Blog & Insights

7 ways to ace your exams

Love them or loathe them, exams aren’t going away anytime soon. Maybe you’re someone who relishes the opportunity to be tested as you learn, and thrives on the challenge of recall and explanation. But unfortunately many of us hate exams for a variety of reasons – ranging from the emotional to the irrational. They bring on additional stress, they force us to study when we would rather be having fun, and worse, sometimes the marks are actually quite important! On the flip side, frequent testing means that you will actually retain more information – which also means those big end of year exams suddenly got a bit less difficult. And the more we do exams, the less frightening they become. If you’re after some quick and easy ways to ace those tests, this is for you.

1. Manage your time wisely

Very simply, the best way you can help yourself is to be organised and efficient with your study time. There are various ways to achieve this. Check out some of the online tools available such as myHomework or mystudylife – both of which help track assignments and test due dates. Or keep it retro by simply writing yourself out an assessment calendar and pinning it up above your desk. Studying has been proven to be more efficient if it is spread out over several sessions, rather than crammed into just one. So by doing a little bit of revision every night you will help improve your retention. It’s OK to ramp it up just before the exam itself, but don’t leave it all to the last minute and start cramming the night before. It’s a good idea to understand how your existing commitments will fit with your current workload, that way you will be able to easily isolate the best available study opportunities and plan accordingly.

2. Use online study aids

Take advantage of the wonderful opportunity the Internet presents by dipping into the vast array of online study aids available. There are many ways that they can help in the run up to exams, from keeping all your study notes neatly in one place (Evernote) to generating flashcards and quizzes (Quizlet). Stay on top of your grammar habits with Grammarly and let Cite This For Me create you a bibliography in minutes. If you’re juggling several projects at one time, Trello is your new best friend.

3. Isolate yourself

But only in a good way! When you sit down with your books for a study session, make sure it really is just you and the books. Turn off all your social media alerts and put the phone ringer onto silent. Commit yourself fully to that study time and know that you are giving yourself every opportunity to absorb the work. It’s easy to look for distractions when you have a rather daunting task at hand, and time has a nasty habit of mysteriously disappearing down that Insta feed. At the end of your study period, try testing yourself on what you have just learnt – it’s a great way to ensure you fully understand the topics. If you’re keen to try this out but can’t fully trust yourself to stay strong, try this.

4. The power of sleep

It’s no secret that your brain works much better after a good night’s sleep, and the quality and quantity of sleep that you are getting can really impact your learning and memory. Your brain needs time to rest and consolidate all the information that has been taken in over the day – particularly if you have spent the evening studying. If you deprive yourself of a good night’s sleep, it becomes more challenging to receive and process information. Ideally you should be getting around 8 hours sleep each night – but at the very least it helps to have a sleep routine whereby you go to bed and wake up at roughly the same time every day. Avoid caffeine and heavy meals towards bedtime and try and stay away from screens at least half an hour before lights out.

5. Have a system

The best exam results come from studying smarter, not harder. It’s not impossible for anyone to swot up and rote-learn a semesters worth of information – but the ability to draw on that information at a later date is much harder to achieve. That’s where system strategies come into play such as colour-coding, palm cards and regular self-testing. Plan out your study sessions so that you have goals to achieve, and find the strategies that work for you. You can exercise the visual element of your brain by using images to help you remember and understand tricky concepts. Instead of just reading a book, give yourself a more focused task or a directed question to answer. Your brain will be much more switched on if there is a specific goal to achieve. Form a study group if you work better in company and use the opportunity to teach what you have learned. It’s a great way to reinforce the information. Remember to take regular breaks to give yourself time to rest and reflect.

6. Exercise

This is genuinely food for the brain. Taking time out to exercise away from your studies will actually help you achieve more when you return to them. Firstly, there will be a rush of endorphins cascading through your body that will lift your mood and boost your energy levels. Secondly, exercise kick-starts your brain activity and will improve your cognitive output when you get back to the books. Set the energy drinks and protein bars aside and hit the outdoors. It might only be a ten-minute stroll around the park but it’s the ideal way to break the routine with a positive activity.

And finally…

Be sure to treat yourself with regular rewards, whether that’s time back on screen, an outing with friends or a late night movie!

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

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