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5 things you need to know to do well in exams

5 things students need to know to do well in exams

4 min read
  • Study skills & exam prep

Preparing for exams can be a very stressful experience. It can be hard to know where to start and how to stay on top of it all.

To help with this, we have outlined our top 5 tips to help students do well in exams. These not only highlight the most effective learning strategies to use, but also how to get in the right mindset. Let’s take a look…

1. Spacing out their learning

Instead of cramming their learning all at once, it is much more effective for students to spread it over a longer period of time. This gives them time to forget the information and therefore re-learn it in their next study session. Using this process makes it more likely that the information is cemented into their long-term memory.

But how effective is this technique? Well, in one study, researchers found that students who spaced their learning scored an average of 74%, compared to 49% for those who crammed their revision

It can be difficult for students to organise their study sessions using the spacing technique, so you may need to help them come up with a plan. Researchers have found that the further away a test is, the longer the gaps between study sessions should be. You can therefore use their rough template to help students organise their time:

How Far Away The Test Is7 Days35 Days70 Days350 Days
Gap Between Revision Sessions3 Days8 Days12 Days27 Days

2. Using Retrieval Practice

Another very effective learning strategy is retrieval practice. This is the process of generating an answer to a question. By recalling previously-learnt knowledge, students can create stronger memory traces, making it more likely that they will remember the information in the long term.

However, make sure to keep this strategy low-stakes. Although some stress can be a good thing, too much of it can negatively impact your students’ performance and, in the case of retrieval practice, it can actually defeat the purpose of using this strategy. Find out more in our blog “Ensuring you keep retrieval practice low-stakes in your classroom”.

But here are the good news: using retrieval practice during revision can actually help reduce your students’ stress levels closer to exams. One study found that using retrieval practice can protect from the negative effects of stress on memory, and another found that 72% of students who used retrieval practice felt less nervous about their exams. To find out more about the benefits of retrieval practice, see this blog.

Here are some easy ways for students to implement retrieval practice into study sessions:

  • Using past papers
  • Doing multiple-choice tests
  • Flashcards
  • Making their own questions and answering them

3. Taking time out for themselves

No matter how much information they know, to perform well in the exam, students need to be in the right mindset to do well. Constant studying can increase stress levels and could result in burning out. Therefore, students should regularly set time out for themselves to avoid this.

This timeout could consist in walks outside, watching a movie, or simply spending time with friends. Regularly checking in with themselves can help students feel much better. One way to help them implement this is by encouraging students to add this to their study schedule. Not only will this help them stick to it, but it would also make sure they leave enough time for studying.

Explain to them that once it’s time to study again, they will feel refreshed and more focused. It can also help reduce procrastination, by giving them some scheduled time off to look forward to.

Boost your students’ study skills and give them the best chance at academic success, with an evidence-informed workshop.

4. Getting enough sleep

The National Sleep Foundation recommends students to get up to 10 hours of sleep per night, but most teenagers report that they get less than 7 hours a night. Students often believe that staying up to read that last bit of information is more useful than getting that extra hour of sleep. However, the opposite is true.

In a review, researchers found that sleep deprivation impairs a person’s attention and concentration levels. Not getting enough sleep could make students less productive and reduce their focus during an exam.

Some tips students can use to sleep better include:

  • Having regular bedtimes
  • Exercising for an hour a day
  • Turning down the brightness on their phone at night

5. Not skipping breakfast

Not having breakfast can also affect concentration levels. In a study, students who had breakfast were more alert and had improved memory throughout the day.

This can therefore also have an impact on academic performance. In another study, researchers found that students who ate breakfast were twice as likely to gain above average scores in their tests compared to those who skipped breakfast. With more than 1 in 5 secondary school students skipping breakfast every day, this could be the small push they need to reach their academic goals.

Final thoughts

The run-up to exams can be daunting. And it’s not just about learning the information – being well prepared can help students feel less stressed and perform at their best in the exam.

About the editor

Bradley Busch

Bradley Busch

Bradley Busch is a Chartered Psychologist and a leading expert on illuminating Cognitive Science research in education. As Director at InnerDrive, his work focuses on translating complex psychological research in a way that is accessible and helpful. He has delivered thousands of workshops for educators and students, helping improve how they think, learn and perform. Bradley is also a prolific writer: he co-authored four books including Teaching & Learning Illuminated and The Science of Learning, as well as regularly featuring in publications such as The Guardian and The Telegraph.

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