Exam Success: Top Tips from Brilliant Blogs

Exam Hall - photo by jackhynes

I heard from an A-Level student a few weeks ago and they wanted some help for revision and taking exams.

I want to do well but I don’t know how to do well in exams.  Coursework’s fine, but I always fail exams.  What am I doing wrong?

I compiled a list of links, with my favourite tips from each article.  My wife and I added some of our own words of advice for the student.  That help comes after the main list.

This advice is just as good for uni students, so here it is for you too.  Each post is worth reading in full if you have the time:

Dumb Little Man – 10 ways to keep that back to school “fresh start” enthusiasm all semester
Top Tip: GET ENOUGH SLEEP

“Staying up late at night watching TV, goofing off or drinking might be fun at the time, but leads to excessive tiredness during classes. It’s tough to be enthusiastic if you are dead tired. So pick a time your fun and serious side can agree on, then stick to it. Set a reminder on your cellphone or computer if you need to. Just get some sleep you look tired.”

Personal Development Blog – Tips for Students
Top Tip: GET ORGANIZED

“I now understand though that getting organized is an inevitable step towards successful graduation. Time management, organizing your study room, effective filing of all the useful information and keeping track of all the lectures and exams to attend are only a few of the ways to get your life organized.”

Mindful Ink – 10 Tips for Tougher Times
Top Tip: TIDY

“I learned that when all my stuff was thrown all over the place, I couldn’t find everything I needed. In turn, this made me lose track of what was going on and I would lose a lot of time in the process. When I started my second year at university, I vowed not to have those untidy moments any more. My tidy strategy was a great success and my study seemed to fit into place a lot more easily. My advice is:

  • Use different coloured folders for different subjects/courses/books/essays
  • Have a stationery drawer and keep it stocked up
  • Set aside a part of your room (even if it’s just a section under the bed, or on your highest bookshelf!) that is dedicated to keeping all your uni work together and in one place. Then you won’t need to tear the entire room apart if you lose something. Oh, and you’re less likely to lose it in the first place…”

ProtoScholar – Top 10 test-taking tips
Top Tip: BRAIN DUMP IF YOU HAD TO MEMORIZE THINGS

“…for example, if you memorized a bunch of formula’s, write them down immediately on scratch paper or the test itself.  Then you can focus on using them instead of remembering them.”

The Students’ Blog – Guide to Acing Your Exams
Top Tip: GET A PLANNER

“When you get your syllabus for each class, transfer every single deadline into your calendar—reading assignments, quizzes, term papers, study group meetings and exams. Being able to look at one book or screen instead of four or five different stapled packets of information (each organized differently) will give you a better overview and idea of when your busy days and weeks will be, and you’ll be a lot less likely to miss a deadline.”

Student Hacks – How To Prepare Yourself for Final Exams: 5 Smart Ways
Top Tip: SPEND TIME STUDYING FOR THE TESTS THAT CARRY THE MOST WEIGHT

“Not all final exams and papers are weighted the same. Make sure you know what percentage each paper or final exam is worth to your grade. That will give you some perspective on how much time you should designate studying for each class.”

Lifehack.org – How to Find the Hidden Bias in a Test
Top Tip: FIND THE HIDDEN BIAS IN A TEST (the whole article)

“Keep in mind that these biases are usually mild. They should serve as a guide for where you can emphasize study time, but can’t be used as a blueprint to ace a test you know nothing about (in most cases, at least).”

Surviving College Life – Final Exam Survival Tips
Top Tip: GET CREATIVE

“Everyone has a different studying style – some people are visual learners, others are better at listening. Find out what works for you, and do it. This can be anything from putting sticky notes with hard-to-remember facts on your computer monitor, to listening to podcasts of lectures while you eat breakfast.”

Gearfire – Tips to make your finals/papers just a bit better
Top Tip: READ BACKWARDS SENTENCE BY SENTENCE, SLOWLY, IN YOUR HEAD

“Sitting in the exam hall you probably can’t read it out loud, but if you read it to yourself in your head backwards you can still catch some problems that you missed during the first pass.”

