Preparing for exam season

Take control of your next exam season by following these 5 top tips… 

Exam season can very quickly become a train wreck: an endless to-do list, an overwhelming number of unwatched lectures, stress, and anxiety. It can all become a bit too much. 

We are only human after all. 

But as exams are so common and an important component of higher education, we should get familiar with them. We learn from our experiences, carrying forward the skills and techniques that we find useful and adapting aspects that didn’t work so well. The problem is trial and error can sacrifice too many exam seasons before we can get it right. So how about I make it easier? After a lot of reflection, discussing with my peers, and trying different techniques, I’ve narrowed down my 5 top tips to help you ace your exams. Whether you are reading this blog as a student sitting your GCSEs, A-Levels, or end-of-semester exams at university, I hope that at least one of these tips helps you to feel a little more in control when exam season hits. 

Know your exams 

This will be different depending on your degree and modules but get familiar with your exam format. This might be multiple choice questions, short or extended answers or even an essay. Knowing what is expected of you means you can tailor your revision and also gives you some time to refine key skills that you need to develop to best sit your exams such as problem-solving and logically organising your ideas. It can also allow you to consider how you will manage your time e.g. how many minutes per question (if it is a timed exam). You can then use this as a brief guide to stay on track during your exam. 

Make a plan… or sort of 

I’ve never been one to stick to a detailed plan but nonetheless, without some sort of brain dump, my revision would be a mess. The great thing about planning is you can make it as detailed and specific as you want – but be realistic. I tend to list all the modules that I need to cover, split them into how many weeks of content there are and work backward from my exam dates, pencilling which modules I’ll cover when. Be nice to yourself. If I’m covering a hard topic in one module, I’ll revise an easier topic from another module on the same day. In this way, you spread out the difficult tasks whilst still giving you the much-needed ego boost to motivate yourself through the rest of the exam season! And finally, be flexible. Out of your daily to-do list, choose which topic you want to cover first. You’ll notice that you’ll gain more out of the session if you want to study rather than forcing yourself to. Make sure that you don’t avoid certain topics though just because you dislike them! If you don’t cover everything you want to do in a day (which will inevitably happen at some point) being flexible will allow you to adapt your schedule to make sure you cover everything you need to before your exam. 

Choose your study space well (and who you study with)

Some people prefer a study buddy to keep them accountable, whilst others prefer learning through discussions in groups. Personally, I notice that I gain the most when I study by myself. This is because I can plan my time effectively to cover topics that I’m struggling on. It also gives more flexibility of where, when, and how long I study for. From experience, everyone has a different understanding of the content and different targets. This can make it challenging for everyone to reach their goals in a study session when everyone has gaps in their knowledge. But if group study is used as revision, this is often more effective as everyone has a good understanding of the subject, freeing the session to challenge each other and explore key concepts in detail. I also like to vary my surroundings, alternating between the campus library, different buildings on campus, public study spaces, and my bedroom. If you do decide to study in your bedroom, make sure to tidy it up first – take it from experience: A clear space really does mean a clear mind! 

Prioritise your breaks

Our wellbeing often takes a hit during exam season, and if you are pulling an all nigher for an essay due the next morning, then arguably it’s ok to sacrifice the movie night you planned! But exam seasons are often a couple of weeks long, so consistent neglect can accumulate to become a huge hindrance to your physical and mental health as well as your performance in your exams. The key is to take regular breaks, and I don’t mean a 5 hr break binge-watching Suits (guilty…). I like to take the Pomodoro technique (find more information here) but adapt it to my own schedule e.g. 1.5 hr study session, 30-minute break. Make sure your breaks are away from your screen! Stretch, take a walk, or have a snack! This will keep you energised and your mind ready for the next study session. Make sure to pencil in time to catch up with your friends and family and do something fun! This can help to reset your mind and put exam season into perspective, preventing you from becoming overwhelmed. 

Don’t compare yourself to others! 

It’s human nature to see the world in a competitive light. Whilst this often motivates us to work hard, we often forget that we are our harshest critics. Everyone has their own way of learning. This includes your revision style, how much time you spend studying and how you organise your time. The key is to make sure that you are achieving your personal goals. Set some objectives e.g. learning a new concept or achieving a certain percentage in a mock exam and reflect on whether your current revision technique is allowing you to achieve this. If so, take note of what you did to remind yourself during the next exam season. If not, then it’s time to reconsider how you are studying!

Check out ⭐ 🔗 Georgia’s blog on finding your own study technique for more detail.

So there we have it! 5 top tips to help you take control of your exams! Tried and tested by me and many other students, I can honestly say that they’ve really helped me stay focused and motivated during my exams. I hope this helps and good luck!

Written by Simrah Malik

Hi, I’m Simrah, a third-year medical student at the University of Birmingham. I am interested in general practice, endocrinology, and medical education and have a passion for widening participation. I love to teach and currently tutor GCSE and A-level Maths. In my free time, I am a henna artist and love to watch law and crime dramas!

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