Study tips to stay ahead

Posted on November 06, 2018

Finals are upon us, so here are a few pointers to make sure you’re prepared, well rested and focused in the run-up to exam day and on the day you sit the test. 

And remember, a good semester mark will really help you to do well before exams, so if there are any assignments or assessments that you still need to complete, make sure you do your best to do them well.


  • Preparation is key, so plan and manage your time well. Be disciplined by having a study plan and following it.
  • Identify the study strategies that work best for you – for example, mind maps, tables, images, keywords, activating different senses or colour-coding notes.
  • Summarise the work effectively and extract the main point of each paragraph after you’ve read and understood it. Write it down in your own words or summarise it (correctly) in a way you understand. If you don’t understand something or aren’t certain if your summary is correct, ask a friend who knows the subject well, or your tutor or lecturer.
  • Aim to gain insight into the work and be able to explain things to yourself by grasping the underlying principles.
  • Leave enough time for revision ­– you can revise something only if you already know it, so study first, then go over your notes.
  • Consult with tutors or lecturers if anything is hampering your understanding – we’re here to help you. Difficulty grasping concepts or being confused by a topic will impact on your understanding of more complicated work later on, so ask for help.
  • Draw up a study timetable and take regular breaks. Your maximum concentration span lasts 35–45 minutes so don’t study for too long without a break. Your mind doesn’t absorb information effectively if you’re tired which is why you need to take regular breaks after each study session.
  • Real learning is in applying how well you’ve retained or understood information. Past papers are a good way to check how much you know and how well you know it. Test yourself using these papers and mark them to gauge where you can improve. If you don’t understand a question or how to get to the correct answer, ask your tutor or lecturer, or a friend who’s good at the subject.
  • Manage your stress levels and try to keep calm. If your stress and anxiety levels feel overwhelming and you feel like you’re suicidal or depressed and can’t cope, contact the counsellors at the Department of Student Affairs (DSA) for assistance, or speak to your Faculty Student Advisor. Contact details are listed below:

  • Remember, there are only 24 hours in a day and you need enough time to sleep, eat and take regular breaks.


1. Create an exam timetable

  • List all your subjects.
  • List the number of chapters to study per subject.
  • Work out how long you may take to study each chapter.
  • Work out how much time you need per module (each module’s chapters or workload may differ in length).

2. Prepare to study

  • Schedule each module into the next few weeks leading up to exams by breaking down the work into individual study sessions.
  • Use free periods in the day between lectures.
  • Schedule time in the evenings for exam preparation.
  • Use weekends effectively.
  • Make time for eating, regular breaks, grooming and resting/relaxation.

3. Get down to studying

  • Manage your time, be accountable, and stick to your study schedule and timetable. Don’t focus on what you should have done – focus instead on what you can do and get busy doing it. Try not to get stuck in the emotions; rather be solution-focussed.
  • Focus on the most important work by prioritising the first few papers.
  • Aim for understanding, not only memorisation!
  • Once you understand, use keywords, images, acronyms, comparison tables, flashcards, mind maps and other study techniques to organise the information in your mind.
  • Include practical examples in your learning – try to make it personal to you.
  • Test yourself – take the study objectives in your study guide and textbook, and turn them into questions. Have “mock exams” with past exam papers.
  • Revision is crucial – make sure you have time to go over your work.
  • Be satisfied with your effort and try your best!

4. Exam day

  • Get to bed early and wake up early enough to arrive comfortably on time.
  • Remember to bring all necessary items such as a calculator, working stationery, student card, a light jacket for air-conditioned lecture halls, etc.
  • Avoid discussing work before entering the exam hall so you don’t get confused by incorrect information.
  • Be seated early.
  • Don’t panic – take deep breaths to relax.
  • Read the exam instructions carefully (format, time, number of questions).
  • Before you start, scan the whole paper for an overview of what’s required of you so that you pace yourself by allocating enough time to each question.
  • Prioritise the questions/sections that you know well, but don’t take too long on them. Keep some time at the end to review your answers and check that you’ve answered everything.
  • Read the questions carefully and make sure you understand what is being asked of you. Look at what the question is asking you to do: list, describe or analyse? Answer appropriately: for example, list what is asked for in a list.
  • Don’t worry if others finish before you.
  • Leave after the exam rather than discuss answers with friends. You may have answered something correctly but you might begin to stress or worry that you haven’t if your friends have answered incorrectly.

Good luck to all our students over the exam period. We know you’ve worked hard all year, so do your best and try to excel. We hope to see our final-year students collect their qualifications on stage at our Autumn Graduations in 2019!

Remember to use and share these tips with your friends! Relax, and have a great summer holiday after the exams.

- Author Shakira Hoosain

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