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Exam Skills Home Page

Exam Tips from Students and others

Advantages Attitude Avoiding Stress Relaxation
General Advice Study Group Exam Workshops

Look for patterns
Patterns Handbooks and lecturer's advice Past Papers

Preparing: Lectures Reading Notes Organisation Prepare Clear the decks

Revising Revise Timetable Where to revise Cards and Bullet Points

Testing yourself Spider Tests Practice Answers Timed Answers

Before and during the exam Spoil yourself and Reduce Anxiety
Sleep well once you know where you are going
Pen, Pencil and another pen, etc... Calm Down
During the Exam

Individual approaches

A final thought


Exams value your memories and your skills and ability to understand what you are studying. They make you prepare before hand and, if they are unseen, they make you cover a lot of topics as you do not know the questions. They also force you to be specific and focused, as time is limited in most exams.

Examinations test a student's knowledge and understanding of a particular subject. They bring questions from an entire module together in a challenging environment.


It is wise to remember that exams are not there as punishment. Instead, they are a good way of testing to see how much information you have learnt.

I am always scared of exams, and I have exams coming up shortly. I always feel that in exams there is always not enough time. That actually sends me panicking. Also, I always feel that I am not answering the question the way the examiner wants it answered. Despite this I still I have some tips which I think are useful.

  1. Start studying early.
  2. Use your class notes and textbooks
  3. Make a timetable for the period you are studying
  4. Work together. For example, form a small group
  5. Review all the materials at least once after your main study session
  6. Think up a few questions you might be asked on you exam, and try answering them
  7. Keep cool and calculated

I hate exams, but I have realised that you cannot run away from them as there is always another one waiting around the corner

Examinations are not really something to fear because, usually, if you attend to revising your subject you should not have to much of a problem when you get into the exam.

Examinations are stressful to some people while others like them as they consider them a challenge. Exams were the norm throughout school life and this may be why I have no problems with them. Other people may find they are more relaxed about exams when they get used to them.

Avoiding Stress

Although examinations can be stressful, there are ways to avoid stress. Revision before hand is very helpful, as is group discussion. In the exam it helps to make a good plan, including points, because should you fail to finish in time, the plan and points can gain you some marks. Always go for the question you are sure of.

I dread exams and get really nervous and anxious. Many thoughts rush through my mind and I fear that my mind will go blank in the exam room and I will forget everything I have revised. I find the three main points to remember in alleviating exam stress, are preparation, relaxation, and confidence.

    I plan a revision timetable that allows sufficient time out for myself. The worst thing to do is revise non-stop, or cram everything in two days before the exam.

    As time goes by, I find it helpful to gradually condense my notes, ending up with maybe just a few key words, which trigger me to recall a certain topic.

    Writing answers to past exam questions helps me structure answers.

    I get self-assurance from that I will go into the exam having revised the material.


Allow yourself time for relaxation and thinking

Use strategies like deep breathing to overcome panic

Visualise yourself in positive and relaxing situations

General Advice

Examinations are not required on all modules: some are assessed by essays, reports, presentations and so on. If you are taking a module that has an exam, it is essential that you take notes in lectures. There is always required reading but if there is an exam the more information you have the better. Make sure you know names and dates and some quotes: a certain amount are essential to pass. Do not sit up the night before, cramming all your information in. On the other hand, do not revise too far in advance because it will be forgotten. Set a time plan so that you include everything.

Different kinds of assessment may require different styles of study. For example, a module with an essay at the end will probably require careful, in depth work on the essay over the course of the module. Different skills may be called for by a module with an exam at the end. My tips are:

  1. Make sure you have covered all sections of your syllabus
  2. Organise all your notes in an orderly fashion for fast referencing during revision
  3. Set up a revision timetable that covers revision on all your exams
  4. Find a study aid that helps you to remember facts. Mine is putting four A4 sheets of paper together and drawing large root maps [or spider-grams] with key phrases and quotes
  5. Have an efficient amount of sleep before the exam day
  6. Allow enough time to organise any equipment you need and to travel comfortably to where the examination is to take place

Study Group

Set up a study group with a few other students in your lecture group. This is also a good way for meeting people, and making new friends.

Exam Workshops

You may have the opportunity to go to an examination workshop. You could also read a book on exam technique.


