Tips on Studying for Exams

Studying efficiently requires you to organise your time and resources. The following are general guidelines to help you prepare for exams.

Find out the kinds of exams you will be sitting

Different types of exams require different study strategies. Here are some tips:

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.

 

Preparation

Begin studying early 

  • You can start thinking about the exam from the beginning of the course by listening for hints and tips.
  • 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.
  • Don’t cram the night before—it’s ineffective because you won't retain much. You’ll also be tired and stressed when the time comes to actually sit the exam.

 

Organise your time 

  • Fill out a weekly study planner and use it to organise your time. (Pick one up from The Learning Centre or download a copy here.)  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 50 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? Schedule study times that suit your personal rhythms.
  • 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.

  Check out The Learning Centre's guide to Time Management 

 

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. The key is to read and think about the contents of your notes, what you noted down and why, and how to summarise your notes efficiently and memorably. Then rewrite 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 it 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 the 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.

 

Study hard BUT set limits

  • Set study periods. Short study periods are best for sustained concentration.
  • 'Chunk' information. Don't try to study the entire course in one sitting. Divide the subject up into topics and aim to study a 'chunk' at each study session.

 

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.

  • 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.

 

Study to suit your learning style

  • If you’re a visual learner, diagrams and pictures can help you remember.
  • Auditory learners might benefit from listening to lecture recordings or making their own recordings of notes they can listen to later. 
  • Some people find it useful to explain key ideas aloud to themselves while moving around. 
  • Explore different ways to help you remember key facts and to increase your understanding of the main concepts.

 

Form a study group 

  • Form a study group with other students.
  • Swap practice exams and give feedback.
  • Drill each other on study topics.

 

Review past exam papers 

  • Review any previous exam papers for your course.
  • Past papers are not available for every course, but if they are, work through them. Note how they fit into the course. Look at the wording of the questions and familiarise yourself with the clue words.
  • Practice doing the papers under exam conditions then carefully review your answers.

  See The Learning Centre's guide to Exam Skills - Clue Words

 

Create a good study area

To study effectively, you need a good study area with minimal distractions.

  • Is it a quiet environment free from interruptions and distractions, loud noises and people coming and going?
  • Can you access it whenever you need to? An exclusive space is the ideal option, but if the only space available is shared, work out a schedule.
  • Does it have all the necessary materials? Does it accommodate your computer? You should have supplies, reference books or equipment on hand. Make sure there is a power outlet within easy reach.
  • Is there a large enough desk or table to hold everything you need? Do you have a good chair? It should be comfortable enough to help you concentrate, but not so comfortable that you’ll fall asleep.
  • Does the space have enough light to read by? If not, organise a lamp or other lighting source.

 

Minimise distractions

Identify what distracts you. Is it social media, television, email, phone, family, flatmates? Once you’ve identified distractions, take steps to consciously block them out. Distractions won’t go away so it’s important to learn how to shut them out.

  • Turn off your phone and leave it in another room, close email and social media.
  • Hang a ‘Do not disturb’ sign on the door.
  • Put on ear phones and listen to some ambient sound to shut out external noise or conversation. 

Revise to remember: use the SQ3R method of study

Survey, question, read, recall, review.

Survey: Before you begin to study, survey the material to get a quick overview. Skim through lecture notes to get a picture of the main ideas. If studying from a book, look at tables of contents, possible chapter summaries, graphs and tables.

Question: Your reading is more active and memorable if you look for specific answers to questions. If there are headings in the material turn the heading into a question. For example, if the heading is Organisational Theory, your questions might be: 'What is organisational theory and where did it start?'

Read: Read through the material once without making notes. On your second reading, make notes of the main ideas. Try to use your own words.

Recall: Close the book or cover your notes. Try to recall what you have read. Make notes of what you remember then check their accuracy against your study material.

Review:

  • Review all your notes at the end of the study period. This is an important part of the study process because it can really help you remember what you have studied.
  • Try summarising your notes down to key words that will act as memory triggers for related ideas.
  • Set review times separately from your study times. Read through your review notes, cover them and then repeat/rephrase them. Check the originals for accuracy.

Further Readings

Barnett, K. 1978, How to Study, Sun Books, Melbourne.

Burdess, N. 1991, The Handbook of Student Skills, Prentice Hall, New York.

Freedman, R. 1991, Mastering Study Skills, Macmillan, London, 1991.