How to Ace Your Exams: 20 Top Studying Tips

Got exams? Try these studying tips to help you through!

Reviewed by Hayley Ramsey

Illustration of students sitting an exam

Late-night cramming, excessive coffee consumption and lots of stress are just a few things that come to mind when the subject of exams comes up. While this is, for most students, often the case, we’re here to say that it doesn’t have to be!

Indeed, studying for exams doesn’t necessarily have to be all gloom and doom. While it might take a certain level of organization and dedication, there are a few easy steps you can take to make the exam season more tolerable.

To help you out, we’ve assembled a list of useful tips and tricks to ace your exams!

1. Find the ideal learning environment

Where you choose to study can impact your concentration and motivation levels. Finding the right location, then, is crucial, especially if you want to establish an effective routine during exam season.

If you prefer a quiet atmosphere, head to the quiet study areas in your campus library. On the other hand, if you need some commotion to concentrate, then opt for open study spaces. Meanwhile, having a few alternative spots could help break up the routine now and again.

2. Create a study plan

Before exam season begins, draw up a study schedule that you can stick to. Break up your syllabus into manageable chunks and estimate how long you should dedicate to each part. This will help you plan out your revision and ensure that you don’t leave anything important behind.

You should also consider setting allocated study hours. For example, following an 8am–6pm revision regime will give your days a better structure and help you maintain a healthy school-life balance.

3. Set daily goals

A daily set of achievable goals will keep you motivated, and it will help you stay on track with your study plan. Plus, it will give you a sense of achievement at the end of each day, as well as allow you to track your progress. After each study session, tick off your daily tasks and set yourself new ones for the next day.

4. Ask for help

When it feels like you’ve hit a dead-end with revision, then it might be wise to touch base with your professors (but preferably not the night before the exam). Alternatively, you could use an online tutor platform like Superprof and find a tutor who will guide you through the syllabus and answer any questions you might have.

On the other hand, if you feel a little overwhelmed and need some reassurance, visit your student support services. Exam season can be a daunting period, so asking for help when needed is always wise!

5. Teach your friends

Teaching your syllabus to others is a handy memory technique. Indeed, by going over your exam material with others, you’ll be able to retain knowledge more effectively, recall information better and concretize what you’ve learned. It doesn’t even matter if your friends aren’t on your course — essentially, you’ll be teaching yourself by teaching others!

6. Learn your learning style

Everyone has different ways of learning. In fact, there are seven distinct styles with which people usually process information, including aurally, verbally, visually and physically. So, while some learn better by writing things down, others can memorize things faster by listening to information or reading it out loud.

So, if you want to make the most out of revision, figure out what your preferred method of learning is and use it to your advantage!

7. Make a study pact with friends

If you lack the motivation to study on your own, then why not make a study pact with your friends? For example, you could agree to walk to the library with a friend in the mornings, organize revision parties, or meet up for study breaks.

It’s easy to feel isolated during the exam season, but knowing that others are going through the same thing will keep your head in the game.

8. Create a distraction sheet

The purpose of the distraction sheet is simple. It’s meant to keep you from wasting precious revision time by thinking about other things. If your mind starts to wander, and you suddenly have the itch to find out Taylor Swift’s zodiac sign (Sagittarius) or how to make beef bourguignon, write these down on a piece of paper instead of going down a Google search rabbit hole.

The same applies to chores and tasks that are irrelevant to your revision — your grocery list, for example. A distraction sheet will keep you from chasing random thoughts and help you stay focused on your work.

9. Go on a social media hiatus

Social media can be your Achilles’ heel during exam time. You might tell yourself you’re just going to check your messages, but 40 minutes later, there you are aimlessly scrolling through your Instagram feed when you should be revising.

If you want to get rid of this temptation and be more vigilant, there are several apps out there that can block your access to social media during set hours, so do your research and find what works for you.

10. Go over your notes before bed

Research shows that revising before bed helps your brain consolidate new information and significantly improves retention. So, before you hit the hay, go over your notes one more time and then let your brain do the work.

While this is a great memory technique, you should avoid late-night cramming and ensure that you’re getting a good night’s sleep. Being well-rested is paramount for your exam success.

11. Do meal prep

Fitting healthy meals into an exam-packed schedule can be a real challenge. You might be tempted to live off instant noodles for the duration of your exams, but there’s another simple solution to this problem: meal prep. By dedicating a couple of hours each week to cook wholesome meals, you can save a lot of time and save yourself from a junk food diet.

The key is to plan your meals ahead of time and get enough ingredients to cook three to four portions. While you’re at it, don’t forget to snack on some brain food, such as blueberries, dark chocolate, leafy greens and green tea. Having a steady routine and keeping a healthy lifestyle is equally important to maintain a study schedule.

