Before the exam
The best type of exam preparation starts in week 1. Your notes from weekly lectures, readings, tutorial and laboraty exercises, assessments etc will become your revision notes leading up to the exam. If you have worked on them consistently througout the semester in a systematic way, revision will be less stressful and more efficient. Developing good notetaking strategies early on in your degree will save you much time in the long run and also assist your understanding of the course material.
As the exams approach, it's time to start revising and preparing for the exam itself.
The study planner
Creating a study plan in the weeks leading up to the exam will help you to work out a balanced plan that allows enough time to revise for each exam. The weekly planner discussed in time management, is a useful tool that you might find helpful. How much time you need to spend on each course will be based the actual details of the exam in terms of number, type, and length of questions and such things as how much of the course content is being tested and what percentage of your overall mark the exam is worth and how many marks you already have from other course assessments.
Don't forget to be realistic - you need to maximise the amount of time you devote to revising but at the same time allow yourself time for rest and relaxation.
Based on these details, you are in a position to work out a rough plan of how much time you will spend on each question and which type of questions you will answer first.
Revising your course notes
The best type of revision is active revision. This means actively and critically thinking about the material and recording your thoughts while you research and revise. This is similar to reading strategically and critically, and includes thinking about how the examiners want you to address the material.
Create and use your summary sheets from your notes that you have developed throughout the semester as a starting point for your revision. You might find the section on Note-taking has some useful ideas on how to take a systematic approach to your notes.
The period before the exam is the opportunity to identify gaps in your knowledge, areas of difficulty and the key themes and ideas you need to focus on. You may find that you need to supplement your notes by going back to the readings or the lecture recordings.
What you are aiming for is an understanding of the course as a whole and how the various topics fit together. Get an idea of what the course convenor wants you to learn and if you are not sure, ask.
Other revision techniques
Beyond your notes it is useful to find other ways to summarise the course material. Using visual cues can aid your memory retention and recall. Summarising the information in diagrams, tables, flow charts or mind maps are some methods that might assist in organising the data for better recall. Recording yourself or studying with a friend or group can also be useful. Using flash cards can be good way to memorise terms and ideas (there are several online flashcard resources you can try). You need to become aware of which strategies help your recall by trying different techniques and then reflecting on their usefulness.
It's important to match the studying techniques to the style of exam and question types that you know will be included. The Exam preparation handout has some useful techniques that apply to different exam types.
Practicing exam questions
Practicing under exam conditions gives you an opportunity to practise remembering the course material under time pressure. It also can also help to increase your confidence levels and help you to identify gaps in your knowledge and understanding.
It also helps to practise your handwriting under exam conditions. Remember, your handwriting needs to be legible, and exams may last for a few hours. If you're out of practise, make time to get used to writing by hand.
The ANU library has a collection that you can access. Not all courses publish past exam papers and it is important to check if there have been any substantial changes to the course and the exam format.
When using past exam papers look at what the instructions say and how the questions are worded. Do you have to answer all or only some questions? Are there different percentage weightings? These will help you make your exam plan. What is the scope of knowledge being tested? This will help you to focus your revision. What types of questions have been set? This will help you decide on the best revision techniques to use.
If past exam papers are not available, another place to look for practice questions is on the textbook website. Most textbooks come with an access to a website with resources that complement the textbook content. Often these include question banks that you can use for practice. Or you can look at other text books from the Library.
Additionally, you can make up your own questions based on what you know about the course. An online quiz tool like Quizlet can be useful for testing yourself.
The exam plan
It will improve your confidence and performance to walk into the exam with a plan. Based on what you know about the exam:
- Allocate approximate time for each section/question;
- Order to answer;
- Consider your plan of attack for each question type;
- Allow reading and planning time.
Having this worked out beforehand means that when you start the exam you can optimise the time needed for each question and avoid skipping answers because you've spent too much time on one question.