Most of us hate exams and would take any help we can get to pass them. Here is my formula that has helped me to pass every exam I have sat in the last 5 years.
1. Get all the useful material
This means get the material that is most useful to you. Don't bother with classes and workshops if you don't learn in that environment. Find out the which medium you prefer and focus on the material within it. I would however recommend buying the text book regardless of your learning style as it reduces stress a book you can quickly refer back to.
2. Scan through everything
If you go down the text book and past paper route then scan through that text book before you do anything, before you attend a class, make a note or watch a podcast! Scanning means looking at the page without reading it. Just look at the page for a few seconds then move on to the next until you reach the end. This helps the material enter your subconscious and gives you an intuitive feeling of the structure of the subject and material.
3. Write down a study timetable
Writing down stuff makes you more likely to do it. Make sure in your timetable you study every day, aim to start 12 weeks out from your exam for 2 hours each day. If you can't get 2 hours in on certain days then do less, even if it is only 15 minutes make sure a part of your day is focused on your exam. If you have more that one subject to learn then do a maximum of 2 per day and do them on consecutive days. For example you have 3 subjects (A, B and C) to study your week will look like this
- Monday A for 1.5 hours, B for 0.5 hour
- Tuesday B for 1.5 hours, C for 0.5 hour
- Wednesday C for 1.5 hours, A for 0.5 hour
- Thursday A for 1.5 hours, B 0.5 hour
- Friday B for 1.5 hour, C for 0.5 hour
- Saturday C for 1.5 hour, A for 0.5 hour
- Sunday A, B and C for 0.5 - 1 hour on each
This means that all subject are being studied equally and the last thing you study (i.e. the 0.5 hour session) will lead into the first thing you study the next day (the 1.5 hours session).
4. Get as much information as possible
Go online and find out as much as you can about the exam you will be sitting. Most exams will be run by a professional body that will have a website for students, here there will be forums and articles that will give you an insight into the key areas of the exam and how difficult areas are overcome by other students.
5. Start with the exam
Get your hands on as many past papers as you can and go through them noting any regular occurrences, for example does the same style of question come up year after year or are there more questions on one specific area of the subject. Use this information to prioritize your study timetable thus making sure you focus on the questions most likely to appear in the exam.
By now you have a basic understanding of the structure of the subject (at least subconsciously), you will have a study plan and you will know what areas of the subject come up the most. Its time to start going through your material, tackle one section at a time and make sure you do the end of section questions, this will make your life easier come revision time and will stop you from kidding yourself you know what you don't.
7. Two Weeks of revision
Around 2 weeks out you should be at a stage where you are revising and not learning. Revision should consist of lots and lots of practice exam questions completed without the answers to hand. These questions should also be completed in close to the time you will be allowed in the exam.
8. Employ memory techniques
This can be implemented before or during the revision period. By memory techniques I mean creating a memory palace where you store keywords that prompt you to remember information to help you in the exam. There is loads of information on creating a memory palace out there so I won't go into too much detail as is an article in itself. Essentially there is 2 ways to use a memory palace to pass an exam
- If you know the questions that you will be asked in the exam then write out you perfect answer, now summarise this answer into just the key points, from here pick keywords that would help you to remember these key points and use your memory palace to remember the words. This will mean that you can recreate your answer note free from memory.
- If you can't rote learn answers you can use memory techniques to remember your notes. Exams are stressful and having the confidence that you have relevant prompt words saved in your brain will not only help you to relax but will mean you have relevant information to tackle the questions.
9. Have a strategy
This is often forgotten in the panic of learning material but cannot be underestimated. The law of diminishing marks means that you will likely pick up most of your marks in the first part of your answer so spending an hour chasing full marks on a single question is often a bad utilisation of your time. For example you have 4 25 mark questions covering 4 topics and 2 hours to complete them. Some of us would spend the majority of the 2 hours chasing full marks on the two questions we are most confident about and neglect the rest for a rushed effort on the rest. We do this because in the heat of battle we write down everything we know about what we know in the hope of picking up the most marks in the questions we are best at. This is a terrible strategy if you want pass as you are giving away too many marks by not spending time on the questions you are least confident about. In the questions you like you are likely to have picked up the vast majority within the 30 minutes you shout be spending on it and so more time does not mean better results. Your strategy should therefore be to follow this formula
Total time/total marks multiplied by the amount of marks per question
So if your exam comprises of 100 marks and is over 2 hours with a question split of Q1 (50 marks), Q2 (20 marks), Q3 (20 marks) and Q4 (10 marks) you should be spending 60 minutes on Q1 (120/100*50), 24 minutes on Q2 (120/100*20), 24 minutes on Q3 and 12 minutes on Q4 (120/100*10) and not a second more on each. This is your strategy, stick to it.