Tips for revising and taking exams at a UK university

Ryanne, an international student, smiling.

One of our International Study Centre students, Ryanne from America, currently studies the International Foundation Year in Business, Economics, Law and Social Sciences. Here, she shares her approach to taking all kinds of exams during lockdown.

Exams this year have been different. For me, throughout the pandemic, they have mostly been 24-hour open book exams with online submission. 24-hour exams happen via an online portal, giving us students a window of time to submit a 1000- or 2000-word essay. Otherwise, several of my other exams have been conducted through a timed browser that emulates traditional exams.

While these methods did not totally replicate the experience of taking exams pre-COVID, I adjusted my revision and exam techniques to cater to these changes. Now, I can take you through the methods that have been beneficial for my exam performance.

Revision tips

The subjects I study have primarily essay-based exams, so my revision tips will mostly be catered to those of you doing modules like Law, Business and Sociology.

My revision tips are as follows:

  • Read: start with textbook pre-readings, followed by lecture slides, any additional notes/annotations, and finally, read academic articles, which can be found at your university’s library (online or in-person).
  • Highlight: whilst reading, take note of key topics, points, definitions, and examples.
  • Make notes: writing up and using flashcards to test yourself consistently will allow you to remember important information for a longer period, even for your exam.

Ryanne's revision flashcards are great for revision

Although most exams are 24-hour and open book, I highly recommend using the flashcard tip and trying to retain information before the exam. This will make the exam so much easier for you, because you will not need to worry about trying to find every piece of information in the book during your exam, which can waste time. Instead, most of it will be in your memory, and you will only need to search the book for additional supporting information.

Exam tips

As there are different kinds of exams, it’s important to prepare for the type you will be taking.

For 24-hour open book exams

Before I give you my tips, this type of exam is quite unique in a number of ways, so there are some important things to remember. Firstly, it’s a long exam – during a 24-hour exam, you will be able to use the full 24 hours, but also don’t have to. Secondly, “open book” refers to exams in which you’ll be allowed to have the relevant text with you, and can refer to it throughout.

My tips for doing your best on this kind of exam are:

  • Be organised: collate all reading sources, including lecture slides, relevant textbook pages and academic articles, into folders.
  • Plan ahead: always write a brief outline ahead of answering any essay question.
  • Take scheduled breaks: remind yourself that you are not expected to work for the entire 24 hours – taking time away will allow you to come back to your exam feeling refreshed.

For online timed exams

My only tip for this type of exam is simple: complete as many practice papers and questions as you can. After completing mock papers, you will have an improved understanding of what style of questions to expect, the correct way to answer such questions and other things that will boost your confidence. You can find practice exams through your teachers and even some online.

Well-being tips

My two main recommendations when it comes to wellbeing are to drink water throughout your exams, and to get an adequate amount of sleep.

Drinking lots of water

Research findings from a group of 447 students found that those who drank water throughout their exam scored an average of 5% higher than those who didn’t (BBC 2012). This statistic should hopefully encourage you to stay hydrated in order to maximise your potential during your revision and exams.

Getting enough sleep

Sleep is essential for us to function. Sleep Foundation (2021) recommends that 7-9 hours of sleep are needed to remain healthy. Adequate sleep levels have been strongly linked to displays of better academic performance. Therefore, making sure you are getting a full nights’ sleep in the weeks around your revision and exam should help to increase the success of your studies.

Find out more about starting your studies or check the latest COVID-19 information.