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How to Pass Exams With Top Grades

Beth is a qualified teacher and university lecturer. She believes that education and learning will help you make the most of life.

You need to focus on your studies to pass exams with good grades.

You need to focus on your studies to pass exams with good grades.

8 Tips For High Marks

  1. Pace your studies throughout the year. Don't leave it all until the last minute.
  2. Make notes as you revise. This helps you learn and remember key facts.
  3. Create a realistic revision timetable. Don't set yourself up to fail.
  4. Study in a quiet, device-free environment. No TV, text or calls allowed.
  5. Revise in two steps. The 1st read-through is to get an overview. Use the 2nd read-through to make notes of key points.
  6. Use reading, writing, and audio to help you memorize facts. Variety will help the subject remain fresh.
  7. Test yourself to rehearse for the exam. This can be done with a study-buddy.
  8. Take short breaks during revision. Exercise can help maintain energy levels.

How to Deal With Exam Stress

Keep Your Study Plan Simple

Making a study timetable should not be a bigger project than the revision itself. Don't be tempted to subdivide each hour into the minutiae of the subjects you need to study. Remember the acronym KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid). Try and obtain exam papers from previous years. These will give an indication of the type of questions that are likely to appear in the exam. Your college or university may be able to provide these. Alternatively, you can buy previous years’ papers from the examining boards themselves.

Eat Proper Meals, Exercise and Drink Water

Throughout your revision period eat healthily and exercise regularly and it will help to reduce your stress levels. It’s tempting to think it doesn’t matter if you’re too busy to eat real (not junk) food. But a good night's sleep and a balanced diet helps you stay alert and able to study.

How to Make a Good Study Plan

Three-Step Revision Technique

Step 1. The first time you study the course notes and texts you are reading to gain a broad understanding of the subject. At this stage it's more important that you grasp overall concepts than to make revision notes.

Step 2. You will revisit the topic in a second reading. At this stage you can underline important phrases or jot down keywords as you go through your notes. This active learning method will help you understand and remember your subject.

Step 3. As you read, make some very brief notes to act as an aide memoir. An aide memoir is something that jogs your memory on key points, and can be referred to a few days before the exam.

Plan for the Day of the Exam

Your exam test may be held in a room you've been in before, or it may be somewhere unfamiliar. Whichever situation applies, it's important to plan ahead. Think about how you're getting there, there's nothing worse than getting stuck in traffic on the way to an exam. You may want to do a practice run a few days beforehand to see how long the journey takes. On the actual day of the exam make sure you allow some extra time for the journey “just in case.”

Inside the Exam Room: The Test Itself

Your teacher will remind you of the rules of the exam room; including what can and cannot be taken into the room. Often cell phones (mobiles) have to be left outside the exam hall, but not always. If you're not sure if you're allowed to take something into the room with you, find out before the day of the exam itself. This will stop you becoming more stressed than necessary. For example, if you need to have an asthma inhaler with you, the rules may require you to inform the examination supervisor of this.

For the exam itself, make sure you have a working computer, enough pens and pencils, and a bottle of water, if each of them are allowed. There's usually a clock on the wall of the exam room and you can use this to pace yourself through the exam. The time allowed to complete an exam is designed to give the average student sufficient time to complete all questions. A very able student may finish in a shorter time and a poor student may struggle. In order to give you the best chance of gaining a pass mark or above, you need to maintain a steady work-rate throughout the test.

If you fail to prepare, you prepare to fail.

— Anon.

Pace Yourself During the Exam

  1. When instructed to do so, turn over the exam paper and look at the questions. Don't be tempted to scan quickly through as you may start to panic.
  2. Calmly read through each question and make a mark against those that you think are particularly easy or particularly difficult. Allow yourself no more than five minutes for this.
  3. The remaining period of the exam should then be divided equally between the number of questions you need to answer. For example, if it's a three-hour paper and you need to answer five questions then you have half an hour for each question, plus five minutes at the start for the read-through, and 25 minutes at the end for final checking.

You may answer the exam questions in any order you like. Make sure that you number the questions correctly so that the examiner knows which question you have answered. Choose a question you think is relatively easy as the first one to answer. This will give you confidence and help you relax. Next try one of the more difficult questions, as you are still relatively fresh. The remaining questions can then be tackled in any order. Keep an eye on how time is passing and make sure you move onto the next question promptly even if you haven’t completely answered each question.

How to Structure Test Answers

Each answer should take the form of a mini essay.

  • Start with an introductory paragraph to open up the topic.
  • Next discuss the main meat of the argument which will include the pros and cons.
  • You can then finish with a final summing up paragraph.

Your answer must be written using correct grammar and complete sentences. Spelling is important too. Examiners will mark you down if you use text-speak rather than writing grammatically correct English.

Gaining Crucial Extra Marks

If you have paced yourself through the exam as planned, then you'll have made sure you have some time left after answering the required questions to reread and check over your answers. Often you will spot some obvious factual errors, or a couple of spelling mistakes. By having allowed sufficient time to correct these, you can gain the crucial extra marks to move you into a better grade.

Exams are test your knowledge and skills. However, exam technique also plays a role in how well you perform in these tests. Stay focused and calm and you'll be able to effectively demonstrate the extent and depth of your knowledge.

You may want to read a book on study skills at the start of your course to help you achieve high grades. I recommend "How to Study" by Ron Fry. It gives great tips on how to use your study time effectively, and succeed at school and university exams.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

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