How to prepare for university exams

How to prepare for university exams

Are you busy preparing for university exams? Give yourself the best chance to succeed with our top study tips.

1. Give yourself enough time

When it comes to preparing for university exams, it’s very important that you don’t leave it too late. While some say they thrive off last-minute cramming, this often leaves students anxious and stressed. Therefore, the best way to study for university exams, is to organise your time well in advance: Set out a timetable at least 2-3 months in advance, schedule in when and how long you will study for each exam and study accordingly.

2. Manage Stress

Whether you’re at the beginning of your exams or in the middle of them, our top 10 tips to cope with exam stress will help you get through this busy time.

Make a study schedule

Fair enough, if you’re in the middle of exams this advice might come a little late. However, no matter how much time is left in your exam season, planning your time carefully will be a real game changer. So, for example, take the amount of hours or days you have (left) to study. Then break up that time between all your exam subjects, prioritising those that require more time. Lastly, write down exactly what you plan to accomplish during that time and try to follow that schedule as closely as possible.

Organise your study space

Whether you love an organised chaos or love everything neat and tidy, make sure your organise your work space in a way that works for you. This will help you focus on the tasks ahead and you’ll know where everything is. It also includes ridding your study space of all distractions and this includes your phone or tablet. Social media offers various distractions and encourages you to compare your abilities with others — all things which won’t help you create a productive study space.

Sleep well

We have all been there. It’s late, past our expected bedtime, we feel exhausted, have lots to do the next day and know that we really need that sleep. Yet, for no clear reason, we just can’t seem to be able to fall asleep. As each minute passes, we feel increasingly frustrated and helpless, unable to get the much-needed rest we’ve been craving all day.

The benefits of sleep are numerous and vital for our well-being. Lack of sleep will impair our memory, concentration, mood, objectivity and health. A good night sleep can therefore improve how we feel, enhance our exam results, allow our studying and memory to be more efficient and help us avoid fights and misunderstanding with our friends, family, colleagues and classmates. So as we can see, sleep is rather important.

To make sure your next sleep is a good one, take a look at the 4 essential steps that will help you get all the beauty sleep you need.

Sleep at regular times

Going to bed around the same time has many benefits, but there are two in particular that are really worthwhile. First, it increases the chances that you will get enough sleep, since we all tend to stick better to a pattern we a familiar with. Second, our body becomes used to the pattern, which means when your usual bedtime comes around, your body will intuitively start to relax and get sleepy. Sticking to a sleep schedule is the National Sleep Foundation’s number 1 tip.

Key ways to enhance your bed time routine

In addition to helping your body feel ready to fall asleep, there are a few additional things you can do to help the process. One, try to avoid your phone screen right before falling asleep. “The sleep hormone, melatonin, gets released when it is dark. The bright light on your phone tricks your brain into thinking it is day and stops this from happening” states the blog by Inner Drive. This means that it would also be helpful if you dimmed your room lights, creating a more peaceful evening atmosphere. Also, why not use candles for dinner? Two, calming music is also very helpful and has been proven to reduce stress. And final tip, try to have a lavender scent (body cream, dried bouquet, pillow mist etc.) next to your bed. Having a little sniff will help your body recognize it’s time to relax and fall asleep (study in 2005 found that smelling lavender before bedtime increased people’s amount of deep sleep).

Relax your body

Over the day your body will build up tension. That’s why it is so crucial to do exercise and stretch. Over time we sometimes get used to carrying a lot of tension, and don’t really pay attention until something hurts. But keeping your body relaxed and limber is not only important for sleep but overall well-being. Take a few minutes to stretch when you get home or after dinner to remove all the built-up stress from sitting at a desk. Here are 6 easy ways to stretch your full body at home. Once that is done, taking a hot shower or bath can do wonders to your muscles. Making sure you are warm and cosy can really help you relax better. In addition, a cup of tea and wearing socks to bed can help warm up your body. This is especially important for your hands and feet (a study published in the journal Nature observed that warm feet and hands were the best predictor of falling sleep efficiently).

