Preparing for Exams
Start early to avoid last minute panic
It's never too early to start! The following tips will help you to prepare for exams from Day 1 so that you can avoid last minute panic:
- Read the unit outline and objectives at the beginning of the study session.
- Find a note-taking technique that works for you so that your notes are meaningful.
- Keep up with the set readings and highlight, bookmark or take notes as you read.
- Take brief notes before, during and after every lecture.
- Complete all study guide and text book activities.
- Make a habit of reading back over your notes at the end of each week to help memory recall.
- Pay attention to directions given in class and online and make a note of topics most emphasised.
- Talk to other students, both past and present, about exams and make use of mentoring programs.
Examples of different note-taking techniques:
Know what to expect so that you are calm, focused and confident on the day
It is important that you know what to expect in exams so that you are calm, focused and confident on the exam day. Be sure to find out from your lecturer what type of exam questions to expect. If possible, practise answering past exams – you can find past exams for many units on the SCU Library website, or make up your own.
Things you should know before exam day:
- The date, time, location, duration and weighting of your exam.
- Content to cover in your revision sessions, e.g. topics, concepts.
- The format of the exam and any special instructions.
- How long it takes you to hand write set tasks legibly – time yourself!
- Any special equipment or materials permitted or required, e.g. calculator, dictionary, textbooks or other permitted material (for open book exams).
Things to remember on the day of the exam:
- Arrive early so that you have time to get settled.
- Listen carefully to instructions given by exam supervisors.
- Scan the entire paper so you can plan your response.
- Read every question carefully and at least twice.
- Underline or highlight key words.
- Calculate exactly how much time you have for each question or section.
- Decide on the order to answer questions, e.g. start with questions you are confident with.
- Attempt all questions and avoid getting stuck on difficult questions.
- Spend a few minutes planning an outline for essays and short answer questions.
- Jot down any relevant notes/prompts as soon as they come to mind.
- Get the key points down.
- Use dot points if you run out of time.
Types of exam questions:
Use effective study strategies to increase memory recall
- Organise study topics into manageable chunks.
- Gather all related notes, readings and other materials for each topic.
- Prioritise your study content: from essential to desirable.
- Set out a study schedule and stick to it. Use weekly planner.
- Revise in short sessions often, rather than one long session.
Get involved and challenge yourself!
- Set goals for each study session.
- Focus on learning, not just memorising.
- Read actively:
- highlight key points
- use diagrams/maps/charts
- make up visual or audio cues
- condense notes to a set of key words
- test yourself and practice writing within a time frame
- Get together with others and discuss exam topics.
Use interactive revision techniques!
- Overlearn to improve recall: after revising, test yourself immediately and look for gaps in your knowledge, then recap the next day and review a week later.
- Use reading strategies that enhance recall.
- Chunk or cluster information to expand memory recall: create hierarchies of information using mind maps, pyramids, flow charts, tables etc.
- Find creative ways to make learning meaningful: use colours, diagrams, rhymes, analogies etc.
- Teach someone else: practise explaining key points in your own words to someone else.
- Create memory triggers: move from notes to points to key words to mnemonics.
Know how to overcome common dilemmas in exam situations
- Use a relaxation technique e.g. taking five long deep breaths.
- Think positively, e.g. "I can do this!"
- Jot down any words that relate or come to mind (this may prompt your memory).
- Don't panic. Move on to the next question and return later.
Using exam time poorly
- Give yourself exact time limits and keep an eye on the clock.
Writing everything you know about a topic but not answering the question
- You need to answer the question – analyse what is being asked of you.
Abandoning appropriate structure
- Your writing needs to be organised, clear and legible.
Avoidable mistakes that can lose you marks
- Arriving late which can cause anxiety, misreading questions, missing sections, not complying with instructions.
Find ways to relax and stay calm to improve performance in the exam
Anxiety and tension can sometimes inhibit memory recall, so it is helpful to learn some relaxation techniques prior to your exams. Student Support Services at SCU can provide useful information on services and support available to students and the centre often runs relaxation workshops prior to exams. Alternatively, search the internet for information on breathing and visualisation techniques.
- Read unit outline and objectives in Week 1
- Find a note-taking strategy that works for you
- Keep up with set readings and complete all set tasks and activities
- Take notes before, during and after all lectures - review these at the end of the week
Know what to expect
- Know the exam day, time, location, duration, weighting and special instructions
- Know the exam type - is it a multiple choice, short answer, essay or open book exam
- On exam day, arrive early, read questions carefully, calculate exactly how much time to spend on each question, start with questions you feel confident with, get the main points down
Use effective study strategies
- Organise study topics into manageable chunks and gather all relevant readings and texts
- Set out a study schedule and stick to it
- Revise in short sessions, often, rather than one long session
- Set study goals and reward yourself
- Read actively - use highlighter, write summaries, cluster information into hierarchies, maps, tables, flow charts, pyramids etc. and use diagrams and colours
- Overlearn by revising, then test yourself soon after, recap the next day and review a week later
- Teach someone else everything you know about a topic
- Move from notes to summaries to points to memory triggers
Know how to overcome common dilemmas
- Not complying to exam rules - arrive early and listen carefully to instructions
- Going blank - take a few deep breaths, look for memory triggers or move on and return later
- Using exam time poorly - allocate exact time limits to all questions and watch the clock
- Writing everything you know about a topic but not answering the question - read the question
- Abandoning structure - know the expected format e.g. essay, and be concise and legible
Find ways to relax and stay calm
- Learn some relaxation techniques prior to the exam or contact Student Support at SCU
Updated: 27 November 2013