Exam Preparation

Each time exam season approaches, the question of how to prepare becomes a hot topic. Having completed hundreds of different academic exams and advised thousands more students on how to get through the exams, I have a fairly deep insight into this topic. Here are my top three tips on learning to love exams and how to master them.

  1. Review past exam papers: A previous exam paper is essentially a gold mine for learning what to expect from an upcoming exam. You can use them to get a good grasp of the scope and nature of questions you can expect to be asked. Past exam papers are also a perfect resource for conducting self-tests and preparing your notes in the lead up to an exam.
  2. Construct a set of ‘cheat sheets’: Cheat sheets are essentially a small set of notes (perhaps just 2 pages) that you wish you could take into the exam with you. Research has shown that the process of preparing such notes are a powerful tool that facilitates learning. In preparing such notes, you are forced to review all examinable topics and record all the definitions, algorithms, ideas, lists, solved problems, etc… that you will need to remember and reproduce during the exam. Moreover, since the amount of space you have to record such notes is limited, you inevitably have to memorise the things that you don’t have room to record. Start with ten or so pages of notes, memorize some, rewrite them on half as many pages, and repeat until your notes are reduced to a couple of pages. To help with your concentration and memory, check out this tip sheet from the UNE counsellors.
  3. Reframe the exam as a positive experience: Exams are what give the learning experience rigour. Exams and tests help us build character and confidence. You should view the examination process as an opportunity to prove not only to the examiners but to yourself that you know and understand the content.

For more information on these ideas and for many other tips and tricks to help you with exam preparation and performance, check out the Academic Skills Office fact sheets: Preparing for exams and Exam day strategies or contact the ASO

By Martin Collins, Associate Lecturer, Academic Skills – Learning and Teaching Transformation (LaTT)

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