Afro Alumni

Exams coming up? Here are some tips to help you prepare (HINT: it’s all in the lead-up)!

Preparation is key when it comes to readying yourself for exams, so here are some tips to help get you over the line:

1. Find out the kinds of exams you will be sitting

Different types of exams require different study strategies:

Essay exams
These usually focus closely on a couple of topics, so if you are sitting an exam that requires answers in essay form, find out how many questions you have to answer so you can focus your study. For example, if you have to answer four questions, select and study four topics in detail plus one extra.

Multiple choice exams
Multiple Choice exams usually involve a broad overview of a course, so tend to cover lecture and tutorial material. Use the course outline as a framework for study and to identify the main themes and concepts.

Open book exams
One of the biggest myths about Open Book exams is that you don’t need to study for them. While these exams don’t test your memory, they do test your ability to find and use information, solve problems and apply knowledge effectively. Make sure you are fully familiar with your texts and notes and know where to find necessary information.

2. Begin studying early to give yourself plenty of time to revise

Don’t leave it until the last minute. While some students do seem to thrive on last-minute ‘cramming’, it’s widely accepted that for most students, this is not the best way to approach an exam; it’s ineffective, because you’re taking in so much information at once that it’s impossible to memorise it all. You’ll hardly retain anything and will be tired and stressed when the time comes to actually sit the exam.

Set out a timetable for your study. Write down how many exams you have and the days on which you have to sit them. Then organise your study accordingly. You may want to give some exams more study time than others, so find a balance that you feel comfortable with.
– Revise your notes after each lecture so you have a clear and complete set to study from.
– Start doing more revising about four weeks before your exams.

3. Organise your time and take regular breaks

While you may think it’s best to study for as many hours as possible, this can actually be counterproductive. If you were training for a marathon, you wouldn’t try and run 24 hours a day! Likewise, studies have shown that for long-term retention of knowledge, taking regular breaks really helps.

Fill out a weekly study planner and use it to organise your time. Cross out the hours when you can’t study because of other commitments (e.g. lectures or work). Then plan one-hour time slots to use for exam revision.

Make use of short study times. Fifteen minutes can be ideal for revising lecture notes or looking through note cards. Use time spent on the bus or train to review your course materials.

Don’t study for longer than 60 minutes without a break. It’s better to study for short intense periods with sustained concentration than long blocks of time when you are tired and not working effectively.

Work out when you can study most effectively. Are you more alert in the morning or evening? When in your day can you find quiet time and space? Schedule study times that suit your personal rhythms. Everyone’s different, so develop a study routine that works for you.

Don’t study when you’re really tired. It’s better to get a solid night’s sleep after a short study period, than to push on until 2am. You won’t remember much and will be less effective the next day.

Try not to feel guilty about being out enjoying the sunshine instead of hunched over your textbooks. Remember Vitamin D is important for a healthy brain!

4. Organise your notes and your study space

Organise your subject material

Gather the materials for each course. Make sure you have a complete set of course notes and copies of any handouts, slides or visuals. Make sure they correspond to the topics in the course outline.

If you’ve missed lectures, find out whether they have been recorded and catch up. Borrow copies of lecture notes from another student and review any lecture slides and handouts available. Make sure that you have copies of any extra readings or materials distributed in classes. Once you have a complete set of course materials, you can study by topic.

Rewrite your notes

Rewriting your notes helps you to remember them. Don’t just copy out your original notes—you’ll end up simply memorizing the exact wording instead of the actual concepts. The key is to read and think about the contents of your notes, what you noted down and why (in what way it is important), how to express it most efficiently and memorably, and then re-write them in your own words.

When you finish studying a section of notes, ask yourself questions relating to the material to see if you remembered what you just read. It can help to answer your questions out loud as if you were trying to explain them to someone else.

Sort out what you don’t understand

Clarify the meaning of any words or concepts you don’t understand before trying to study them. If you aren’t clear about what information means, memorising it won’t help.
Prioritise the hardest subjects first in each study session. Allocate more time to studying the subjects you find most difficult.

Tip: At the start of a topic, challenge yourself to write down everything you already know about a topic – and then highlight where the gaps lie. Closer to the exam, condense your revision notes into one-page diagrams. Getting your ideas down in this brief format can then help you to quickly recall everything you need to know during the exam.

Prepare Your Study Space

Make sure you have enough space to spread your textbooks and notes out. Have you got enough light? Is your chair comfortable? Are your computer games out of sight?

Try and get rid of all distractions, and make sure you feel as comfortable and able to focus as possible. For some students, this may mean almost complete silence; for others, background music helps. Some of us need everything completely tidy and organized in order to concentrate, while others thrive in a more cluttered environment. Think about what works for you, and take the time to get it right.

Set study goals

Set yourself a goal for each study session to help you keep track of what you are revising. Write them down as soon as you begin your study session, or set them at the end of the study session for next time.

For example;

I will read through and summarise chapters 3 and 4.
I will work through five equations.
I will learn the main concepts that were discussed in lectures from weeks 2-4

5. Study to suit your learning style

If you’re a visual learner, diagrams and pictures can help you remember. Auditory learners should listen to lecture recordings or make their own recordings of notes that they can listen to later. If you are a physical person explain key ideas aloud to yourself while moving around. Explore different ways to help you remember key facts and to increase your understanding of the main concepts.

6. Practice on old exams

One of the most effective ways to prepare for exams is to practice taking past versions. This helps you get used to the format of the questions and familiarise yourself with the clue words. And – if you time yourself – can also be good practice for making sure you spend the right amount of time on each section.

7. Explain your answers to others

Use the people around you to your advantage! Explain an answer to a question to family, a friend, classmate, roommate etc. That will help you to get it clear in your head, and also to highlight any areas where you need more work.

8. Organise study groups with friends/classmates

Get together with friends/classmates for a study session. Swap practice exams and give feedback. Drill each other on study topics. As long as you make sure you stay focused on the topic for an agreed amount of time, this can be one of the most effective ways to challenge yourself.

9. Snack on ‘brain food’

Keep away from junk food! You may feel like you deserve a treat, or that you don’t have time to cook, but what you eat can really have an impact on energy levels and focus. Keep your body and brain well-fuelled by choosing nutritious foods that have been proven to aid concentration and memory, such as fish, nuts, seeds, yogurt and blueberries. The same applies on exam day – eat a good meal before the test, based on foods that will provide a slow release of energy throughout. Sugar may seem appealing, but it won’t help when your energy levels crash an hour or so later.

10. Plan your exam day
Make sure you get everything ready well in advance of the exam – don’t leave it to the day before to suddenly realize you don’t know the way, or what you’re supposed to bring. Check all the rules and requirements, and plan your route and journey time. If possible, do a test run of the trip; if not, write down clear directions.

Work out how long it will take to get there – then add on some extra time. You really don’t want to arrive having had to run halfway or feeling frazzled from losing your way. You could also make plans to travel to the exam with friends or classmates, as long as you know they’re likely to be punctual!

11. Drink plenty of water

As a final tip, remember that being well hydrated is essential for your brain to work at its best. Make sure you keep drinking plenty of water throughout your revision, and also on the exam day.

This article gives reference to the online information provided on the University of New South Wales website:
– https://student.unsw.edu.au/studying-exams
– https://www.topuniversities.com/student-info/health-and-support/exam-preparation-ten-study-tips

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