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Tips and guidance on how to study for exams.

What's the best way to study for exams? 

Students sometimes ask: 'What's the best way to study for the exams?' That's a difficult question to answer as there isn't really any one 'best way' to study.

The right way to study is the way that works best for you. But what if your old way of studying isn’t working for you?

As Albert Einstein famously said: 'Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.' So if you haven't been all that successful in the past it makes sense to do things differently.

What to do a few days before your exam

This page outlines what you can do a few days before the exam to reduce your stress levels and increase your chance of passing. 

What you should do

  • Check the date and the time of the exam. Even if you've checked this before, check it again, just to make 100% sure.
  • Check the exam venue – do you have the correct street address?
  • Make sure you know how to get to the exam venue. These are things you need to think about:
    - If you’re using public transport, do you have a recent bus or train timetable?
    - If you’re driving, where will you park? 
    Perhaps visit the venue and check it out. You'll feel more relaxed on the day of the exam if the venue is familiar to you.
  • Work out how long will it take you to get to the exam venue - writing an exam is stressful enough, you don't want the added stress of arriving late! Once you know, build in a little extra time to ensure you get there in plenty of time.
  • Make a checklist of everything you'll need during the exam, e.g. pens (take an extra one!), a calculator, a watch, water, etc. Also check to see if there's anything you’re not allowed to take in with you? (See 'Approved examination material' below.) If there is, either leave it at home or decide where you'll put it during the exam.
  • Make sure you have your admission slip and a photo ID. You'll have to show your admission slip and photo ID to the supervisor before you're allowed to sit the exam.
  • Read through your notes or mindmaps again and consolidate what you know but try to avoid learning new work. Remember: Cramming at the last minute often results in confusion and additional stress.
  • Make sure you get enough sleep.

What to do the day before your exam

This page explains what you can do the day before the exam to reduce your stress levels and increase your chance of passing.

Studying for exams is very important but there are also other things you can do to increase you chance of passing. They might seem unimportant now but exams are stressful and this can cause us to forget simple things. And you don't want any additional stress just before writing an exam.

This is what you should do the day before the exam

Pack the bag/briefcase you're going to take with you

Do a final check that you've got everything you need:

  • Your admission slip
  • A photo ID
  • A pen; include a few spare pens and a pencil
  • Your calculator (if required)
  • A watch, water, tissues, a few lollies to suck, etc.

Put out the clothes you’re going to wear

  • Plan to wear something comfortable.
  • Make sure you wear layers so that you’re prepared whether it’s hot or cold in the exam venue - you can often start to feel the cold when sitting still for a few hours.

Make sure you've got enough cash or a card

  • Do you know what the bus or train fare is?
  • Have you've got enough petrol in your car to get you to the exam and back?
  • Have you got money for parking?

The evening before the exam

  • Eat a good, healthy meal. (Avoid coffee, caffeinated drinks and/or alcohol - you want a good night's rest.)
  • Go to bed early.
  • Prepare a protein-packed but light breakfast.
  • Plan a special treat for yourself after the exam!


This section explains what you need to do in the exam venue.

Before you start writing

There are a few things you need to think about before you start writing.

Check that

  • you don't have anything with you that you shouldn't have. Leave everything where directed by the invigilator/supervisor.
  • you've turned your mobile phone off.

Reading time

  • All students are given 10 minutes reading time before the exam starts. You may not write anything during reading time.
  • Use this time to read through the whole paper slowly and carefully.

Feeling stressed?

  • If you start feeling stressed, concentrate on your breathing and take regular, slow, deep breaths.
  • Take a sip of water, concentrate on what the water tastes like and feels like; imagine the water washing away all the stress, leaving you feeling calm.
  • Tell yourself you’ve done what you could and all you can do now is your best. Don’t worry if you don’t believe yourself, just repeat it once or twice, slowly and calmly.

The questions

  • Check how many questions you have to answer.
    - Are any questions compulsory? 
    - Are there any choices?
  • If you don’t have to answer all the questions: 
    - Choose the ones you’re going to answer and put a tick next to each question you have to answer.
    - Draw a line through the questions you’re not going to answer. 
    - Choose questions about topics you know best, even if the questions seem hard.
  • You can answer the questions in any order as long as you number your answers correctly. 
    - Decide on the order in which you're going to answer the questions.
    - Write the numbers down in the order you're going to answer them; you can use the top of the question paper for this.
    - Remember to tick the questions off as you finish them.

Plan your time

  • If you haven’t already done so, plan your time, i.e. work out how much time you have for each question.
  • Write the amount of time you have for a question next to that question on your exam paper - and stick to the allocated time!

Reread the instructions

  • Make sure you know exactly what’s wanted - if you're not sure reread the question carefully.
  • Analyses of the question, i.e. identify the instruction, task and restricting words; underline them.

Essay-type questions

  • Before starting to write, brainstorm: Write down the key words and briefly plan the question.
  • Plan your question in your exam book but remember to draw a line through your rough notes when you've finished answering the question.
  • If you can’t finish a question, the marker will see what you planned to do and you may get a few marks for this.

While you are writing

Things to remember once you start writing

  • Tick off the questions as you complete them.
  • Check periodically to make sure you haven't left out a question, or part of a question.
  • Check the time every now and again to make sure you're still on track It's very important that you stick to your time allocation.

Try to relax

  • Don't forget to check your breathing - make sure it's slow and regular. Stop every now and then and take a few deep breaths.
  • Put down your pen every now and again and 
    - loosen up your fingers and your hand.
    - roll your shoulders.
    - circle your head once or twice.
    - move your arms and legs (make sure you don't disturb anyone else).
    - take a few sips of water.

If you get stuck

  • Make a note of how much time you still have for that question; write it down next to the question.
  • Tell yourself you'll get back to the question later.
  • Take a few deep breaths.
  • Leave a gap and start on the next question.

Once you've finished writing

If you have time left at the end of the exam, don't be tempted to sit back and relax, or hand your work in early - use this time to check your work. You'll be surprised how many times you find a mistake, or something you've left out.

Check that you’ve provided the information required

  • Have you written the numbers of the questions you've answered on the front cover of your exam book? The numbers go in the table in the bottom right-hand corner of the cover. Only fill in the first column ‘candidate question’, leave the other columns blank.
  • Check the other information on the front cover: Have you filled everything in? Is it correct?
  • If you used extra paper, check that you've written your name and student number on each page.

Check your answers

  • Use your ‘checking time’ to improve those answers that count the highest number of marks.
  • If you still have time, check the rest of the questions.
  • Read your essay-type answers through to make sure they make sense. 'Listen' to yourself as you read. Ask yourself: 
    - Have I answered the question?
    - Have I answered all the parts of the question(s)?
    - Have I covered all the main points?
    - Have I supported my claims with examples, reasons and results?
  • Check your spelling, grammar, etc, if you have time.
  • Try not to leave an answer blank, if you have time, write SOMETHING, even if it is a guess! (Unless, of course, you’ve been told that marks will be deducted for incorrect answers – check the instructions.)
  • Make sure you've drawn a line through everything you don't want the examiner to mark, i.e. your rough work.

And if you've finished checking and you still have time, go back and check your work again. Start at the end and work through to the beginning this time - you may just notice a few more mistakes.