12. Take frequent breaks

You might be tempted to stay glued in your seat for hours on end, but taking frequent breaks is key to healthier and more productive study sessions. If you’re not convinced, I’ve got science on my side: according to a 2018 study led by Dr Alejandro Lleras, having brief mental breaks improves your concentration and attention span.

So, taking 5- to 10-minute breaks every 40–50 minutes isn’t such a terrible idea. You can use that time to refill your water bottle, have a healthy snack or take a short walk.

13. Use memory techniques

Memory techniques are crucial for revision, especially when you’re trying to cram in a term’s worth of information. There’s plenty of tried and tested methods you could employ. Mnemonics, for instance, help you remember information by encoding it into a memorable form. For example, “Every good bee deserves fun” translates to EGBDF for music students.

Rhyming is also a popular technique, as you can put information into rhyme for you to remember it. Memory palaces are another effective method — essentially, you imagine a room and associate certain objects in that room with different information. This will help you compartmentalize your knowledge and recall everything better.

14. Exercise

Research has shown time and time again that physical activity can do wonders for cognitive function. In other words, exercise helps you learn better. Even if you’re not a regular gym-goer, you can still lead a more active lifestyle through simple choices like walking to the library, biking, taking the stairs instead of the lift and jogging!

Not only can regular exercise aid your concentration and memory, but it can also boost your mood and mental health. Indeed, intense physical activity causes your body to release endorphins, also known as happy hormones.

15. Take a day off

This might sound like a radical suggestion when your exams are looming over your head, but taking a day off after a long revision spell could boost your productivity levels and help you cope with stress. If your revision plan is on the right track, and you’re starting to feel confident about your exams, then treat yourself with a day off.

On the other hand, if you’re feeling sluggish and unmotivated, this could help you recalibrate and return to your revision more energised the next day. Spend the day with friends, go outside, sleep in, exercise or do some house chores – whatever you do, a day off could significantly improve your wellbeing.

16. Organize your notes

If your notes are strewn all over the desk and bedroom floor, you won’t be able to study efficiently. To save time and keep stress levels to a tolerable intensity, we recommend devoting some time to sorting out and clearly labeling your exam preparation material. This applies to both physical and digital notes!

Start by filing away printed or handwritten notes in separate folders for different subjects. Then use tabs or dividers to quickly navigate between the various topics within each subject.

The same concept can be followed with digital notes. Having clearly labeled, colorized folders and sub-folders on your desktop will offer quick, hassle-free access.

17. Solve past exam papers

Nothing can prepare you better for an exam than a past exam paper. Solving past papers will enable you to familiarize yourself with the layout and types of questions you can expect to come across. Timing yourself while solving them can also be beneficial!

Your teacher or professor should be able to help you get your hands on useful study resources, including past exam papers. There are also many online libraries of textbooks, papers and mark schemes that you can access in your own time.

18. Spend time outdoors

During exam season, it’s easy to forget that there is life outside your bedroom or school library. However, that big ball of fire in the sky and those green oxygen generators can do you some good.

Exposure to sunlight can improve your mood, reduce stress, and help you sleep more easily at night. Meanwhile, frequent strolls through your neighborhood park can help boost your concentration and energy levels.

19. Make sure everything is clear

Let’s say you love biology. You know animal cell diagrams by heart and you’re so familiar with evolution that you’ve considered changing your middle name to Darwin. However, you can’t quite wrap your head around energy transformations — and you’ve only got five days until your exam.

Instead of praying that one particular topic isn’t included in the paper, it’s better to turn to your teacher or professor for exam help right away — that’s what they’re there for! Just make sure you do it well in advance, to ensure they get plenty of time to respond. Remember, there is no such thing as a silly question!

20. Reward yourself

Breaking your workload into chunks and rewarding yourself at the end of each one is a foolproof method for staying motivated. Think about what you crave most; is it sleep, snacks, or some socializing outside of your study den?

If you’re longing for a nap, take one during your lunch break. If you’ve got a sweet tooth, treat yourself to a bite-size candy bar for every chapter you read. And if you’re desperate for some human interaction, plan to see a friend — preferably outdoors, to get your body moving and catch some fresh air, too.

Key takeaways

Though there are countless study tips out there, some may work better for you than others. It all depends on how you learn best! However, these are some general pointers to remember:

  • Staying organized will help you save time and hopefully panic less
  • Limiting distractions can really boost productivity
  • Break time is not wasted time. In fact, it’s necessary!
  • Physical exercise, even in the form of walks, can be a stress-relieving lifesaver

Implementing a combination of these tried-and-tested study techniques will help you manage your time more effectively and prepare better. Now that you know how to ace your exams, you can get back to studying with more confidence!

Do you have any tips to help prepare for exams? Let us know in the comments and help out other students!

Originally published 20 January 2020. Updated by Electra Michaelidou.