When it comes to revising for your university exams, it's easy to get caught up in a bad routine - discover the best ways to prepare and give yourself a good chance of passing your exams with flying colours
When exam season arrives, nerves can soon kick in, which is no surprise given your performance is likely to have a significant bearing on your final degree result.
Rest assured that you're not alone, as many students experience anxiety and dread having to sit exams. The thought of not performing well on the day can be a huge concern.
However, organising your revision properly can help to ease such worries and ensure you're able to focus on making the most of the opportunity and achieving a great result.
Here are five simple steps that allow you to stay in control of the situation and reduce those feelings of overwhelming anxiety.
1. Understand yourself
Before you start revising, Dr Lisa Rüll, specialist study support tutor (disability) and author of the 'Studying Effectively' content at the University of Nottingham, advises students to take the time to understand themselves and how they learn.
This is because simply learning all the content won't necessarily help your revision to be more effective or result in a better exam performance. You need to:
- think about when you focus best, your living circumstances and your health needs
- consider what combination of notes, mind-maps, quizzes, or talking with others best reinforces your learning
- know your exams - the format, style of questions, and what skills, knowledge and understanding you'll be expected to demonstrate in your answers
- apply your subject learning to provide a sufficient, appropriate answer to the questions, such as by practising answers using past papers and sample questions both with and without access to notes or learning materials.
2. Start your preparation early
If you want to achieve the best score you can, lay the groundwork well in advance. Attend lectures and seminars throughout the year and be sure to keep up with weekly readings and coursework.
For most university-level exams you'll require a deep understanding of your chosen subject. It's expected that you know the concepts well enough to be able to confidently apply them to real-life problems and scenarios.
Therefore, revision will be much more effective, and far less stressful, if you've worked consistently throughout the year, keeping your lecture and further reading notes up to date.
Simply trying to cram a load of information into your short-term memory the night before an exam only leads to feelings of anxiety and panic, making it even harder for you to retain everything you're trying to remember. This often leads to disrupted sleep and further confusion.
One tried and tested revision technique is to work through past exam papers. You should be able to obtain these from your lecturers or university library.
Reading through these past papers can give you an insight into the types of questions that are likely to come up and enable you to develop a strategy on how best to prepare for them.
A way to test yourself is to have a go at answering them under timed conditions. This gives you a good idea of how confident you actually are at working with this material.
3. Revise a little, but often
It's important to strike a balance when it comes to your revision plan - don't avoid work, but don't overdo it either.
Evidence from numerous memory studies has revealed that distributed rather than concentrated learning sessions tend to work best.
This means that by revising a little, but often - for instance, by splitting up your revision sessions into one-hour slots across a number of days - is more likely to reduce your stress levels and enhance your learning experience.
Discover our tips on how to manage your time at university.
4. Eat and sleep well
Succeeding in exams isn't just about learning. It's also about looking after yourself during the days and weeks leading up to the event, in order to control your anxiety.
Try to ensure there's balance in your life, by making time to rest, socialise and keep on top of all the other things going on. This will also help to keep your stress levels down.
Remember that your physical health is just as important as your mental state, so make a point of eating well, keep hydrated, avoid too much coffee and sugary foods and be sure to do all you can to ensure a good night's sleep.
5. Stay calm and reward yourself
As the day of the exam draws closer, there are still ways of improving your performance. Imagine yourself sat in the exam room, being confident and providing good answers to the questions.
There are a range of methods you can use to keep calm on the day, including:
- playing music in the hours before the exam
- not turning the exam paper over straight away - breathe deeply, and then take a moment before looking at the questions
- starting with the easiest question first and planning your answers to build up confidence
- what to do if you freeze or go blank - look away from the paper, breathe in to the count of seven and out to the count of 11, then wait until you're calm before continuing.
It's also worth planning to reward yourself once the exam is over - whether it appears to have gone well or otherwise. By doing that, whatever happens, you'll still have something to look forward to. This can give you added motivation to perform on the day.
Find out more
- Discover ways to manage student stress.
- Read about looking after your mental health at university.
- Start to think about how you'll make the most of the summer break.