Exam Preparation
Anticipating Exam Content
Revision tools for exams
Exam Stress
Top Ten Exam Tips

Be it a lucky pencil case, or photographic memory we all search for the most effective revision tool. Below we provide some tips, followed by a more detailed description of two of the most popular revision tools used by students, ... apart from the mascot and lucky pencil case that is.

  • Create study checklists - Identify all of the material that you will be tested on - list notes, formulas, ideas, and text assignments you are accountable for. This checklist will enable you to break your studying into organized, manageable chunks, which should allow for a comprehensive revision plan with minimal anxiety.
  • Create summary notes and "maps" - Briefly map out (see mapping below) the important ideas of the course and the relationships of these ideas. Summary notes should display lists and hierarchies of ideas. Creativity and a visual framework will help you recall these ideas.
  • Create flashcards - for definitions, formulas, or lists that you need to have memorized. Put topics on one side of the card, answers on the other. Flashcards will enable you to test your ability to not only to recognize important information, but also your ability to retrieve information from memory.

Many of us have learned to outline subjects in our studies, as follows :

  1. First item
  2. Second item
    1. sub item
    2. sub item
      1. sub sub item
      2. sub sub item
  3. Third item

This is a very linear approach, but not the way our minds work. Instead, our minds work rather like this web site groups of pages/ideas or concepts are linked together to form webs of knowledge in our mind. The way you Learn combines what you already know with what you want to know, and links this new information within our store of knowledge. Our memories then process these new "links" and associations for later recall.

Often to recall specific information we first recall associated knowledge/ideas and then work through the links in our mind to that which we need to remember. When you recognise someones face before you recall that persons name, this is your visual memory of their face being recalled first, before you then link that with memory of their name.

Mind Maps use both the power of your visual memory, and the way we learn and remember facts, to provide, for many of us, a very effective revision tool.

  1. First reject the idea of an outline, or of paragraphs using sentences. Now think in terms of key words or symbols that represent ideas and words.
  2. Take a pencil (you'll be erasing!) and a blank (non-lined) big piece of paper or use a blackboard and (coloured) chalk and write down the most important word or short phrase or symbol in the centre. Think about it; circle it.
  3. Write other important words outside the circle. Draw over-lapping circles to connect items, or use arrows to connect them (think of linking pages in a web site). Leave white space to grow your map for :
    • further development
    • explanations
    • action items
  4. Work quickly, without analyzing your work.
  5. Edit this first phase. Think about the relation of outside items to the centre. Erase and replace and shorten words to these key ideas. Relocate important items closer to each other for better organization. If possible, use colour to organize information. Linking concepts with words to clarify the relationship.
  6. Continue working outward. Freely and quickly add other key words and ideas (you can always erase!). Think weird: tape pages together to expand your map; break boundaries. Develop in directions the topic takes you, not limited by the size of the paper. As you expand your map, you will tend to become more specific or detailed.
  7. Set the map aside. Later, continue development and revision. Stop and think about relationships you are developing. Expand the map over time (right up to an exam!)

This map is your personal learning document. It combines what you knew with what you are learning, and what you may need to complete your "picture"

If this technique works for you, in the exam you will be able to recall associated knowledge more effectively. If you have a strong visual memory you may even be able to recall where on the Map you wrote the information you now require, and visualise this in your mind.

To test this, spend a few moments studying the very basic Mind Map below, and then continue to read through this article, we will test your memory of this Map at the end of this section.

Basic Mind Map Example

Here is a method of studying that gives you, an accurate perception of how well you know the material, and forces you to think about it, rather than just look over it.

  1. Review your notes and readings frequently, so the material is "fresh"
  2. As you're reading your text or reviewing your notes, generate and write down questions about the material. Imagine you're teaching the course. What questions would you ask on the exam?
  3. Keep track of any terms you need to know
  4. Write each question or term on the back of an index card
  5. On the front of each index card, write an answer or an explanation for the question or term on the back. Use your notes and text for a reference, but put the answer or explanation in your own words whenever possible.
  6. Shuffle the index cards, so you can't figure out any answers based on their location in the deck.
  7. Look at the card on the top of the deck. Try to answer the question or explain the term. If you know it, great! Put it on the bottom of the deck. If you don't know it, look at the answer, and put it a few cards down in the deck, so you'll come back to it shortly.
  8. Proceed through the deck of cards until you know all of the information.

Just like the Mind Mapping technique, this method will not work for everyone, that said the following tips may help in using this revision tool.

  • Carry your cards with you everywhere. Take advantage of little pockets of time. Test yourself while you're waiting on line, riding the bus, etc.
  • If you think you know an answer, but can't put it into words, you probably don't know it well enough. Being able to explain the information is the only way to be sure that you know it. It's also the best way to prevent test anxiety.
  • Consider testing yourself someplace where nobody can see you (and think you're crazy), and reciting the answers out loud. That's the best way to be sure that you can explain them.
  • Study with a friend from your class. You can share ideas and help each other out with concepts. Also, you can use each other to make sure that you're explaining your answers adequately.


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