Top students share 12 secrets for exam success

Have you ever wondered how La Trobe’s top students prepare for exams? Which tricks they have up their sleeves to help them get ahead? Well, wonder no more!

We caught up with five of them – Louis, Noah, Hammad, Charlotte and Grace – to steal their secrets for exam success.

Here we go…

1. Use colours

Noah: For all of my multiple choice exams I use at least 4 different coloured highlighters or pens to make different points, like one colour for definitions, one colour for important concepts or theories. I also use coloured sticky notes to point me to things I really don’t understand or remember. I just love colour lol.

2. Organise your space

Louis: Organise your study space before beginning to revise.

3. Invest in a pair of noise-cancelling headphones or earmuffs.

Hammad: I get distracted quite easily and suffer from tiny headaches whenever there is noise around me that I do not want to tune in to, especially when working on intensive tasks. When your concentration is interrupted, it can be quite difficult to get back into a good study rhythm. Therefore, I invested in a premium, quality pair of noise-cancelling headphones, which have made a dramatic difference in allowing me to block out unwanted background noise. If you aren’t not interested in noise-cancelling headphones or they are out of your price range, then a low-cost option might be to try and use some earmuffs, similar to what someone working with heavy machinery would wear.

4. Make your own flashcards

Charlotte: Writing these are a great way to go over everything you know and sort it into mnemonics and groups that are already easier to remember. Then you can carry them around with you and read them on the bus or whilst you are eating lunch.

5. Practise old exams or questions

Grace: I like to collate a question bank throughout my semester of questions that I struggle with from things like online quizzes, lectures, or online resources.  These are a really good way of honing your knowledge and making sure you understand the content that you might struggle with otherwise!  Some lecturers will even provide revision quizzes or old exams – these are SUPER helpful.

6. Summarise summarise summarise

Noah: There’s a lot of content to learn going into a final semester exam. The way I stop myself having an existential crisis about this is to always reduce everything down. I go through each lecture and create one cue card per lecture filled with all the major points, especially if I don’t understand the topic too much. The day before the exam try turning all the things you’ve found you still can’t remember into one cue card. For poetic justice, throw this final cue card out as you walk into the exam.

7. Teach a friend

Charlotte: Find a friend or a family member with no background in your field and teach them the exam notes. I find that people will always ask questions you haven’t thought of before and having to go back over the basics yourself can really help cement the knowledge.

8. Switch it up!

Grace: Let’s be real, studying day in day out come exam time is tedious, and not good for you.  I like to switch it up by engaging another part of my brain by doing something completely different to allow it to refresh and also keep boredom at bay.  That being said – avoid procrastinating!  I might study for 55 minutes, then go for a 5 minute walk, or play a game for 5 minutes, or play a musical instrument for 5 minutes.  It breaks up my study as well as allowing me to come back to the desk feeling refreshed.

9. Use flowcharts and diagrams

Louis: Use flowcharts or diagrams to help link content together and to give an overall picture to what you’re studying.

10. Start with the middle

Noah: Odds are you know the content from the middle of semester the least, followed by the first. Starting with this content will refresh it in your mind. If you aren’t a psych student you can also brag by saying this is psychologically proven that you’re more likely to remember the beginning and the end. Start with what you don’t know.

11. Don’t go around in circles

Hammad: There might be one subject of yours that needs extra special attention, but trying to devote every spare hour you have on that subject is going to be counter-productive. It’s OK to try and slug through an ugly subject for a couple of hours, but trying to do so for a longer period of time is going to drain you and minimise the information you absorb. Instead, I suggest that you take a break and focus on a different subject, ideally one that is quite different, so you can give your brain some time to recover and get more out of your work. Otherwise, you’re just going to end up with severe headaches and frustration.

12. Don’t burn out!

Charlotte: If your brain isn’t taking in the information right now or you can’t focus, then jump up and go for a walk or bake some cookies or have a shower. You are less likely to end up getting frustrated at the study material and it gives your brain a bit of a break.

Need a little help preparing for your exams?

Speak with a Peer Learning Adviser via ZOOM. They’re friendly, non-judgemental, and have plenty of tips up their sleeve to help prepare you for exams, assignments and study.

This article is an updated version of one we originally ran in October 2019