Exam Revision Tips: Your Survival Guide

exam advice

Preparing for an exam or an important test is like an athlete prepping for a key competition – Excessive training just prior to the event can burn out the competitor, and make him/her under-perform during the final event.


The good news is that you don’t need to have an IQ score of 120+, nor do you have to be a member of Mensa, to revise for your exams and ace them. What you do need however, in addition to a good understanding of the subject matter, is a well defined plan for revisions and preparation.

Here are some tips, tricks and hacks that you can use to ensure you ace your exams every time:

  • Don’t over-do it: Like the athlete prepping too hard before the race, last minute all-nighters, constant cramming or 24/7 revisions could do more harm than good. You need to pace yourself in your preparations or else you’ll forget most of what you’re trying to revise
  • Plan your revision: Give yourself plenty of time to revise. If the subject matter is exceptionally complex (like intricate math formulas or accounting calculations), then allow more revision days
  • Plan for relaxation: Even though an exam might be of particular significance for your career, you need to factor in some relaxation and distractions in order to make the most of your revision efforts. Going for a Yoga class, socialising with friends, catching a movie, listening to your favourite music, cooking – all of these can help put you in a better frame of mind to revise for the upcoming exam
  • Mix it up a bit: Instead of just sitting and reading through text books, online content or revision notes, use other creative techniques – such as mnemonic devices[1] – to help you memorise and retain important points. Other techniques, such as mind mapping[2], are fun ways to use visualisation and association to help with revisions. You could even try free mind mapping tools[3] to help make revision more interesting
  • Create your zone: Many students (regardless of the level of examination they are prepping for) might not find in-class environments conducive for revision. Instead, you need to create your own “revision zone”, which could be a library, your favourite café, a park or your apartment/home. You may even want to use earphones, background music or appropriate lighting – whatever works for you – to help you concentrate and focus
  • Simulate it: A great way to revise for an upcoming exam is to use exam prep guides or previous examination questions (if available) to simulate your next test/exam. You could even produce Flash Cards[4], based on common themes from such previously tested materials, to help you cram for the exam

The best tip of all though, to help you ace an exam, is to remember that exam revisions start the first day of the course, and not a few weeks before the exam itself. That’s when you start creating the raw materials you’ll use during your revision sessions:

exam advice
Use exam prep guides or previous examination questions (if available) to simulate your next test/exam
  • Make notes: Take careful notes (DON’T transcribe every word!) during the teaching/learning sessions, but always remember to review, restructure and condense them (for later revision) immediately after the session. Use a structured note-taking[5] technique to help you with revisions later
  • Reduce distractions: Revisions won’t help if you don’t understand the basics of the subject. Note-taking can help you understand key concepts as you are being exposed to them for the very first time. However, research[6] suggests that longhand note-taking is often better for understanding and retention – so consider parking your tablet or laptop during class!
  • Revise often: Make yourself “exam ready” by revisiting all of your condensed notes periodically, just so your memory is refreshed with everything you learned in prior sessions
  • Get help: Ensure that you reach out to tutors and professors immediately, if you feel you can’t grasp a particular concept. Such timely clarifications will aid you in developing a more coherent set of notes that you can use effectively during revision
  • Start early: Start building revision support networks right now! Reach out to groups of students and sound them out about the idea of meeting often to go over study materials and share notes about course materials. Such meets don’t necessarily have to be in-person. You could leverage free online study collaboration tools[7] to help you accomplish this objective

As long as you understand that the objective of exam revisions is not to get acquainted with the subject matter of the exam for the very first time; then you should be able to use the above tricks, tips and hacks successfully to ace any exam.


When all’s said and done, some students might just need that little extra “nudge” to get them over the final bump in the road on their path to passing an exam or test. Kaplan’s Student Services programs are tailored to provide you with just that kind of support.

Our academic success centre has but one mission: To help students get up to speed with language, numeracy and other support skills and advice needed to succeed. We also have programs in place to support our international students, or students requiring help with English language skills.

We’re rooting for your success every step of the way!
[1] https://psychcentral.com/lib/memory-and-mnemonic-devices/

[2] https://imindmap.com/articles/how-to-improve-memory-with-mind-maps/

[3] http://mindmapfree.com/

[4] http://www.cram.com/flashcards/create

[5] http://coe.jmu.edu/learningtoolbox/cornellnotes.html

[6] https://sites.udel.edu/victorp/files/2010/11/Psychological-Science-2014-Mueller-0956797614524581-1u0h0yu.pdf

[7] https://www.goconqr.com/en-CA/examtime/