For most university applicants, getting a place on the course you want means getting the right grades. And that means doing the best you can when it comes to crunch time – exams. Here are some tips on what you can be doing to give yourself the best chance.
One of the most important things to remember is that exams are tests of understanding, not memory. Examiners aren’t impressed by facts that have been regurgitated at random; they want to see that you really know what they mean. So as you revise, you should be aiming to deepen your understanding of what you’re been taught, rather than just trying to cram as much information into your head as you can.
Everyone wishes they had more time to revise, but the important thing is to plan the time you’ve got, and get the most out of it. Work backwards from your exam dates and decide when you’ll be revising which subjects; most people do best by giving more time to the topics that they find the most difficult.
Try to make sure that your revision plan is realistic. Divide your time into manageable chunks, and remember to include breaks in your plan, when you can get some fresh air or make a cup of tea.
Try to mix up the subjects that you revise: a change can be as good as a rest.
Finally, write out your plan and display it somewhere you can see it – but be prepared to change it if you need to.
Creating the right environment to revise in can make all the difference. Here are some suggestions:
There is no single right way to revise: different techniques suit different people. You might be the kind of person who prefers just to read through all your classroom notes from start to finish, or you may find it more helpful to make ‘mind maps’ from your notes, to help you see how everything fits together. Whatever approach you choose, you need to try to make revision an active process: you need to think about what you’re reading, rather than just letting your eyes glaze over.
Some little tricks that might work for you include:
And finally, make sure that you reward yourself as you go along. Whether you want to catch up with friends, or have a relaxing bath, you’ll absorb things more quickly if you give your brain an occasional break.
With the exam looming, you can still make a big difference to your chances of getting a good grade. Now more than ever it’s important to prioritise, and try to fill any obvious gaps in your knowledge. It’s probably too late, though, to try to learn a whole new topic.
And whatever you do, don’t stay up all night revising before an exam. It’s far more important that you’re feeling fresh and on top of everything you’ve learned, than that you stay up cramming in some last-minute facts, and feel exhausted in the exam room.
Lastly, remember to look after yourself as you revise. Talking to your friends, it might seem like revision is a competition to see who can stay up working the longest, or worry the most. But really, pushing yourself too far won’t help you. You need to take regular breaks, eat well, get plenty of sleep and exercise. And try not to get stressed – it’s only an exam, after all.
So the day you’ve been dreading is nearly here – the start of your exams. You may be feeling fairly stressed, but follow our simple guide and you’ll be fine.
Before you set foot in the exam hall, there’s a lot you can be doing to keep stress at bay.
Being organised will also help to keep the pressure off on the big day. Make sure you know exactly where you need to be, and at what time. Pack everything you’ll need to take, and have it ready the night before. Eat a proper breakfast, even if nerves mean you’re not feeling very hungry – you’ll need the energy. Try to avoid drinking too much tea or coffee, or other drinks that contain a lot of caffeine, since it can make you feel more stressed. Get to the venue in good time, so that you don’t feel flustered. And try to keep calm: if you feel yourself getting panicky, focus on breathing deeply.
It may sound obvious, but probably the best piece of advice when you’re actually in the exam is just ‘read the question.’ Don’t just dump everything you know onto the page, but tailor it to answer the question that you’ve actually been asked.
For longer, essay-style answers, it might help to begin by jotting down a brief structure that you intend to follow. This can help you to keep to the point and avoid waffling. And it can help to plan out your answer at the beginning, when your revision is freshest in your mind.
Do your best to keep your handwriting legible – in the heat of the moment it can be difficult to stop your writing turning into a scrawl, but the markers won’t be impressed if they can’t read it.
Try to stick to the time limits that you have for each question. It can be tempting to spend too much time answering questions where you’re confident that you know the subject, leaving you less time for those where you’re not so confident – but overall you’re likely to lose out.
Try to leave a little time at the end of the exam to check-through what you’ve written. Check spelling and punctuation, and make sure (if you’re answering maths or science questions) that you show all your workings. And if you realise that you’ve forgotten to mention an important point, but don’t have time to write it out in full, you can still gain extra marks by making brief notes on your exam script.
After it’s all over, it can be tempting to carry out a post mortem, comparing your answers with those of your friends. But once the exam is over there’s nothing you can do about it, and no amount of worrying is going to change what you wrote. Better to forget about it, move on, go home and start preparing for the next one.
We have also produced a PDF factsheet (PDF 173.0 kB) packed with essential revision tips for you to download, print and read at your leisure. From all of us at the University of Bristol, good luck!
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