Make sure you know the pattern of assessment (exam form or format). For each exam you are taking, try to find out:

  • How many questions will you be expected to answer?
  • How many questions do you need to answer in order to pass?
  • How many questions will you have to choose from?
  • What can you expect the questions to be about?
  • What form will the answers be in? Do you write a short essay, just short answers, or will they be multiple choice questions?
  • How long will the exam be?
  • Is the examination seen or unseen?
  • Are you allowed to take anything into the exam?
  • Will the exam be the same form as previous years?
  • Can you get copies of previous exam papers to work from?

Handbooks and lecturer's advice

Take note of what lecturers suggest. They may give advice about how to get the best results. There may be advice in the handbooks.

Quite often the lecturer will give you some indication of possible exam questions so that you have more chance of revising the most relevant information.

Past Papers

It is a good idea to look for past papers and have group discussions in order to answer the questions. In most cases, examiners only make slight changes from year to year. Quite often questions are just reworded. By comparing questions from year to year you can get a good idea about the substance the examiners are looking for and prepare yourself to recognise the questions you have revised for when you sit the exam.

Copies of past exam papers are often kept in University libraries. You may find it helps to group questions from different years by topic rather working through the papers year by year. You might, for example identify all questions on one topic from the past five years. Then move on to another subject.


Nightmares start when you realise you have to do an exam. Calm down. The main thing is to prepare yourself by knowing, understanding and revising the texts. It helps to go to lectures. Lectures tend to provide a better overview of the work, and help you break through to understanding the actual text.


Keep up with your workload on a weekly basis, and do as much further reading as possible. When it comes to the examination preparation, all you need to do is revise what you already know, instead of having to learn lots of new material. I hope this is helpful and I will try to take some of my own advice.


As you start a module you are already embarking on your revision for your exams. As you do your lectures take notes and write them up when you get home or in the library. By the end of your module you will have a set of revision notes.

"Make sure that you take good notes, so that you can understand them at a later date". "Ensure that all notes taken during seminars and lectures, to be used for revision, are correct".

I am preparing for my first exam at the moment. I am trying to form notes that are strict and relevant to the subject area, to help me in my revision and in the exam.


A good strategy if you want to succeed in examinations is to be organised from the beginning of your studies. Make sure you understand what you read. Take notes from your reading. Explain what you have read in your own words. Study regularly and avoid wide gaps in your studies so that, when the exams come, the only thing you have to do is to call to mind what you have already learnt.


Do the required reading as you do the topics. Regularly refresh your memory. Building on what you have already done is easily the best method for exam time. Otherwise you will be trying to cram lots of information into your brain all at once. Do not stress out. You can only do your best.

If you keep up with the work at the beginning of the course, you will find it a lot easier when it comes to revision time.

What you need to do for exams is prepare. If you make notes from the start and learn everything as you go along then you are already ahead of others.

Prepare well in advance. Plenty of revision will also be needed before the exam. Try to avoid panicking and relax as much as possible.

Clear the decks

Make sure that all work is completed for modules without exams, so that you can revise for the subjects that you have got exams for.


Start revising early as this is connected to good time management skills. Allow plenty of time to revise. Do not leave anything to the last minute as it is really not beneficial.

My three rules are revise, revise, revise.

How long can you work productively at one go?

I feel many short study sessions may be a better way to study than mammoth sessions. Read the text and take notes. Look at past exam papers.

I plan to do three or four hours revision a day, having regular breaks and spreading it out during the day.

"Observe the time of day you work best". "I think the best time for study is first thing in the morning before I have washed or had breakfast". "I would not study after 9.30pm".

Stop work every hour for a break. Get up, walk around, have a cup of something


I think the key factor with revision is planning a revision timetable and getting down to it. I suppose as with most studying it is about time management.

Include spare days in your revision plan which you can use to catch up on any topic that needs extra attention.

"A revision plan is useful, but I would not let it become an obsession". "Be flexible; you may need to alter your plan along the way" "Set realistic targets for yourself and do not be too unforgiving with yourself if you fail to achieve all your goals."

Revise your subjects equally. Do not avoid your weaker subjects nor be overconfident about your stronger ones.

I would not revise more than two subjects a day.

Where to revise

Find the most productive place to work

Identify your space for intensive study and work there

Work wherever you can concentrate

How to revise on the bus

Cards and Bullet Points

It is useful to make small note on cards which you can refer to at any time, be it in the train or bus, and scan through the main points.

I like to use different coloured pens and to make spider diagrams when revising.

I use index cards to condense my revision notes down and then just focus on bullet points and key words to prompt my memory. I have met people who can memorise an exam answer, but I think most people will perform best if they prepare well and just memorise a list of points. At the beginning of the exam you can jot down the points for each question you prepared on the answer sheet. This stops you forgetting points for other questions whilst answering the first.

