Exam Study Tips

Exams are stressful at the best of times. However for national state exams it can be very hard to get perspective and not let fear take over.

We often believe that the next two months of our lives will be the most important, that whatever exam results we get will determine our future happiness….forever.

This belief then causes extra pressure for us and stress can often take over.

Being anxious about your future keeps you from focusing on the here and now.

By taking this program you will ground yourself in the next few days of study, fear will diminish and concentration will improve. To help you with your exams, read our exam study tips below.

Pacing yourself

When you first hear the words “you may begin” it tends to set people into a state of panic. Having a short space of time to write down what you have been learning for the past year and all the while trying to make it as legible and sequential as possible is a nerve-racking task.

What many students have reported, is that the best way to pace yourself during exams is to initially give yourself 5-10 minutes to read all of the questions, calmly and carefully, and then repeat this step! Make sure that you understand what the question is and that you highlight or underline any key words so that you do not forget or lose track of what you are being asked.

It is advised that you begin with the question that looks like the easiest topic to you, in order to get yourself in the flow of the exam. Many students find that taking a few minutes to jot down a simple essay structure (on the back page) is beneficial so that you can ensure you are staying on topic when writing.

Memory techniques

Jonathon Hancock, a memory champion and teacher shares how he cracked the secret to memory technique below;

By using mental imagery you turn what seems to be forgettable information into something that you are more likely to remember. You create colourful pictures or scenes in your head, and tie them in with the thing you want to remember. By creating this scene or story it then becomes something that is intrinsically memorable. You are combining the logical side of your brain with the creative side, resulting in your whole brain coming to life. Jonathon gives a simple example of a time he coached a group of young children how to memorise a list of random words;

“You have fun together coming up with a collection of objects, places, celebrities, TV shows. Then get them started on a vivid story that links all the items in a memorable way. Maybe the football bounces onto an ice-cream cone being held by Mickey Mouse, which splats onto the shoe of a passing astronaut whose helmet is actually a TV screen showing a programme about clowns. Suddenly they can all remember football, ice-cream, Mickey Mouse, shoe, astronaut, TV, clown and any list you give them”.

Mind maps

An example of a mind map created by Tony Buzan, 1960.

An example of a mind map created by Tony Buzan, 1960.

“A Mind Map is a powerful graphic technique which provides a universal key to unlock the potential of the brain. It harnesses the full range of the cortical skills – word, image, number, logic, rhythm, colour and the spatial awareness – in a single, uniquely powerful manner” writes Tony Buzan, the inventor of the Mind Map.



Many students have reported that using Mind Maps on a daily basis, when studying and when actually in the exam, is extremely effective. Buzan claims that there is no limit to the amount that Mind Mapping can help you, just as there is no limit to the amount of connections that your brain can make.


Coping with panic attacks

Panic attacks can be defined as an experience of intense and sudden anxiety. Some of the symptoms of panic attacks are;

  • Dizziness
  • Sweating
  • Feeling faint
  • Having a dry mouth
  • Shaking
  • Feeling confused/disorientated
  • Rapid increase in heartbeat

People who experience panic attacks often express that the feeling is like an impending disaster and that they feel as if they might die. It is advised that they try to remember that this is not going to happen when the attack occurs and that it will eventually pass. It is important to remember that the attack is caused as a reaction to an excessive amount of adrenaline and other hormones in your bloodstream, and is not actually doing you any harm.

The best thing to do it remember that it is caused by a large amount of stress and that they are not uncommon amongst students. Try to remain calm; People’s fear and confusion of what is happening often releases more adrenaline which in turn prolongs the attack, so try to remain focused on the fact that it will eventually pass. More exam study tips below;

Writing legibly & Being clear and concise

Now that you have done all that studying and revision don’t fall at the last hurdle and make sure you get your points across in a neat and clear manner.

Writing legibly;

Although it’s something that a lot of students forget about, messy, illegible writing can cost you marks. The marker may not be able to make out what the words are if they are messy and all over the place.

Students for the most part may be out of practice writing with pen and paper as most work is completed on computers these days, so here are some tips to make sure your handwriting as clear as possible;

  • Make sure you have a good pen that won’t smudge – don’t for example, use a fountain pen unless you are used to using it)
  • Keep a good writing posture – keep both your feet flat on the ground and try to keep your back in an upright position
  • Position your page at a degree that suits you best, usually somewhere between a 35-45 degree angle to your body will feel comfortable for most students
  • Stretch before your exam – cramping is extremely common especially in your hands from writing so remember to take small breaks to stretch out your fingers.

Being clear and concise;

When you are being tested on a specific subject in under time pressure, it is extremely important to get to the point of your sentence quickly and with the use of correct grammar. It is very easy to begin to ramble and often students allow it as they feel they are writing more (however you are not getting marks for anything that is not relevant, so it is a waste of time and of space for more marks!)

So how can you make sure you are being clear and concise?

  • Choose your words deliberately (you are responsible for what your marker is reading so try to keep it easy to read – you can do this by using simple words)
  • Replace vague words or sentences with simple ones (unless it is an English exam, you won’t score points for showing off your knowledge of the English language!)
  • Replace double negatives with an affirmative
  • Try to keep your sentences short

While keeping your handwriting legible and watching the length of your sentences may not be at the top of your revision ‘to-do’ list, it is important. Remember try to make the examiner happy! They may have to mark hundreds of papers – it will only make their job harder by trying to decipher what the word in front of them is!

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