Student Hacks – How to Cram for Final Exams
Top Tip: DIVIDE UP YOUR TIME

“Figure out what you actually have time to do. Tally up your total study hours and estimate how much time you’ll need to spend studying each major concept, allotting the most time to the material you are least familiar with. Tackle the most unfamiliar concepts first, while you’re still fresh, and save the material you know best for last. If you need to re-allot your time, donate more minutes to the lowest-ranked material to make sure you understand it fully.

Work steadily, but take frequent five- or ten-minute breaks to conserve your energy and avoid getting overwhelmed. Take a walk; get a snack and some fresh air. Move around often to prevent fatigue.”

Pick the Brain – 12 Tips to Improve Your Study Habits Next Term
Top Tip: MORNING REVIEW

“Wake up a half hour earlier and spend that time reading from your textbook. If you’ve already read the chapters, spend the time rewriting the key concepts into a notebook. A half-hour out of your day in the morning probably won’t create a huge impact on your schedule, yet over the entire term it can be invaluable in boosting your understanding.”

Degree Directory – How to Cram for a College Exam
Top Tip: USE A TEXTBOOK WISELY

“Reading an entire textbook is not an effective way to cram for an exam. Instead, try concentrating on the summaries that appear at the beginning and end of each chapter. Chapter end questions, illustrative examples and other sections that are located throughout the book may also prove helpful.” [Martin's Note: If it doesn't make sense, look up the words and concepts you don't understand.  The glossary, a dictionary, or a basic Wikipedia search will probably be fine.]

— 

MY WIFE’S TIPS

  • Use flashcards.
  • Use visual cues, such as drawing diagrams and putting them up on the wall, even if you’ve just copied the picture from a book or something.  Your own copying down of the diagrams will help you retain more info than using the book alone.

MY TIPS

  • Get hold of past exams to get a feel of what’s required and to see how well you can cope with previous question papers.
  • Find sources that ‘speak’ to you.  Two books with exactly the same information may be written in differing styles.  One may work for you, while the other is rubbish.  Don’t give up on a subject just because you find a book difficult to read.  See if another book does speak to you better.
  • Read the same points in different sources – As I said, the same information can be written down in many places.  Cement that knowledge in your head by reading your own notes, several different books on the same subject, companion websites, and so on.

Also, here are a couple of past posts from TheUniversityBlog to help with revision and exams:

10 + 2 Keys to Sucess
Making revision work: When less can be more

Finally, here’s one great link that I didn’t spot until after I’d spoken to the student.  An article well-worth mentioning now:

Study Hacks – Fixed-Schedule Productivity: How I Accomplish a Large Amount of Work in a Small Number of Work Hours

Lots of work in little time?  That’s good for anyone who needs to revise.  In fact, use it for any aspect of your work.

Best of luck in all your exams this year.

12 comments

  1. great advice there, my site (shown on my name link) was made for students to give them information. Notice youve got spammers you should put in a random code you have to type in to submit :)

  2. I had just started my revision before i thought about coming to TUB to check for any advice on exams and revision, glad i did some very useful links and advice! Thanks!

  3. @Tyrone, I moderate comments myself. If I’ve let spam through, my bad.

    @MC, that’s great. Best of luck reivising. And I’m glad to see I’m not the only person who sometimes calls the site TUB!

  4. Maybe it was already covered in one of the sites you linked to, but what’s helped me the most, besides doing the things you suggest, is to regularly go over information I need to remember. Reading it once is almost never enough, so if I schedule multiple times to re-read – or even better: apply – the stuff I have to remember I find that really helps me. Thanks for a great article.

  5. @Mike, ‘apply’ is a good word to remember. Read, re-read, then read again…you remember what you’re reading.

    Apply the information in context…you understand what you’re reading.

    I’m happy the links helped you. There’s a fine bunch of helpful people out there!

Comments are closed.