Exam study hacks

Pile of books

Try these revision techniques and tips to help manage your time and prepare for your exams.

It’s time to study until your heart’s content for those upcoming exams. You sit down and open up your textbook at chapter one and start reading, beginning to end. Does this sound like you?

Forget what you think you know and get stuck into these exam study hacks instead.

Find a study space

Where you study is really important, so if you don’t think you will get much done with your friends, then study by yourself.

At home, find somewhere without distractions. Not at the kitchen table while your family is making dinner or when your favourite Netflix show is on. Pick a space that is clean and tidy because cluttered spaces often lead to cluttered minds, and increase stress and anxiety. You don’t have to Marie Kondo your life right at this moment, but it would help to find a spot that is mess-free so you can concentrate.

Short study sessions

We all have a limit before our attention begins to wander, so study in shorter, more frequent bursts.

There is a method called the Pomodoro which might help. Pick a specific task you want to study in that one session. For example, Human Biology, week 11, the brain. Then start a timer for, say, 25 minutes, focus, and study as hard as you can without getting distracted. As soon as the timer goes off, stop and have a break. And make sure you have a break. Your brain will thank you.

Put music on

Music has an incredible impact on the brain. It reduces blood flow to the brain’s fear centre and increases dopamine, allowing you to de-stress, so get a good playlist together and chill out. However, if you’re someone who likes to study in complete silence, that’s fine too.

Whether you prefer chilled out study tracks, a more mixed selection, or a playlist especially for exam study, we’ve got just the thing for you.

Explain the subject to someone

Explain the topic in your own words. You’ll notice where you don’t quite grasp concepts and if you have any points you need to clarify.

Deeply question your subject

It’s hard to remember fact after fact, so here are a few tips to connect the dots. Make your subject ‘real’ and apply it to real life scenarios or picture real people in the situation; try to find links between this topic and others; connect this particular topic with an underlying principle; or see where there are similarities and differences between concepts.

Create concept or mind maps

You scribbled away furiously during lectures, wrote every last thing down, and now have the most beautiful pages of notes. But do you actually recall everything on the page? Probably not.

Create a concept map with the information. Make a big circle in the middle of the page with the main topic, and then break it down into the different topics, headings, or parts. Then write the minor details under each.

Are your notes really effective? Find out about the art of note taking.

Beat procrastination in just five minutes

You’re not alone in putting off what needs to be done for an imaginary time when you’ll feel more motivated. This magical time doesn’t exist. So set your timer for just five minutes. We can all do five minutes. Once you get stuck into it, you’ll often feel motivated enough to continue.

This is recommended by many time management experts and it’s a hack Instagram co-founder Kevin Systrom swears by.

Practice mindfulness or meditation

Everyone needs to switch off regularly. If you’re stressed out, taking a few minutes out to clear your mind and take a few deep breaths will make a world of difference, and exercises such as yoga and Pilates can help you focus on your breathing. There are also plenty of good websites and apps that can provide guided meditations, such as Calm and Headspace.

Colour code like a pro

Line after line of black and white writing isn’t the most stimulating for your brain. Colour coding can make a big difference, but you must have a method to your madness or you’ll be left with a rainbow mess. For example, use blue highlighting is for definitions, yellow highlighting is for examples, pink highlighting is for statistics, and green highlighting is for dates and events.

Be consistent with your method and careful to not highlight everything.

Study at your optimal times of the day

When are you most alert? If you wake up with a spring in your step in the morning, use that time of day to blast out a study session. You might find you have a great study session in half the time as one at night.

Avoid particular times of the day you know your mind drifts. Most people have a drop off in productivity in the mid-afternoon, so this probably isn’t a good time to sit down to study hard. And don’t persist when you’re dead tired. You would be better off getting a good night’s rest and then trying again the next day.

When you’re very short on time

If it’s the night before an exam, rather than trying to cram as much new information into your head as possible, revise what you do know really well. 

Test yourself periodically

You’re flying through your notes or chapter pages. But then you realise you don’t remember a thing you’ve just read. A better strategy is to stop after each topic, chapter or major point and test yourself. Don’t wait until the end.

Study the subject in different modalities
If your textbook or notes aren’t cutting it, see if there’s a YouTube lecture or a podcast episode that might explain it a little better. But make sure you don’t go down the rabbit hole and learn about things that aren’t relevant.

Speak out loud

You might feel a little ridiculous but speak out loud to yourself. Saying the words out loud might help you pay attention and absorb the message properly.

Draw diagrams and pictures

Yes, even if one has been provided for you. The act of drawing something with your own hand adds a different element to processing and understanding information.


There are lots of different hacks here but what we recommend – above everything else – is repetition and frequency. The brain learns by repeating the same information over and over. This doesn’t mean memorising by rote, but it does mean revisiting information regularly.

Got an exam coming up? Check out what to do the night before an exam.

Posted on:

9 Jul 2023

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