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Successful University Study

Tips and tools to streamline the study process.

How to prepare for your exams

Before you start studying for the exam, find out:

  • The examination dates, times and rooms
  • Which types of questions you'll be asked – multiple choice, short-answer, essays
  • The number of questions in the exam
  • What the mark allocation/weightings will be
  • If there is a choice of questions 
  • If you have to answer all the questions
  • The exam's duration, and the time available for each section/question
  • What arrangements are possible if you are ill on the day of the exam
  • What happens if you are ill for a significant period prior to the exam but are well on the day of the exam
  • What happens if you become ill during the exam
  • The accommodation options for any special needs you have

Planning is essential to maximise your time. Draw up a realistic revision timetable for all your subjects including exam start and end dates. Include essential non-study commitments (work, sport, etc.).


  • Allow more time for difficult subjects
  • Allocate time for exercise and relaxation
  • Be selfish – say “no” to social commitments during exam period
  • What kind of learner are you? - Morning/afternoon/evening? How long is your concentration span?
  • Environment – have a clear study space, light and airy.
  • Pace yourself, don’t burn yourself out!

Put your plan down on paper. Download one of the study plan templates (below).

What you do in your revision periods will depend on what sort of exam you have. Will you have to do much writing, or mostly memorising? Whichever exam type you encounter, here are some general tips:

Memorisation strategies

  • Refresh your memory. Go through your class notes, writing down important words and phrases, summarising topics, and making lists of the main points.
  • Active reading. As you read, look up from your notes and try to remember the main points. This will help reinforce what you have read.
  • Reciting. Read your notes out loud in a dramatic manner; this helps you fix them in your mind.
  • Mnemonic. Develop a rhyme, phrase, or acronym for important points, e.g. nursing students might remember RICE = Rest, Ice, Compress, Elevate.
  • Flash cards/cue cards. See the link below on ways to make effective flash cards - the more interesting they are, the more you'll remember what's on them.

Writing strategies

  • Write down your own version of notes from memory. Repeat and write.
  • Map concepts. Draw diagrams to link concepts together.
  • Visualise or draw an image. If you are a visual learner or creative mind, this method will bring your notes to life.
  • Explain ideas to someone. This tests your understanding of the topic and encourages group study.
  • Walk, dance, kick a ball while repeating main points, then write them down.
  • Mock exams. Find old exam papers and practice doing them under exam conditions.

Traditional: find out the exact questions only when you read the exam paper

Open book: find out exact questions only when you read the exam paper, but you can take reference materials into the exam room

Open question: find out exam question/s some time before the exam so you have time to prepare your answer, but cannot take reference materials into exam room

Essay exam plan:


  • Outline points that will be discussed.
  • State your position – your thesis statement.
  • Introduce the topic (background information).


  • Organise the evidence in a way that shows all points of view (include opposing evidence), but still supports the position you have taken.
  • For each paragraph, start with your topic sentence, then present your evidence.


  • No new information.
  • Summarise your findings of the main points covered in the essay.
  • Confirm your position by restating your thesis statement.

Answer correctly by being able to recognise the most appropriate response from a number of options.

Take special note of phrasing, such as:

  • Negative phrases (e.g. Choose the answer which DOESN’T describe).
  • Subjective questions (e.g. Choose the option that BEST describes).
  • Judgement questions (e.g. Choose the MOST CORRECT answer).
  • Multiple answers (e.g. Choose MORE than one).

Use a process of elimination. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Which one of the options is most likely to be incorrect?  
  • Are there any options I can eliminate straight away?
  • Does it sound reasonable?
  • If you are left with two options, you have a 50% chance of getting the correct answer!

There are two types of short answer exams.

Factual: designed to test your memory. You might need to write one word, a phrase, a sentence or a paragraph. Factual questions often use the following instruction words:

Define, name, give, outline, identify, provide, list, state.

Interpretive: to test your ability to apply the concepts you have learnt. Interpretive questions often use the following instruction words:

Account for, comment on, compare, consider, contrast, describe, discuss, distinguish, elaborate on, explain, give reasons for, how is x different, illustrate, what do you understand by, support your answer.