Self Improvement

Learn proven exam techniques

Neil’s proven tips and tricks that ensure exam success

  • List all the topics you need to revise and highlight the difficult ones. Tick them off as you work through them.
  • Don’t study for more than 4 hours in an evening or 7 hours in a day. Your brain will be tired and work less effectively. Try and do a minimum of 1½-2 hours a day.
  • To keep your motivation up, vary your revision method. ½ an hour of reading followed by ½ an hour of writing. Writing rests your mind by slowing it to the same pace as your pen.
  • Practise as many exam papers under exam conditions as you can. Being prepared will account for 70% of your performance on the day.
  • Most people tend to study only the things they find easy. A tactic to study difficult topics is to mix up hard and easy topics. So do something difficult for half an hour then reward yourself with something you like for half and hour and so on.
  • Have fun studying – try speaking into a recorder and then playing it back to yourself when you are tired. Tape recording your lecturer or explaining a topic to your friends. This will not only help you remember but will help you put it across to the examiner.
  • Condense your notes on to cards. Use diagrams and different coloured pens to help recall. Prompt your memory by grouping words and phrases together and by using mnemonics.
  • In the final period before the exam avoid stress and sleeplessness by a little recreation. This will enable you to return to your studies rejuvenated.
  • Play sport and get plenty of fresh air and exercise. If you can’t play your normal sport try a vigorous walk instead.


  • Eat at least one proper balanced meal a day. Avoid eating too much at lunch time as you feel sleepy in the afternoon. instead try fresh fruit or a light salad.
  • Before going to bed give your mind a complete break for half an hour, watch television, read the paper or a novel, talk about anything but work.
  • Ensure you know where the examination centre is and do a trial run to determine how long it will take you to comfortably get there. Make allowances for possible traffic hold-ups and security alerts on the underground.
  • Never burn the midnight oil before an exam. Do some light study for an hour or two and sort out your equipment you need to take with you – writing implements, watch, calculators, spare batteries, exam docket and have an early night.
  • On the exam morning get up early so you don’t have to rush, eat something because you need energy. If you can’t face breakfast, have some glucose sweets instead. Some students swear by ginseng.
  • Don’t cram in last minute revision by looking at manuals etc., as this will confuse you. Just go over your condensed notes on your way to the exam centre.
  • Don’t discuss the exam with anyone at the exam centre because there’s always someone who thinks they know what’s on the paper and if you haven’t revised it you will panic.
  • During the nerve racking wait while the exam paper is handed out keep cool by breathing deeply and thinking positively “I can pass this exam” “I will pass this exam”.
  • When you get the paper read every question three times highlighting the main points and scribbling possible key words of your answer in the margin. The first time you will notice all the questions you think you cannot do. On the second reading you will see glimmers of light and by the third you will begin to work out your answers. By this time you will have calmed down.
  • Plan your time allocation. If you allow 15 minutes reading and thinking time you will have 1.65 minutes per mark. Write down the time you will start and finish the question and stick to it at all costs.
  • Remember that the first 50% of the marks in a question are easy. Therefore you will score more for 5 questions answered reasonably than 4 questions answered well.
  • Check out and answer the question properly – understand every word in it. For example there is a big difference between being asked to describe something and being asked to explain something.
  • Many questions have more than one focus. Ask yourself what does the examiner want? If you’re asked to cover three aspects of a topic and you only deal with one, you can only get a third of the marks.
  • Don’t be afraid of the examiner. Remember that examiners want to award marks and are not eager to trip you up. Make their job easier by writing down what you know even if it means stating the obvious.
  • Watch your presentation and your writing. Use as much paper as possible and start every new question on a fresh page, generally black ink is easier to read than blue ink.
  • Attempt the easiest questions on the paper first but once you have started a question present it in the correct sequence i.e. Part A before Part B etc.
  • Make your script stand out by underlining key words and use of headings, diagrams and point format. Markers have 500 scripts to mark and only spend minutes on each question.
  • Keep it simple and don’t waffle. Use short words and abbreviations, leave some space after each answer in case you think of something later on.
  • Clear mental blocks by relating the question to any relevant work experience you might have and where possible give real-life examples from the media and professional journals.
  • Think your way out of problems. Examiners are testing your application of knowledge to specific areas rather than regurgitation of information. For discussion questions use the PNI technique – Positive Points, Negative Points and Interesting or Related Points.
  • Check each answer as you go along but leave some time at the end to quickly run through the paper. If you run out of time write a few points indicating to the marker how you would have answered the question. You will pick up marks for this.
  • Don’t waste a single minute of your exam time. Never go to the toilet or leave an exam early. Think, persevere and give your best for three hours. As Winston Churchill said “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, sweat and tears”.
  • After the exam, take off. Don’t hang around discussing the exam. It’s too late now to do anything about it but there’s still time to get ready for the next exam.
  • While you are waiting for the results, don’t fret and worry. Enjoy your spare time by doing all the things you sacrificed during studying. Spoil yourself!


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