Make sure your bedroom is relaxing

“Your bedroom ideally needs to be dark, quiet, tidy and be kept at a temperature of between 18C and 24C” suggests the NHS webpage. Making sure all forms of distractions and worries are not visually or mentally keeping you preoccupied is important. If you realise your mind is racing, and you can’t shut off your concerns, try writing them down on a piece of paper. This will reassure your mind that you will not forget and return to it later, and therefore allow your brain to unhook and allow you to sleep. Once that is done, you can also try thinking of a peaceful place or memory. Visualising a nice moment will rekindle those feelings and help your mind and body unwind.

Eat healthily

It’s tempting to order pizza and snack on junk food during busy revision times. However, this won’t decrease your exam stress but leave you feeling sluggish and lethargic. Eating healthy food will make you feel better inside out, reduce your exam stress, and keep your stomach feeling fuller longer, helping you to concentrate. And don’t forget to drink enough water!

Take breaks regularly

As you draw up your exam schedule, make sure you schedule in some breaks. Take this time to leave your study space and get some fresh air, meet a friend or take a walk. Breaks like this will help you deal with exam stress and study more effectively.

Try some exercise 

If you hate exercise, we have some bad news. Exercise is a wonderful stress reliever and building some into your busy exam season will surely help relieve any exam stress. Yoga, for example, is a brilliant way to incorporate some exercise into your routine. Or even if this means you’re only walking round the park, trust us when we say you’ll feel much better for it.


We regularly incorporate meditation in our tutoring sessions because it calms the minds of young and old alike. Give it a go — even if it’s only for 5 minutes — and see how it impacts on your ability to focus on the task at hand. On this note, sometimes all it takes is a few deep breaths. Remember this when you get stressed out during exams.

Get a massage

We know this might not be a feasible option for everyone. However, if this is an option, consider booking a massage to decrease your exam stress. A massage in a peaceful setting can calm your thoughts and take your mind off your exams. Make sure to see if you can find an offer or, for a cheaper option, trade massages with friends and throw in some human bonding for free.

Talk to people

Sometimes you just need to talk to someone about how you’re feeling. This can be a relative or friend, or even a therapist. Laugh, cry and enjoy a conversation with someone you love, whether that’s in person or on the phone. This should put you in a better mood, energise you and help reduce exam stress.

3. Organise your study space

This is the perfect time for a quick spring clean. Clear your desk and make sure you have enough space for your textbooks, articles and notes. Also ensure that you have enough and good light, a comfortable chair and all distractions are out of sight (yes, that includes your phone!). Lastly, make sure your study space is suitable for your individual study needs. Whether this means complete silence or background music, handy snacks or none at all, is entirely up to you.

4. Use visual aids

This might not work for everyone but visual aids can really help your university exam revision. These can include mind maps and flow charts, and can be particularly useful when you condense your notes into one-page diagrams. This can help you quickly recall information and restructure your diagram in your head during the exam.

5. Form study groups

Another way to prepare for university exams is to get together with friends for a study session. This is the perfect chance to discuss any questions you might have as long as you manage to stay focussed. You could also each present on a specific topic to gain more in-depth understanding and generate discussion.

6. Practice with old exam papers

We cannot emphasise this enough. There is no way you can excel in your university exams if you’ve never practiced them. Therefore, have a look at old exam papers to get used to their format and time yourself a couple of times. This is the most effective way to prepare for university exams and will highlight any gaps in your preparation.

7. Explain your answers to others

Our Educations Director Tania often tells students that if they can’t explain a topic to a 15-year old, they most likely haven’t understood it themselves. Breaking down a topic in this way ensures that you’ve understood it 100% and highlights any areas that might still need work.

8. Allow yourself some time to relax

The perks of starting your exam preparation early is that you can schedule in regular breaks to relax and refuel. Breaks are absolutely crucial to retain knowledge for the long-term and will help you stay motivated throughout the process.

