Ten things we wish we’d known before taking our exams
Jane McGuire

Ten things we wish we’d known before taking our exams

Our Hotcourses top exam tips

First published date May 16 2014 Amended date June 03 2014

As the dreaded exam season approaches for thousands of students all over the country, here at Hotcourses our sympathies lie with you all. Nobody enjoys the weeks of revision and stuffy exam halls, so to try and ease the pain we have journeyed round the office and put together the ten things we all wish we’d known before sitting our exams.

Remember that exams are a marathon not a sprint – planning is everything. If you are still baffled when it comes to revision, be reassured that you are not alone, with all of us agreeing that we did not learn how to revise until our final exams. A study skills workshop could be a great way to swot up and could save you a lot of hassle in years to come. We all remember reaching new levels of stress – an expected reaction to the pressure of the exam period, but something you want to minimise to perform at your best. With courses on stress management or relaxation at the click of a button, we truly are here to help, so press pause and read on – you might be thanking us on results day!


We wish we’d known...


To turn our phones OFF

Not on silent, not on don’t disturb or flight mode, but fully (terrifyingly) turned off. Messages and missed calls can be attended to on scheduled breaks, but seeing them as they flash up or when you ‘check the time’ can be the biggest distraction of all.


That time was of the essence

We all wish we had started earlier and not resorted  to the last minute cram (which didn’t go too well for most of us). The more organised finance team told us a timetable is a great way to divide up your time and make sure you cover all the subjects on your revision list. 


It really is ok to have a break

If you were training for a marathon you wouldn’t run for 24 hours. Develop a study routine that works for you and stick to it – if you are a night owl (apparently this is when the library is quietest) it’s ok to work into the early hours, but make sure you get some sleep in the day to make up for it. Don’t feel guilty for sitting in the sun rather than eating lunch from your desk –breaks are important!


Listening to music doesn’t work for everyone

Although the Beats-wearing students out there may beg to differ, psychologists have shown that listening to music when revising is not always a good way to learn. Music’s effect on memory performance varies between individuals. Listening to upbeat tunes is no doubt motivating, but maybe save your headphones for the gym if it risks detracting from your ability to recall information. The silent section may seem terrifying but could save you on exam day!


That you really are what you eat

It’s true. Brain food needs to be top of the menu over these next few weeks. Whilst junk food may seem a quick and easy option, your body won’t thank you for it a few hours later. Be sure to include nutritious foods to aid concentration such as fish, nuts, seeds, yoghurts and blueberries. For all you breakfast skippers, eating a good balanced morning meal on the day of the exam is important for a slow release of energy to keep you going. Finally drinking plenty of water really is crucial as being hydrated is essential for your brain to work at its best (nutrition lesson over).


To sleep more

As an office of caffeine addicts, we all seemed to slip into the ‘sleep less, drink more coffee’ way of life. Turning back to the professionals, it is proven that poor sleep accumulates into ‘sleep debt’ and that this debt mounting over a prolonged period can result in reduced brain performance. Aim to get eight-ten hours shut eye a night and avoid consuming caffeine any less than five hours prior to sleeping.


That covering our walls in flow charts might actually have helped

Whilst some of us used colour coding our mind maps as a form of procrastination, it seems many of us are visual learners and worked best by using these in our revision. Visualising the mind map in the exam hall is a great way of overcoming the initial brain freeze after reading the question.


That most of us didn’t actually read the question

After spending weeks practising with old exam papers, we wish we had answered the question before us rather than the one we had planned for. Try not to panic, slow down and read the question! Spending the first five minutes reading could save you marks.


To tidy our rooms

It seems our parents’ nagging was actually right – a tidy room really does mean a tidy mind. Whether it’s your bedroom, kitchen table or desk in the library, make sure your study space is neat and organised before you begin. Another top tip from the sales team is not to try and work sat in bed – revising quickly becomes napping.


That it was only an exam and the world did not end!

Although we all felt like failing was catastrophic at the time, it is only an exam and is not the end of the world – just try to relax and do your best.


Once the exams (and celebrations) are over for the summer, why not take a look at our undergraduate and postgraduate courses and get planning for your next step?


Finally, good luck to you all from The Hotcourses Team!  

Jane McGuire

Jane McGuire received her BA (English) from the University of Loughborough. A yoga enthusiast with a sweet tooth, in her spare time you will probably find Jane in the gym or online shopping.