Spider Tests

You could test what you know on each topic with a Spidergram. Write a topic name in the middle of a sheet of blank paper and build a spidergram around it by adding ideas as they come to you and drawing lines to show how they relate to one another. When you have finished, compare your ideas to those in your revision notes to see what you missed.

Practice Answers

Using past papers, or questions you believe may be asked, you can prepare answers. Make an outline of the answer. It needs to be detailed enough to be useful and simple enough for you to remember. Try writing an answer on the basis of the plan. Alter the plan if it turns out to be over complicated or too simple, or if you can see ways to improve it.

Timed Answers

You could practice writing answers to questions within the time allowed. You could even set your own mock exam.

Spoil yourself and Reduce Anxiety

"Be selfish. Try to arrange life at exam time so you have as few stressful distractions as possible". "I would not worry about cleaning the oven during exam time".

If possible, I like to look at the exam room and environment before the day of the exam.

Sleep well once you know where you are going

The night before the exam have a good sleep, but, before that, make sure you know the room number and time for exam.

Have a good meal before the exam.

Prepare everything the night before. Wear comfortable clothing. Gentle exercise might relax you. Arrive in good time

Pen, Pencil and another pen, etc...

When taking examinations every individual is different so it is difficult to advise what would be of benefit. However, just try to make sure you understand the topic you are being examined on and go prepared, i.e. Pen, Pencil and another pen, etc...

Calm Down

Do not panic. During the exam:

Listen carefully to the invigilator


Read the instructions on the exam paper

Read the questions carefully. It is quite common for questions to make no sense the first time a panicky student reads them. Relax. Read them carefully again on the assumption that the ones you prepared for are there, but worded differently.

Identify the questions you think you will answer

Use the time given sensibly.

Read each question carefully and remain focused on it throughout your answer.

Make a plan. Structure your answer paying attention to the exact wording of the question.

If you run out of time on a question it is usually best to go on to the next question. Always answer the full number of questions required. It is a feature of examinations that the full number of required questions answered poorly gets a better overall mark than an inadequate number of brilliant answers.

If you have left a question unfinished you may be able to find the time to come back to it.

Individual approaches

I prefer essays and coursework to exams. The way I see exams is that you learn something parrot-fashion the week before, scribble it down in the exam - and have forgotten about it by the following week. Exams test your memory, but the things you remember (like names and dates) are not always useful to remember. More interesting and valuable things can be learned by the research for coursework.

What I usually do for exams is to gather lecture notes, handouts, and information from books and write out all the bits that I are relevant on big sheets of paper. I use spider diagrams and sub-headings: anything that makes learning it a bit easier. Then I read it over and over. And then I try writing it out without looking at the paper.

I am currently revising for my first examination. There are several methods I have been using to ensure good results. They include choosing only relevant information, then braking that information down into keywords and bullet points. The use of keywords and bullet points also helps to create structure, which is helpful, if one needs to write an essay for an examination. It is also useful to revise for short spells rather than for long periods, this helps to absorb information. I have also found it useful to practice writing down on a piece of paper the knowledge I have of my subject. This shows me what my strong and weak areas are.

A final thought

Remember that exams are not the be all and end all - they are just one aspect of your student life.


This page started with advice from students on a first year module. I added suggestions from a web page created by Learning Support at Middlesex University and suggestions from other sources. The first year students contributions are identified by green buttons. Suggestions from the Learning Support page and other sources have blue buttons. The introduction to the Learning Support page says: "The following tips on revision have been gathered from lecturers and students past and present. People learn in different ways, some of the advice is contradictory. Use whatever works for you; discard the rest."

The student contributors to this page include:

Shama Abraham, Hibo Ahmed, Marcella Amado-Taylor, Saba Bahta, Tom Bayman, Charlotte Best, Samantha Chase, Vanessa Christian, Baliktsioglou Christos, Melissa Claydon, Joanna Davidson, Natasha Davy, Camelia Ellis, Rachel Evans, Redempta Friday, Alexandra Glyde, Mandi Goldberg, Deborah Goulden, Georgina Haynes, Tariq Hameed, Michelle Jones, Tim Knight, Danny Liecier, Anna McGilvray, Neil McGrath, Allison McLaren, Halima Jayda Mian, Margaret Ndagire, Garreth Thomas Phelan, Charlotte Rose, Maria Ward, Louise Warriar

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