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Mini-Module: Preparing for Exams and Online Exams


Skills for Learning LogoRevising for exams

This section looks at how to plan your time, ways of revising, and how to combat stress.





Time Management for revision

Image of a clock with "Your ability to manage time is being tested"

Take control of your time. Do what works for you.






Students often say they leave things to the last minute because they work better under pressure.

Picture of a clock with a fuse.

  • Do you think this is correct?
  • What are the advantages / disadvantages?
  • Some people like a detailed timetable – and they stick to it.
  • Other people prefer a more flexible approach.


Don’t worry about what your friends do. Find a method for time management that works for you.


Be selective – you can’t revise everything.

Cartoon diagram of a calendar with coloured blocks of time

  1. Plan two revision blocks each day – AM and PM.
  2. Divide the blocks by the number of topics you want to do, and allocate topics to sessions.
  3. In addition, plan periods before the exam for sessions of timed practice.


Don't forget motivation

Don't let yourself get exhausted and demotivated.

Graph showing how motivation goes down with time

Make a change before this happens, for example:

  • Take a break, or
  • Stop studying for the day, or
  • Change the way or subject you are studying. 





Keep changing your way of learning so that you keep fresh and motivated.

Don’t work 24/7 – You need sleep to process all the information you are putting into your brain.

Graph showing it is better to change modes of learning to keep fresh


In the diagram, you can see that the student has started with some writing, then moved to thinking, then reading, then perhaps watching a video. By changing the type of study, it is possible to stay fresh and keep motivated for longer. 


One method for studying based on this psychology is called the "Pomodoro Technique".



Here are six questions about planning your time.


Cartoon of a brainLearning


  • Start by writing down what you know already
  • Revise the gaps in your knowledge
  • Prioritise – give more time to difficult topics if necessary
  • Swap topics regularly to keep yourself fresh
  • Understand rather than memorise. If you understand something, you will automatically remember it more easily.


Suggested procedure

Diagram of the steps in revisionTo get ideas and information into your brain, you can follow this procedure:

  • Start with your materials: books, papers or lecture notes.
  • Summarise these into shorter notes, that is put them in the shortest form that is still meaningful to you.
  • Shorten these down to key words. These should act as memory triggers for you.
  • Learn these trigger words. This will help you to understand and will give you quick access to what you have learned. 


Ways to memorise

In order to learn effectively, it helps to be able to remember key information. There are many tricks to make this easier.

1. Mnemonics. You can make your own, or use ones that have already been created. For example:
  • Every Good Boy Deserves Favour (the lines of the treble clef in music)
  • BODMAS (the order of operations in mathematical expressions)
  • FAT LAD / FAT DAD (the counties of Northern Ireland)
  • ROY G. BIV (the colours of the spectrum)
  • MoVE My JaSUN (the 8 planets)

2. Body Parts, i.e. using readily available parts of your body as memory triggers, for example:
  • Flemings Left Hand Rule (the direction of force in electric motors)
  • Month Knuckles (to remember the number of days in a particular month, long months are knuckles and short months are the gaps between the knuckles)

3. Pictures - the human brain evolved to use vision, and is not so good at words, so if you can convert or associate words and images you will be able to remember them more easily, for example:
  • Memory Palace (have a mental image of a building in your mind and link the contents with information to remember)
  • Image Association (linking images together in a vivid image or story)
  • Numbers (1=Bun, 2=Shoe… etc. so that you can remember information in order)
  • Mind Maps (also called spidergrams, where words are linked together from the central idea on a sheet)
  • Label pictures (taking a familiar thing and labelling it - but the picture and the labels are different, for example an elephant labelled as parts of an engine. The student has to think about the most appropriate or most amusing associations, and this makes it memorable)

You can also make up songs (or find them online), and you should use your imagination to create your own memory tricks that work for you. 



Now watch a video 10 effective study tips



Build your understanding

It is better to understand than to memorise because when you understand something you have a mental overview or framework that gives you a structure for learning and memorising. Building your understanding is, therefore, an important part of learning. One way to develop your understanding is to talk and explain to others. It helps you to:

  • Understand
  • See what you don’t understand
  • Practise expressing yourself - it will help you with your writing.

Another important way to develop understanding and promoting your critical thinking is to have an opinion about what you are learning, so don't just memorise it. For example, think about:

  • the pros and cons of what you are reading,
  • how you would argue for or against it. 

If you know that in your exam you could have to write essays that ask you to "discuss..." or "Evaluate...", then thinking of arguments in advance will be an important part of your revision and preparation. 



Here is a review activity covering the main points of revising for exams.


Useful Links:

Memory techniques from Many memory techniques are described here.

Thoughtful video about understanding, learning, and critical thinking:


Avoiding stress

  • Don’t procrastinate – do the revision. If you find it really hard to start work, try setting a study time of 2 minutes.  Promise yourself that you only have to do 2 minutes of study. You should find that once you have started, you can easily study for much more than your two-minute target. The hard part is not the studying, it's the starting. See the Pomodoro Technique video (above) for more on this.
  • Talk to other people
  • Think positive - translate your negative thoughts into positive ones. For example, rather than "I'll never pass this exam", say to yourself "I'm going to do my best to pass this exam".
  • Get yourself into routines:
      • Food / meal times / breakfast
      • Exercise / fresh air
      • Sleep / winding down / cramming
  • Don’t be a perfectionist