9. Fuel your body

What you eat can have a significant impact on your energy levels and focus. Therefore, avoid junk food and fuel your body with nutritious foods that aid concentration, for example, fish, nuts, seeds and blueberries. And don’t forget to drink plenty of water to stay well hydrated!

10. Plan your exam days

This is important, so you can stay calm and focussed on those all important exam days. Make sure you get everything ready well in advance and double check the rules and requirements, plan your journey and leave more than enough time to get to your exams. Eat a good meal before the test and include foods that slowly release energy throughout the day. If allowed, pack a few brain foods to snack on throughout the exam and don’t forget your bottle of water.

11. Have a revision plan

Perhaps you’re reading this article because the bulk of your last minute exam revision is done and you’re trying to stay calm before the storm. Or maybe you’re here because you’ve been procrastinating and are panicking last minute. Either way, we have some last minute exam revision tips, so you can maximise your chance of exam success.

Make a break from what’s come before

Find a quiet room with a clean desk and unused notebook to make a break from what’s come before. Don’t guilt trip yourself for having done too little but try and develop a clear focus on what you need to get done. Draw up a timetable with realistic expectations of the time available to you and prioritise the most important material.

Draw on your inner clock

Working from the crack of dawn does not work for everyone, so make the most of these last few days by working at times that work for you. Equally, working 14 hours without a break will do you more harm than good, so ensure you take breaks to refuel. However, this doesn’t give you a free pass to insist you can only study 2 hours a day! Plan enough time to study, and also get enough sleep to help you concentrate and work efficiently.

Condense your notes

If you’re lucky enough to have prepared notes, condense them into visual one-page diagrams that make it easier for you to remember them. If you don’t have notes to draw on, try and structure them as one-page diagrams from the get go to save time. Additionally, you could make flashcards to take with you wherever you go to make revision easier.

Use past paper questions

Whether you’re studying for Common Entrance, GCSE, A-level or university exams, you won’t get far in your revision without using past papers. Use these papers to organise your notes and sort them according to different questions. Additionally, time yourself (if you have time) to get used to working under exam conditions and highlight any knowledge gaps.

Talk through what you’ve learned

To make sure you’ve understood what you’re studying, make time to talk through what you’ve learnt. Form revision groups or draw on siblings, parents and friends to consolidate your last minute exam revision and highlight gaps you might need to revisit.

Remove distractions

To maximise the time you have, make your revision space as non digital as possible. Put away your phone and don’t use social media if you study on your laptop. If necessary, use an app to prevent you from accessing social media, like Self Control or Freedom.

Fuel well

What you eat can have a significant impact on your energy levels and focus. Therefore, avoid junk food and fuel your body with nutritious foods that aid concentration, for example, fish, nuts, seeds and blueberries. Bananas are also a great potassium-rich food that raises energy levels. And don’t forget to drink plenty of water to stay well hydrated!

Rest your hands

This is especially important if you’re writing your notes by hand. If you spend the last few days writing away frantically and then have to handwrite your exam, your muscles will likely be tired. Use breaks to rest your hands and, if possible, bring a stress ball on the day of your exams to provide relief for your hands.


A great way to use breaks is to exercise. This will help your brain function more efficiently and prove a welcome respite from studying whilst keeping you fit and healthy!

12. Book your academic super tutor

For one-on-one academic support in your discipline, our university tutors provide exam tutoring for undergraduate and postgraduate students. Whether it’s about revising content or preparing mock exam answers, our tutors guide you step by step and help you excel at all your exams.

To set up your free consultation or ask a question, please do not hesitate to contact us at 02030867311 or We then tailor a customised exam tuition programme to your individual needs and goals, and match you with a tutor on our team. Please note that we are the only equal opportunities service provider in the tutoring industry, and offer subsidised rates to students from low income backgrounds.

Interested in finding out more about our Private Tutoring process?

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