Cambridge Students Give Exam Revision Tips
Exam season is upon us. Whether it’s you, your friend, or your family taking exams, it’s good to be informed about different revision techniques, because every exam tip can make the difference. I asked top students at the University of Cambridge what pieces of advice have helped them. See if these tips would benefit you too!
Will Reis studies Earth Sciences (Geology), Choong Ling Liew-Cain studies Earth Sciences (Chemistry) and Chloe Jones studies English Literature.
Exam Tip 1: Don’t just memorise, understand ‘why’
Will: “For the sciences, instead of memorising equations, try to understand why all the different parts come together into the equation. If you suddenly have a mind blank in the exam about whether that ‘x’ goes on the top or the bottom of a fraction, then thinking about how it actually would affect the real world if it were in different places helps you to work out which way is right.”
This is true of the humanities and essay subjects too. Rather than just robotically learning answers to a specific question, you will be able to apply facts in different ways if you understand why and how they are connected.
Exam Tip 2: Practice Essay Questions
Looking over past papers is one of the most important things you can do for your revision. Get over the fear of the exam by knowing them inside out. You’ll see that similar questions come up more often than you’d think, and you can prepare for them by seeing answers in the exam mark schemes.
Choong Ling: “Looking at last papers is good because you can see what kind of thing examiners want from you when they phrase a question a particular way.”
To mix things up, you can also save time by practicing summaries or plans rather than writing whole essays.
Chloe: “Try to make revision as active as possible. As well as learning the material, try to practice ways of manipulating that material to use in different essay questions, or to argue different things. Practice essay plans, and writing five minute introductions or one-paragraph summaries of answers to particularly tricky essay questions.”
Exam Tip 3: Teach others
Teaching others is a great way of learning, and a favourite of students because it helps both of you.
Choong Ling: “Teaching other people in your class is useful as it helps them and you do really have to understand something in order to teach it well.”
Will: “Teaching to others is incredibly useful, and not just for sciences either. It means you’ve got a) know what you’re talking about, b) be able to present it in a coherent and logical way and c) make sure you don’t miss out any important bits that might seem obvious to you but the examiner needs to see that you actually know it.”
If you don’t have any friends working on the same subjects, then as a family member to listen and ask questions while you explain a tricky idea to them. You can even do this by yourself by recording yourself talk through an issue without reference to notes.
Exam Tip 4: Go Outside
All the students agree that giving yourself breaks and staying active are really important:
- Choong Ling: “Don’t lock yourself away for several weeks, trying to keep up your old routine is good and helps you relax.”
- Will: “I would almost spend equal time revising and doing something other than revision – it gets dull and repetitive and your head starts becoming inefficient at taking stuff in. Much better to spend an hour or two going through a particular topic, having a break and then going back to it to see whether you actually understood what you were reading or whether it was going in and coming straight back out again.”
- Chloe: “Like Will said, I think getting outside is really important. Even if it’s just going for a short walk around lunch time. And even though taking up a new tv series in exam term might sound like a terrible idea, finding something easy and relaxing to watch for an hour before bed each night can actually ensure you let your brain wind down before trying to sleep. Or it does for me anyway, as I really struggle to sleep if I haven’t been doing something a little more mindless and completely unrelated to my exams before bed.”
The Exam period is arguably the most important period of the academic year. The right exam preparation can make a huge difference and certainly can also help to make the next term even more enjoyable.