5 ways to Ace an Exam
18th Feb 2019
By Jemma Slingo

As exam season creeps ever nearer, here are 5 tips to optimise your revision time, improve your research and hopefully get better grades.

  • Past papers are your friend. When it comes to revision, nothing beats a good past paper. Whether you are doing an English degree or a Computer Science course, it’s always helpful to familiarise yourself with the style of past questions and get to grips with any weird phrasing. Plus, setting exams is tedious, examiners get lazy, and there are only so many questions you can ask about American poetry — you might get lucky and stumble across a question very similar to one that comes up in the real thing. If nothing else, unearthing terrible past papers from the archive makes you grateful you didn’t sit your finals a few years earlier….
  • Plan for general topics that are likely to come up. This one is more for arts students than for engineers and mathematicians. When you are writing revision essays, think about the broad topics that are likely to be covered (and have been covered in the past). Nobody wants to experience the mind numbing panic of opening an exam paper only to find the one question they can answer on Plato hasn’t shown up. I speak from experience. Give yourself options and be flexible. Mind-maps can be handy for this, because they help you spot connections between ideas and themes which you might otherwise have missed.
  • Learn the information well enough to be able to answer questions fast. Although you may think you know the dates of the Napoleonic Wars, exam halls are very good at driving information out of people’s heads. Rote learning is boring but necessary, and flashcard apps like Quizlet and Brainscape are good at drilling the information into your brain. If you can, rope in an unsuspecting relative and get them to test you. Nothing beats some family bonding.
  • Read examiners reports. Examiners reports are always a brutal read, littered with the failed endeavours of past students. However, once you get over the fact that examiners think every student has the IQ of an amoeba, they actually contain some useful clues. If you know how people went wrong in the past, you might escape the common pitfalls (and avoid gracing the pages of next year’s report…).
  • Plan your time before you get into the exam and practice under time constraints. This one can be hard when it’s just you, the library and a clock. Anyone who can force themselves to sit a three hour mock, unsupervised, and not start day dreaming/googling photos of Meghan Markle two hours in has my infinite respect. However, if you can manage it, it takes a huge amount of the pressure off on the day. Some universities host mock exams with a proper invigilator and these are invaluable. Alternatively, get a group together and force yourselves to keep to time — peer pressure can work wonders.

Hope you enjoyed this blog!

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