Study Skills – Preparing for Exams

Preparing for Exams

Helping our students learn how to study for exams can determine their success not only in the exams but also in their lives. Examination needs careful preparation if students are to do well. Everyone feels nervous on the day of the exam but with careful revision and good examination technique they should succeed.

This article will help focus on the essential points students need to take into consideration while revising their lessons for the exam, why some of the students fail and the right skills they need to develop in order to succeed.

Exams are stressful

Yes, exams can be very stressful. Although a healthy dose of stress can be beneficial, too much of it can have detrimental consequences. To reduce unhealthy stress appropriate strategies must be taken. Students must know the following:

  • What are the  important points to take into consideration about exams?
  • Why some students fail?
  • What affects success in exams?

Important points about exams

Exams are an opportunity for teachers to get feedback from students. The following points are worth taking into consideration while revising for the exam.

  • Exams are stressful.
  • Some healthy dose of stress may be good.
  • Length of exams and time you need to finish answering questions.
  • Number of items to answer
  • Marking / grading
  • Format of the exam questions
  • Type of the exam

Exams measure:

  • knowledge
  • what students can do with this knowledge
  • skills, and abilities defined as the learning standards or curricula
  • quality of  revision
  • time management
  • practice in answering questions
  • Focus on the exam questions

Failing in the exam

Some students have problems with exams because they fail to revise or manage successfully their exam. These are some reasons for such failure:

  • not enough revision
  • Little time for preparation
  • Too much stress.
  • Running out of time in exam
  • Students misread the question or misunderstand the requirements of the question
  • Students lack  knowledge or practice at type of exam
  • learning by heart and failing to apply students knowledge in a new context.

What affects exam success?

There are various points that affect the success in an exam. This includes subject knowledge, exam preparation, exam practice, writing skills, use of time and attitudes towards the exam.

Subject knowledge

The better students know their subject the easier it is to succeed. Knowing the subject will help them:

  • Recognize what is significant. Therefore, They will understand what must be included and what can be left out
  • Identify links and connections between different aspects of the subject. These associations will help students have a global view of the subject.
  • Recognize which points of the curriculum  are relevant to which exam questions

Exam preparation

Nothing can be disastrous for any exam success than going into it without preparation even if students have worked hard during the course. This is mainly  because exams are not just about understanding information but about showing and presenting from memory specific aspects of what students know in particular ways (such as essay or short answer) at a certain speed.

Exam practice

Practice makes progress. It is undoubtedly very important for learners to practice a lot in order to do well. Students have to practice in conditions as near to the real exam as possible. They have to:

  • Set up their own mock exam conditions
  • Practice old exam questions.
  • Work under time pressure.
  • Check their answers after they finish.
  • Learn to work quickly in planning, writing and checking answers.

Writing skills

For all written exams, exam success is affected by:

  • Style
    clear, easy to read writing style
  • Vocabulary
    students have to show their knowledge of subject specific vocabulary in their answers
  • Organization
    Well structured answers  have an introduction, body (with possibly many paragraphs) and a conclusion
  • Evidence
    Support points with definitions, examples, theory and quotes

Use of time

Students must be aware of good timing before and during the exam.

  • Before the exam they must timetable their preparation.
  • During the exam they must allot enough time for each question.


Our cognitive activity to think clearly and logically, is affected by factors such as:

  • how calm we are feeling
  • level of interest in material
  • distractions
  • self-esteem
  • self-confidence

Success Tips

Before the exam:

Plan and organize in a calm and orderly way:

  • Students make a preparation timetable.
  • Set exam and study goals. These must be specific measurable, attainable and realistic goals.
  • allot enough time for each subject according to needs.
  • Use mind maps, short notes summaries to revise lessons.
  • Keep sensible hours for sleeping and relaxation.
  • Read old exam papers.
  • Students familiarize themselves with all aspects of the exam papers. This includes:
    • format,
    • marking scheme,
    • language,
    • terminology,
    • question styles,
    • types of questions…

During the exam


Read the entire paper thoroughly. Think about the amount of time you might spend on each section. Next:

  • Consider which questions you will answer first.
  • Re-read them and think about a strategy one might use.
  • Consider options for multiple choice questions.
Answering questions
  1. Start planning the most difficult questions, but answer the easier questions first. This often helps boost your confidence and provides clues or prompts for answering questions on other less familiar topics.
  2. Adjust your watch to match the clock in the room.
  3. Read the instructions carefully and check all the pages.
  4. Plan your timing according to the number of questions and marks for each.
  5. Attempt all questions.
  6. Read/analyze each question carefully – identify instructional or content words.
  7. Answer the question – do not simply write everything you know.
  8. Use a step approach to both short answer and essay questions.
    • Read and analyze the question.
    • Recall what you know.
    • Select the relevant facts.
    • Jot down initial ideas.
    • Organize into logical order – follow basic essay procedure, i.e. introduction, points,conclusion.
    • Begin writing.
  9. Write clearly.
  10. Move on after the exam. Avoid post-mortems!

Tips for managing stress

Exams are more stressful than usual. Stress can be positive, helping you to stay motivated and focused. However, too much stress can be counterproductive. That’s why students need to keep things in perspective and find ways of reducing stress.

  • Practice deep breathing and relaxation techniques before the exam.
  • Students mustn’t let their mind wander into catastrophic thoughts like “I can’t understand this author”, “I’m going to fail”…
  • They must welcome positive thoughts such as “I am patient and persistent”, “I’m methodical”, “my ideas are good”…
  • They should decide on the order in which you’ll answer the questions. It is usually best to begin with the one you feel most confident about.

Most importantly, students must put the exam in its real context.  Students need to know how important the exam is in the scheme of their lives. If they don’t do as well as they’d hoped there are always other options.  It’s not going to dictate whether they are  good or  bad students, or whether they are a success or failure.  Exams can’t measure these sorts of things – all they measure is how well they can present the material asked for by the examiner. Nothing more, nothing less.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.