Secrets to Exam Success

exam-success-image

Photo by Narek75 – cropped

Secrets to Exam Success

Effective exams should differentiate those who have studied over 1 the academic year from those who have not. There is no substitute for year-round 2 incremental learning. However, revision can be more or less efficient and there are a number of things you can do to stop stress becoming a major factor on the big day.

Revision?

The first rule of revision is: don’t revise! Literally, ‘revision’ means re-reading notes and texts. This is boring and means that you will confuse recognizing information that you have seen before with internalizing concepts. If the syllabus 3 is very precise, swap 4 notes with another student and study those. More importantly, test yourself constantly. Testing will help you to identify what you don’t know (which is half the battle). Once you know that, read up on 5 those gaps 6 in your knowledge in new sources7 Almost any subject has audiovisual information on it on YouTube. Combining images and sound with text helps to fix it in your memory. Take new notes, don’t just 8 highlight 9 text in yellow. Writing ideas by hand helps you to memorize them.

Think like an examiner: how could different parts of the course be related to each other in a question? Do past papers 10 and exchange the exam questions you’ve generated with other students. If there’s someone else in class who takes studying seriously, meet up, talk through 11 the questions, test each other and teach each other where there are special difficulties. Teaching a topic 12 is one of the best ways of committing it to memory13 Resist the temptation to study most what you enjoy most; focus on what you find hardest. 14

Exam Kryptonite

Don’t study with music on15 there is no evidence that it helps you to concentrate and plenty of 16 evidence that it distracts most people. Research shows that the more time students spend on social media, the lower their grades17 Even the sight of 18 a smartphone can cripple 19 a student’s ability to concentrate. So, overcome 20 your ‘fomo’ 21 and put the damn phone away out of sight. You can be popular when you’re driving a fast car while your friends are flipping burgers! 22

The Big Day

The big mistakes that people make on the day of the exam – not reading the questions properly, 23 not turning over 24 the exam paper and so missing a final question, misjudging 25 the time with the result that not all the questions are answered properly – are the result of stress, not idiocy. Soldiers reduce battle stress by drilling26 Athletes reduce stress with a pre-performance routine27 Examinees should do the same.

Go to the exam after a good night’s sleep. Easier said than done, perhaps, but a regular bedtime in the weeks before the exam and a reasonable amount 28 of physical exercise the day before can help a lot. Eat a generous bowl of cereal for breakfast. Over a quarter of boys and two-fifths of girls skip 29 breakfast regularly and it has a significant detrimental effect on the person’s ability to concentrate. On the other hand, a cereal breakfast helps you to focus, aids memory and reduces stress. This is especially important for Muslim students who may be doing exams during Ramadan this year.

Be punctual. Being late for an exam will cause stress to skyrocket30 Before the exam only interact with those who make you feel calm, even if they are not your best friends. As you sit down to the exam, take a series of deep breaths 31 to lower your heart rate and reduce tension. This will help you to get into your routine and avoid 32 the classic mistakes mentioned earlier. Start by working out 33 how much time you have for each question (which should reflect its value in terms of marks). Read each question at least twice 34 ensuring that you understand what they are really looking for35 The number of people who just 36 fixate on 37 a term or idea and then write everything that they know about it is astonishing38 Everything you write should go towards 39 answering the question. Take notes and think about the structure of your answer before writing long answers.

In Yes 21 we offer a 20-page Guide to Improved Memory and Exam Success.


  1. over – (in this case) during

  2. year-roundall-year-long

  3. syllabusprogramme of study, curriculum

  4. to swap /swop/ – exchange

  5. to read up on (read /ri:d/ – read /red/ – read /red/) – study

  6. gap – lacuna

  7. source – point from which one obtains information (e.g. a book)

  8. just – (in this case) simply

  9. to highlight – mark

  10. paper – (in this case) exam

  11. to talk sth. through – discuss sth., debate sth.

  12. topic – (false friend) subject, theme

  13. to commit sth. to memory – remember sth.

  14. hardestmost difficult

  15. on – (in this case) playing

  16. plenty of – abundant

  17. grades – marks, (in this case) exam results

  18. even the mere sight ofsimply seeing

  19. to crippleruin, destroy

  20. to overcome (-come/-came/-come) – conquer

  21. fomofear of missing out, anxiety about not participating in a group activity

  22. to flip burgerswork in a fastfood restaurant

  23. properlyfully, in detail

  24. to turn sth. overlook on the other side of sth.

  25. to misjudge – miscalculate

  26. to drilldo an activity repeatedly

  27. pre-performance routinesequence of actions and thoughts one always does systematically before competing

  28. amountquantity

  29. to skip sth. – not have sth.

  30. to skyrocket – augment exponentially

  31. breath – inhalation and exhalation

  32. to avoidnot commit

  33. to work outcalculate, determine

  34. twice – x2, two times

  35. to look for – (in this case) ask, desire in an answer

  36. just – (in this case) simply

  37. to fixate on – become obsessed by

  38. astonishingvery surprising

  39. to go towards (go-went-gone) – contribute to