Great tips for exam preparation

Exam time is creeping up, so (if you haven’t already) it’s time to focus on getting ready to ace them! This post will share some great tips for making the most of your revision time so you can feel confident and get those good grades. By Michelle De Aizpurua and Emma Price.

No-one wants to be cramming for exams the night before, and it’s definitely not a good strategy for doing well on your exams. Planning your schedule for study well ahead of time ensures you don’t have to cram, and this will also reduce your stress levels.

Sometimes just thinking about how much studying you need to do can seem overwhelming. You might not know where to start and so you procrastinate and put it off. Many students make a start and then get distracted looking at memes and social media. There’s even a whole movement around ‘procrastibaking’ (at least you can keep your energy levels up by eating yummy baked goods!).

How can you avoid the evil powers of procrastination? It can be a challenge. Try breaking down what you need to do into manageable chunks, as focussing on these smaller tasks will make the work seem less daunting. There are also some helpful apps and extensions you can download which will block your access to some ‘time-wasting’ websites. Try out StayFocused for Chrome, or ColdTurkey for all browsers. Read about some other hacks for blocking distractions, such as using a work only browser, on Hack My Study.

Revision strategies

Rote learning vs meaningful learning

Memorising everything by repetition (rote learning) is not the most effective learning technique. You need to do more than just read over your notes or textbook. A better approach is to develop a deeper understanding of each topic and the connections between them. This is called ‘meaningful learning’ and research shows it is a better method for your exam study. By developing an understanding of the meaning of what you are learning, rather than just memorising the information, you can then more easily apply the knowledge to new situations and use it to solve problems.

There are a range of different study styles you can use to help you develop a meaningful understanding of the information. Some ideas include:
  • Making posters of main topic information - either note form or diagram. Post them up where you will see them often. Go over them regularly and then test yourself.
  • Record yourself talking about a topic on your smartphone and then listen back to it on the train or walking.
  • Form a study group. Talking through unit topics with your peers can be a great way to expand your knowledge, work through trickier ideas together, and revise what you already know. The very process of discussing with others is another way to help your brain retain information, as well as giving you some friendly support during the exam period.
These are scientifically proven memory devices for remembering information more easily. There are nine common examples of mnemonics, some of which you may already be using without realising it. Music mnemonics use a tune to help you remember information, just like the ‘ABC’ song for remembering the alphabet. In expression or word mnemonics, the first letter of each word you need to remember is used to make a phrase. A well known example of this mnemonic is for remembering the music notes on the lines of the treble clef - Every Good Boy Deserves Fruit. Other mnemonics involve making diagrams or models, using rhyme, note cards, images, outlines and connections between ideas.

Context and practice
Test yourself often. As well as any sample exam questions provided by your unit, you can also create your own tests by turning your unit topics into questions. You might want to try simulating exam conditions by getting rid of all distractions, putting away your notes and assigning a set amount of time to answer some questions on your topics.

One benefit of simulating exam conditions is that it utilises context-dependant memory. In psychology, this is the theory that your recall of information is improved if the context of how you learnt it is the same as the context in which you try to recall it. Godden and Baddeley (1975) demonstrated this concept by showing that people who learnt words underwater were more easily able to recall those words when they were underwater again, rather than on land. So, use this to your advantage and create a context that you can replicate in the exam to aid your memory! You could even try wearing a lucky sweater in study sessions and then wear it to the exam.

Visit the Library

If you are still feeling unsure about your exam preparation, attend a Library session. There are a few on offer and you can attend any session at any campus for free. Search for ‘exam’ on the class booking webpage.

And don’t forget a friendly Librarian or Learning Skills Adviser is available to speak with you at a drop in at the Library.

Above all, remember that effective study is about how much you learn, not how much time you spend hunched over your desk. So keep these tips in mind, and good luck!

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