Is it that time again: exams?

The fact is that your final exam grades are strongly influenced by your cumulative study over the entire academic year. Scheduling regular study time for each subject on a weekly or even daily basis is therefore the best way to prepare for end-of-year exams.

Believe me, this kind of planning relieves much of the stress experienced leading up to and during the exam period.

Work together

Students who participate in study groups may perform better in exams because they may have the added accountability to their study group. This can be an additional motivating force.

They are likely to have also benefited from the perspectives of others who may see things that they miss.

Another benefit of having a study group is that it offers the opportunity to revise by helping others; explaining a concept to others reinforces the information in you.


Another useful tip is to create flashcards. Chances are you have been using them since primary school. They are a great tool for memorising. However, too often students abandon the practice as they move into secondary school and university.

Remember, part of the magic of flashcards is that they can be used to break down concepts into small, isolated bits of information that can be easily metabolise.

Use them for definitions, formulas, if-then concepts, and anything that you must simply memorise.

Prepare, don't cram!

It is important to note that cramming (long hours of study just before an exam) has been linked to lower retention of the material studied and lower test results compared to students who studied for less time but over a longer period.

In short, the best test-taking strategies involve preparing well in advance, keeping a regular study schedule, and giving yourself enough time to revise properly before the actual exams.

Exam technique

What about strategies for taking the exams? Begin by familiarising yourself with the style of the exams and the rubric used to grade them. What types of questions are asked? Knowing the formats can help you decide the exam-taking skills you will need to master. Some people do not do well with word problems, essay questions, or lengthy calculations. Whichever one applies, to you the solution is simple: practise, practise, and then practise some more.

The night before

In general, there are a few things that will help you move through exams smoothly - sleep well the night before, eat a light healthy breakfast, and arrive at the exam in good time.

The three types of question

If memory serves me right there are usually only three types of exam questions; the ones where I knew the answers – these were my favourites. Then there were those that demanded a little more time to answer, possibly resulting in applying the process of elimination! Finally, the ‘hail Mary’ type questions. Be honest, we have all experienced these. When faced with this later group of questions I typically took a deep breathe and tried not to panic. Clarity of thought will help to save the day, and as my maths teacher always said, show every step!

Talk to others

Finally, talking to others who have already taken the exams can help boost your confidence. Ultimately, performance on the day is as much about preparation as it is about a positive mental framework. You can do this; others have done it and lived to tell the tale; you will too. Good luck.

- Dr Ambroz Neil is a coach and managing principal consultant at Alexander Partners