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Preparing for exams

Guidance, approaches and techniques on how you can prepare effectively for exams.

Student independently revising for examinations in Virgil Building Learning Commons
Preparing effectively for exams to do the best you can

University guidance on the Semester 1 2021-22 assessment period

Please refer to the Academic Registry's information on exams and assessments for links to the exam schedule and where to find support and further guidance.

Planning your revision

The best way to ensure that your revision is successful is to plan your time effectively. Good time management can reduce stress during revision and exam periods. The following will help you to create a study schedule, manage your workload and prioritise your tasks:

You can also read our blog: Top tips for time management.

Don't procrastinate!

This may be especially useful if you are struggling with procrastination. Naturally, most people procrastinate occasionally. However, excessive procrastination can have a negative effect, so it’s important to be able to identify procrastination and recognise how to stop it.

Check your exam dates in advance

During the exam period, it is helpful to look at your exam dates well in advance, and plan out how you will structure your days to ensure you get all of your revision done. You may wish to use your Outlook Calendar to help with this, or you could create your own weekly planner. Make sure you read all of the information about your exams, including their format and duration.

You may find it helpful to list all of your exam subjects first and allocate how much time each one deserves. They won’t necessarily take an equal amount of time each - allow more time for the topics you find more difficult. Make sure that your plan is realistic so that you can stick to it.

Prepare for an online exam

You might find it useful to read our top tips for taking open book exams - preparation and on the day.

If your department confirms that you will have multiple choice question types you might find it useful to read our advice on mastering multiple choice questions.

Take a break

When revising, make sure that you take 5 or 10 minute rest breaks every hour. These are good opportunities for making food, exercising, or getting a bit of fresh air. Some time spent in the fresh air outside every day can be invigorating and help keep you motivated.

Where to revise

Being in an environment conducive to studying will help you to get the most out of the time you spend revising.

The most important thing is that you are comfortable and not bothered or distracted by your surroundings. This often means finding a good-sized and well-lit desk with a comfortable chair in a quiet room.

You can find study and revisions spaces to prepare for your exams with your course mates or independently in a number of places on campus or in the city centre, whether you're an undergraduate or postgraduate student.

Revision strategies

Before you start revising, make sure you have everything you need. This could include paper and stationery, your laptop, snacks, drinks, or perhaps even a sweater if you’re likely to get cold; you will know what works best for you.

Common methods

There are a variety of revision techniques and each person will have their preferences about which works best for them. You'll need to identify the techniques which enable you personally to grasp, consolidate, and retain the knowledge required for your programme.

Here is a list of common revision methods and tips:

  • Flashcards: Turn your notes into portable revision tools that you can carry around with you. You can write the summaries of key concepts on small cards and use these as a prompts for your memory. Looking at flashcards is a particularly productive way to spend ‘dead’ time when you can’t do much else, for example time spent travelling on a bus.

  • Memory aids: Using diagrams, mnemonics and memory hooks can help when trying to remember specific facts. Write things you are trying to remember on post-it notes and place these where they will be frequently visible, such as around your room or house.

  • Past papers: Testing yourself with past papers (available from the Library) under timed conditions will help you understand what is expected of you in the exam and allow you to practise your exam technique. It's very useful to know the format of the exam and the weightings of the questions - you can also ask your unit teacher about this.

  • Group studying: Some students find it helpful to meet with friends to discuss work and test each other. If you are having difficulty understanding a concept, talking it through with a course mate may help.

  • Talk to the teaching staff: Your unit teacher(s) may be able to offer revision classes, individual guidance, or recommend some helpful reading material.

  • Recording: If you learn well by hearing things, you could record yourself talking through your notes using a microphone, and then listen to it back a number of times to help you remember it.

  • Minimise stress: Plan your revision at a pace you can keep up with, making sure that you take enough time to eat, drink and sleep properly. Light exercise every day can also help to minimise stress. Make sure to fit in some time to relax too. Many people find it difficult to go to sleep immediately after revising, so an optimal time to relax would be right before bed; this could be as simple as reading a book for half an hour.

For further advice see our top tips for exam preparation.

Last-minute preparation

On the day of or night before an exam, time is short, but you can still make a difference to your exam performance if you continue to do what you can.

It is difficult to learn new things at the last minute since you will not have the chance to consolidate what you’ve understood. Instead, it can be more productive to concentrate on strengthening your existing knowledge. Use any notes and flashcards that you have made in your previous revision to trigger your memory and remind yourself of key information.

Don’t stay awake all night revising before a morning exam if you can avoid it; being exhausted won’t help your performance.

Maximise your ability to concentrate by drinking enough water to avoid dehydration and eating enough to give your brain cells the energy they need to function at maximum capacity. Avoid having too much caffeine from tea, coffee, fizzy drinks and energy tablets.

Combating nerves

It is important that you:

  • try to keep everything in perspective: the exam you are about to sit might seem like the most important thing in your life for the duration that you’re in the exam hall. But in the broader scheme of your life, an exam is usually only a very small part.

  • try not compare yourself to others: by the time the exam is about to happen, all you can do is aim to do your best. Recognise that following someone else’s personal goals may be unrealistic and lead to disappointment.

And remember if none of this seems to be helping and your anxiety levels continue to rise, help and support is available from Student Services.

The day of the exam

You will have had access to your personal examination timetable from approximately seven weeks before the assessment period begins. You are advised to check it carefully and regularly in case any changes are made.

Preparation the night before will help you arrive to your exam on time and as unstressed as possible, maximising your ability to concentrate. Check that you have the correct equipment and stationery that you need for the exam before you leave the house. Make sure that you re-read all of the information about your exams, including their format and duration.

After the exam

After you the exam is over, relax! It’s easy to fall into the trap of dwelling on how it went and discussing the questions with your course mates.

If you have other upcoming exams, your time may be better spent unwinding for an hour or two, perhaps by being outside, or eating. This will allow you to recover your energy and begin focussing on your next exam. This is an important skill, since it is not uncommon to have many exams close together.


If you have any questions, please contact us.