• Learning Point

10 tips to help you prepare for and excel in the next exam!

Updated: Dec 30, 2020

Preparation stage

Not sure how to prepare for your exams? With a little planning and discipline, you can easily get the most out of your study sessions. Here are some tips that will help you stay focused, retain information and take any test or exam with confidence.


1. Understand your end goal

This is arguably the most important step. You’ll have to ask yourself why you’re going to invest all this time and energy to do well.

Write down your goals. According to a Harvard business study, only 3% of the population writes down their goals. That 3% is thirty times as successful as those who do not (and three times more successful than those who have an unwritten goal in mind). Write down your goals every day. Make it the first thing you do when you wake up. Use this acronym (SMART) to set your goals:

How to Set goals (SMART)

2. Aim to begin studying at least one month in advance

Cramming is something that most students try to do, few do it admirably well, but somehow, cramming is still a wildly popular study strategy. According to an education expert, hurried memorization is a hopeless approach for retaining information. Research has shown that studying more often and spreading out the learning results in greater retention of knowledge. Set aside a bit of time each week to organize your notes (and thoughts) and think about what’s going well and what isn’t. Three to four weeks is the least amount of time you should be giving yourself to revise.


Train yourself to be better at time management. Set up mock schedules of your day and follow them like your school’s timetable (Use the table below to help plan out your time). Force yourself to get used to a strict schedule. A big part of doing well for exams is how you manage your time. Group your subjects from most to least difficult. Allot more hours of the day towards studying for the harder subjects.

3. Don’t multitask and remove all distractions

Despite our mistaken belief that we are able to effectively multitask, research has shown that multitasking is not something that our brains are able to do well. If you’re planning a study session, do that and only that. Put away your smartphone and stop checking your social media.


According to a Stanford study, people who are regularly bombarded with multiple streams of electronic information do not pay attention, recall information or effectively switch from one task to another as well as those who prefer to complete one task at a time. Put away those distractions and focus on the task at hand.


Practical Tips

Small tips that can have big payoffs if you adopt them.


4. Take short breaks

Taking a short 15-minute break every 75 to 90 minutes will give your body time to replenish the glucose it uses when you study. Get up and stretch or take a short walk. These short breaks will actually help improve your studying.

According to research done by MIT, humans naturally move from full focus and energy to physiological fatigue every 90 minutes. Working for 75 to 90 minutes takes advantage of the brain’s two modes: learning and consolidation. When people do a task and then take a break for 15 minutes, they help their brain consolidate information and retain it better.


5. Treat yourself with periodic rewards

It’s unrealistic to think you’ll be able to study non-stop, so build in breaks as a reward. Breaking up your study into bite-sized pieces will make the material more digestible and you’ll be more motived to get things done when there’s a potential reward in sight.

“Treats” may sound like a frivolous strategy, but since forming good habits can be draining, treats can potentially play an important role. When we treat ourselves, we feel energized and cared for. If you give more to yourself, you can ask more of yourself.


6. Fuelling your brain

Nutrition is also a big part of studying, so its important to factor in food into your study routine. Fruits and nuts are particularly good choices during exam periods. A healthy body breeds a healthy mind, so getting enough quality sleep and making sure you are well rested is also a huge factor

A nutritionist from the BBC suggested some examples of healthy food to help fuel your brain. These include wholegrain foods (wholemeal bread, soba noodles, brown rice) which may help improve concentration and focus, iron-rich foods (lean red meat, fish, chicken, eggs, nuts, dark leafy greens) to help red blood cells carry oxygen to the brain.


Exam stage

The dreaded exam day has arrived. Hopefully you’ve prepared and revised. But there’s still a few tips you could use in the exam room to improve your grades. Let’s get started…


7. Get a good night’s sleep

It’s always tempting to stay up late studying, but ideally, you should be getting eight hours of sleep the night before the exam. You’ve worked so hard so that little bit of extra time you put into studying the night before isn’t worth it as it takes away from the energy and focus you’ll need when taking your exam.

There’s a military technique that is said to help anyone fall asleep in just two minutes, and mastering it may help with getting that solid 8 hours of sleep you’ll need for your exam the next day. Watch the video below!


8. Manage your mindset

Most people feel anxious about exams, so when you’re feeling worried, direct that nervous energy into positive channels. Remember that some stress does have the benefit of helping you stay alert and focused. Don’t give your mind the time to drift, but gently guide it back to the task at hand such as planning your time or checking your work.

Everyone faces anxiety, and it is often viewed as a negative, but we can learn to channel the energy into something positive. A psychotherapist has shown that being anxious doesn’t always have to hurt performance and can instead be channelled and used as a tool.


9. Get to know your exam paper and managing your time

Don’t be in a hurry to start writing before you have checked through the paper. Read all the instructions and questions slowly and at least twice. Highlight the number of questions you must answer from every section.

Once clear on the questions you plan to answer, plan your time and quickly jot down how much time you plan to spend on each section or question, ensuring you leave yourself enough time at the end to check your answers.


10. Avoiding careless mistakes and final checks

One of the most common causes of lost marks is careless errors. Take for example, you forget to check if there are questions on both sides of the paper, you misread questions, you answer too few – or too many – questions, you label your answers incorrectly

This is of particular importance as many marks have been needlessly lost through simple oversights. Take special care in looking through all your answers and double check that all your answers make sense.

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