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Exams: Preparing for exams

Tips and strategies for preparing for, and sitting, an exam

Preparing for an exam

To prepare for your exams you will need a complete sets of notes for each subject (also known as master summaries).
Master summaries are complete sets of notes for each topic or week of the semester to use for review and exams. 

A complete set of notes includes:

  • Lecture slides and your notes for that topic
  • Additional notes from the tutorial
  • Additional notes from the relevant sections of your text (if your course has one)
  • Additional notes from course readings that relate to the topic

A complete set of notes each week means you have all the information you need in the one place.

It is a good idea to use Cornell’s note taking method to summarise, because you can use the left hand column to state your sub-headings, use the right hand side to make your points or maps, and the summary section at the bottom of the page to test your knowledge.

Once you have completed your master summaries it is time to revise and the best way to review these master summaries is by using either dot points or mind maps for each topic. To help you think about what you are learning, rather than just re-reading your notes, actively engage with the material.

Here are some ideas that might help you remember content:

  • Use the objectives of the lecture to test your knowledge
  • Summarise the topic in 50 words
  • List 20-50 mini questions about one aspect of the subject (what, why, who, where, when, how did x happen)
  • Answer your own mini-questions (or swap)
  • Draw a diagram or cartoon to illustrate a theory etc.
  • ‘Teach’ what you have learned to a real or imaginary friend
  • Sum up the three major points of the topic
  • Make a wall chart linking all you have learned about a topic
  • Join or organise a study group or a study buddy
  • List key points of sticky notes or index cards. Juggle these around to see how many ways you can organise this information or ask a question and organise which notes you would use to answer that question.

From Cottrell, S. (1999). The study skills handbook, New York: McMillan Press.

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