“Victorious warriors win first and then go to war” wrote Sun Tzu in The Art of War. As dramatic as it might seem, it’s applicable to entering an exam. Students who study successfully do so by applying successful learning strategies. Cramming the night before is like bringing a leaky bucket to your exam. It might have what you need but the stress of it disappearing at any moment is another obstacle added to writing an exam. Nobody in it needs more stress during exam time. To get your best results, enter the exam with the confidence that you’ve got it covered from all angles (including enough sleep to think clearly). Here are some tips to help you:
Avoid procrastination! Set up a study timetable a few weeks before your exam. Plot out a schedule by determining the size of your workload and dividing it up into feasible units. Set deadlines for sections and give yourself time to revise.
Read and recall work instead of simply rereading work. Make summaries, highlight key words and draw mind maps. Reading can help you absorb what you need to know but recalling can help you process it. Make information yours and it will serve you best in the exam.
Aim to master the main ideas, facts and arguments that are in the material. They’ll provide the foundation for everything else to fall into place.
Discuss the material with other people. You really know you’ve mastered a topic when you can explain it to someone else. Even the act of explaining can help strengthen your own understanding.
Form a study group. It’s easier to stick to a study session when other people are also invested in it. You’ll receive emotional and intellectual support and be able to really make your subject matter come to life.
Old exam papers can make a big difference. Most institutions have past exam papers available, either as a library resource or through the department in question. Past exam papers can help you understand trends in question styles and what is expected of you.
Revision is what makes knowledge stay. The more frequently we repeat something the better you remember it. Start studying to understand and then study to remember.
Content by Judy Seligman, Oxford University Press Southern Africa author of Academic Literacy for Education Students.