① Just reading your notes for hours is completely pointless.
What most students do: We often hear students telling us that they have, truly, spent hours revising for their examination. “I spent five hours flipping through my notes / files / worksheets yesterday!” is the rallying cry. However, scientific research has shown that merely reading through your materials will not enable you to retrieve that information later on. In short, you won’t be able to remember anything you’ve read during an examination.
What you should do instead: Take those undigested notes and do something with the information in it. For instance, write out the grammar rule or vocabulary definition. Rewrite a composition or essay from scratch, or at least do a couple of plans. You’ll activate a different part of your brain which will make the information accessible during your examination.
② Focus on your mistakes and understand why you made them.
What most students do: A typical student will try to memorise answers / essays / model responses and attempt to regurgitate them as accurately as possible during the examination. This is obviously a recipe for disaster in the modern context: your examinations are carefully designed to ensure that rote learners can be easily filtered out from those who actually respond to the particular needs and requirements of the questions before them. (Go off-topic or fail to address the requirements of the question and you will almost certainly fail.)
What you should do instead: Look at your mistakes and try to understand the reason why you made those mistakes. For instance, do you have an issue with subject-verb agreement? Are you prone to misspelling certain words? Do you panic when you see a topic that seems unfamiliar (but which, on further reflection, would actually be manageable had you not panicked in the first place)? Then, put in place a plan to avoid making these mistakes during the examination. When it comes to high-stakes examinations, your strategy for managing that examination on the day itself is everything.
③ Organise the information you need to remember in a format that is helpful for your examination.
What most students do: Many students try to memorise the information they need to know in the format that is given to them in their textbooks, worksheets or notes. However, depending on who has created or structured those worksheets or notes, what you memorise may not be in a form that is easily recalled, applied or analysed during an examination.
What you should do instead: “Consolidate” (collective sigh audible). Yes, you’ve heard this advice before, but this is what that word means: as you work with your notes, reorganize them into a structure that is isomorphic to (in other words, applicable to) your examination format. Elite students reorganize their notes into essay plans, for instance, rather than long nested lists of ideas that have to be further restructured in your mind during the examination.
And a quick tip from us: we really don't like mind maps, which are messy, unstructured and a waste of time. But more on that some other time.
④ Practise as if it’s a performance.
What most students do: Read and regurgitate information. They see examinations as pure information retrieval or, worse still, some form of self-expression or path to validation of one’s intelligence / intellect / creativity etc. That’s not what an examination is.
What you should do instead: Sitting for a written examination is no different from a musical performance or an athletic competition – you need to actually practise doing the thing itself. Time pressure can make or break your score. Write out those essays and time yourself, because being able to physically perform on the day itself and having the psychological fortitude to get through it makes a surprising difference.
⑤ Don’t skip steps during the exam. You'll regret it.
What most students do: Panic during the examination. Change their time-tested examination strategies. Take shortcuts and unwarranted risks due to the adrenaline rush. We’ve seen it all before and yes, disaster looms around the corner.
What you should do instead: Follow the examination management strategies you have been taught and don’t stray from them during the examination – you’ll end up regretting it. Take the time to read the question carefully and brainstorm. Do a brief plan or outline. Circle your clues and highlight your sources. Following a plan of action is the only way to ensure that your examination performance doesn’t get derailed.
Good luck; and to Academia students, we know you've been well-prepared.