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Exam preparation

By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.

Benjamin Franklin

The two important elements to preparing for exams are setting up a study timetable and applying effective study strategies.

Study Timetable

Setting up a weekly study timetable is key for successful learning and high achievement on the semester tests and exams. Here are some tips for creating an effective study timetable: 

  • Schedule short study sessions throughout the day as they help with retention and deep learning. Try the Pomodoro technique. (see Study strategy 4 below for more details)
  • Vary what you study on a single day to avoid boredom.
  • Set realistic tasks as they are easier to achieve. This will give you a sense of achievement and enhance your motivation to learn.
  • Include time for other commitments such as work, family, and gym time.

Here is a downloadable  template for a study timetable.

Effective study strategies

Once you have a study timetable, the following top 6 tips will make your study more effective.

1. Get detailed exam information

Find detailed information about the exam. Your lecturer will circulate exam information on Canvas along with some past  exams for you to review.

Have a close look at these resources and seek more clarity about:

  • the types of questions
  • the content to be covered by the exam
  • the structure and quality aspects of the expected answer
  • the time allocated for each question

Complete chapter exercises and past exam questions related to the topics in the exam. Form a study group to discuss specific topics. Simply reading and highlighting texts may not be enough.

2. Keep your notes organised

Keep organised notes for each topic in each course. This will be a combination of your notes from lectures and your readings. The following techniques help with organising and retrieving your notes:   

  • Comparison charts to compare concepts, models, or theories 
  • Mind-mapping to summarise a chapter, concept, or the relationship between some elements  
  • Flow charts to capture procedures and processes
  • Numbered lists to help memorise components or characteristics related to a concept  

Find out more about active reading and note taking methods.

3. Review and find patterns

Review the course materials and your notes with the exam format and conditions in mind. Specific types of questions such as multiple choice and short answers require different preparation and practice. When reviewing your previous notes, try to reduce them further and note down any emerging patterns regarding how concepts relate to each other, or how they are applied.

Attend any exam review sessions as they provide invaluable information.

4. Boost your productivity

Boost your study productivity by managing your time efficiently. Try the Pomodoro technique. This technique simply uses a timer to break down your study sessions into short intervals, traditionally 25 minutes in length, separated by short breaks. Watch this short video to learn more about this widely used technique. There are some Pomodoro apps that you could try out.

5. Look after yourself

Give yourself breaks and maintain your wellness, e.g., healthy diet, regular exercise, and enough night sleep. Check out the array of online wellbeing resources available at the University of Auckland.

6. Avoid distractions

Eliminate distractions when studying (e.g., social media, web browsing, game playing, and texting) as research indicates that multitasking negatively affects results.
Here is a downloadable  exam preparation checklist to evaluate your preparation.

The day before the exam

The way you spend the day and the night before the exam can impact your performance on the exam day. Here are important things to keep in mind.

  1. Get enough sleep! Deep sleep aids memory. Eat healthy food.
  2. Prepare your exam equipment, for example, pens, calculators, and ID card.
  3. Double check the exam venue, time, and duration, and plan to arrive early. Traffic jams could make you late for the exam.


Becker, L. (2010). Pocket study skills: 14 days to exam success. Basingstoke, England: Palgrave Macmillan.
Cottrell, S. (2013). The study skills handbook. Basingstoke, England: Palgrave Macmillan.
Studying 101: Study smarter not harder. The learning centre, University of North Carolina.