year 9 SATs, GCSEs, A-levels and then university – twice. I wouldn’t consider myself an exam expert, I still hate them and stress over them. But I have learnt some tricks over the years and also seen some really stupid things done by my fellow students, so now seems a good time to share them.

Do it your way

The biggest tip I can give to any student is to find their own way to study. You can read hundreds of study guides, you can listen to teachers tell you every single way to study – none of it matters if it doesn’t for you. Some people are blessed with the ability to cram the night before an exam; the rest of us need a better plan. So don’t be afraid to try and test different methods. If re-reading information doesn’t work for you then try reading it and then writing it down. Or maybe spider diagrams work better for you.

Ignore other people

I’m actually really glad that I get to take my exam in the disability computer cluster like a little special person. I have always hated the period waiting to go into an exam hall because everyone is talking about what they revised, what topics they hope will be covered. If you’re anything like me it just makes you worry and panic even more about the exam. The creation and popularity of social networks such as Twitter and Facebook mean that this starts even before you get near the exam hall. Don’t panic because everyone else has studied a certain topic/theme and you haven’t. Last year a lot of people decided to study gender for our English Literature exam and it never appeared on the exam paper.

You are on your own

Don’t rely on other people because at the end of the day the exam is between you and the sheet of paper in front of you. While social networks are a good way to hash out ideas, don’t be too dependent on them for information. Make yourself familiar with your website and exam procedures; know where your exam timetable will be available and where it can be found. One of the biggest mistakes I find students making is that they expect the university to hold them by the hand. This isn’t like GCSEs/A-levels where you will get drilled on so many exam papers that you’ll be sick of the sight of them before you even get to your exam. You’ll get one lecture and/or tutorial about exams and that is it; you’re on your own. They might provide a few past papers and put them up online for you, but generally, you’ll be expected to go find them yourself. So after the first year, you really should know where to find past exam papers.


That probably seems really obvious but I’m not talking about preparing for the content of the exam. Once you know where your exam is being held make sure you know where the building is on campus! Most exam halls tend to be out of the way buildings and rooms you’ll never ever see again. A week or even a few days before your exam go and find the room. Also, be careful with room splits – some courses are so large that A-M will be in one place and N-Z will be elsewhere. You’re naturally going to be stressing about your exam so don’t make it worse by getting lost or going to the wrong room.

Prepare your bag, pencil case, clothes, route and if you have health problems your medication. My pencil case is actually more like a first aid kit; I even carry strepsils with me just in case. If you have health problems, disabilities or any physical/mental problems then speak to your tutor, department or advisor of studies before exams. They will most likely refer you to your University’s disability service and their job is to make your life as easy as possible and this includes your exams. Don’t be afraid to have your medication easily available, just put it on your desk at the start of an exam so that the exam staff can see it clearly. They’re going to be more suspicious if they see you rummaging around your pockets halfway through the exam.

Play to your strengths

One of the benefits of most exams (especially essay based subjects) is that you will often get a choice of questions to answer. You are never going to know everything and most of your teachers will always tell you to revise extra. If you find that too overwhelming then don’t do it; instead, focus on topics that can be moulded to different questions. You may find that your classmates will say certain topics are easier, however, you may find them really difficult. Play to your own strengths. If there was a certain topic or text that you found interesting then go with that. You’ll find it much easier to remember things that appeal to you rather than subjects/texts that bore you to death.

Sometimes it isn’t possible to avoid some of those boring topics, and if you haven’t already gotten them out of the way by using them in your coursework, make sure you balance them out. Depending on the question you might want to put a weak topic with a strong one so that you can piggyback off of the one you know best. Sometimes though if you are really struggling to answer a question because your mind has gone blank, it’s different to what you practised or it just sucks, you might be better placing two stronger subjects together and leave the weaker ones for the awkward question. You won’t find any tutor/lecturer recommend that but they’re not the one sitting the exam. If you just need to pass then forfeiting a bad question to give yourself more time on a better one might be your best plan.

Don’t panic

That’s a bit of a no-shit Sherlock one because most of us will worry about exams. However, exams at level tend to come with a big bonus compared to exams in earlier education – you can re-sit them. There is another chance and as hard as it is, it’s better to try and stem the panic of failing and just get on with it. Until you sit the exam you have no idea whether you will pass or fail, so predicting it isn’t going to do you any favours.

Image Credits: Photo is from Public Domain Pictures .

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