Surviving first year exams

At UoN, we want to see you succeed in your exams and get the outcome you deserve, without the added stress. You'll find handy hints for surviving your exams, from early preparation to evaluating how you went.

  • Ideally, you should start preparing for your exams on the first day of semester.
  • Read through your course outline when you start your course. This will list your exam details, including if and when you will be sitting it, and how much the exam will contribute to your overall grade.
  • Start taking lecture notes from your first lecture. You can then turn these notes into comprehensive summaries throughout your course. If your lecturer puts their notes or PowerPoint slides on UoNline before the lecture, print them out no more than three slides per page so you can add in your own notes.
  • Keep up-to-date with your course readings, text chapters and lecture note summaries.
  • Attend any revision sessions given by your lecturer.
  • Listen out for exam hints from your lecturers during your course – they may mention what topics could be included in the exam.
  • Aim to get as many marks as possible in your assessments throughout the semester – it will take some pressure off for your exam.
  • It's best to aim for the highest marks possible to achieve a high grade point average (GPA).
  • If you're struggling with a heavy workload, or running out of time to study for exams, use exam goal-setting to work out which courses to focus more effort on in the lead-up to exams.
  • Beware of the compulsory pass for exams. Some courses not only rely on an exam to contribute to the final mark; they make passing the exam compulsory (sometimes called an essential criterion).

Follow these steps to plan your own exam timetable:

  1. Check the university's exam timetable when this is released. You can also check your personal exam timetable at myHub.
  2. Check if you have any timetable clashes.
  3. Draw up a timetable for the entire exam period, including any spare study time the week before. See our four week exam timetable template (DOC, 12KB).
  4. Write down a list of all the tasks you need to do for each course, including preparing summaries of summaries and practicing test papers.
  5. Add in your exam dates and times on your timetable, and allocate days and times to work on each task.

Find out from your lecturer the format of the exam so you can use the correct study strategy.

Exams can be in the following formats or be a mixture of these:

  • multiple choice exams
  • short and long answer exams
  • essay exams
  • open-book and take-home exams
  • problem or case-based exams
  • oral exams

The night before:

  • Check your exam time, room number and seat allocation.
  • Study until dinner time. Sit down to a good meal, but don't drink any alcohol.
  • After dinner, read over your summaries. Minimise TV, the internet, computer games and long conversations. Relax and enjoy a good night's sleep.

Before leaving home:

  • Eat a good breakfast high in carbohydrates before a morning exam. Have a simple lunch before an afternoon exam.
  • Allow at least one hour to read over your summaries and practise any rote learning.
  • Consider leaving an hour earlier than usual, in case of transport delays.
  • Wear a watch to monitor time during the exam.
  • Take plenty of pens/pencils, an eraser, tissues, water bottle and any other material you are allowed to bring.
  • Take your student ID card.

Before you enter the exam:

  • Read the summaries of your summaries before you go in to the exam room to help focus your thoughts.
  • Stay away from other people before the exam as they could distract you or make you nervous.
  • Use your reading time wisely by carefully reading, then re-reading each question.
  • Set time allocations for each question according to how many marks a question is worth, so you don't run out of time. For example, in a three hour exam, a question worth 10 per cent should take you around 18 minutes.
  • If you answer a question in less than the allocated time, but feel you have covered most points, move on.
  • Plan to finish the paper five minutes early to go back and check your answers.
  • If you come across a question that you can't answer at all, leave it and move on to the next question. You can always come back to it at the end.
  • If you do run out of time, use point form to summarise what you intended to write (it may earn you one or two extra marks).
  • Think like a marker. Markers might have hundreds of exam papers to read. They will usually have a standardised marking scheme - they are looking to allocate a set number of marks if you have mentioned certain key words.
  • For written exams, try to write neatly - printing is preferable.
  • After the exam, it's time to relax with your friends. Debrief over the exam, but try not to listen too much to what others thought were the correct answers.
  • When your results are available, check to see if this is consistent with what you thought you might get. If there is a huge discrepancy, for example by a couple of grades or you unexpectedly failed, consider applying for a remark or appealing your final result.
  • If you do fail, it's not the end of the world; instead, use it as a learning experience.

For more details on surviving exams, this excerpt is taken from the book Surviving First Year Uni and is available from UoN libraries and as an e-book.

Lauren Williams & John Germov, 2001, Surviving First Year Uni, Allen & Unwin, Sydney.