Kirsop Labs

Skills development for science students everywhere

It’s exam season – are you ready?

Original article by Dom Gibson Feb 2014

Updated by Dr. Allison Kirsop, November 2016.

Thought I’d bring this one to the front again seeing as it’s that time of year!

With exams just around the corner, here are a few tips to help you get the best grades you can.

Procrastination and student life seem to go hand in hand, which is not ideal when exams are looming around the corner. Even when you do manage to dig deep and find the motivation, it’s still hard to sit and do productive work.

Favourite displacement activities

Beautiful, shiny, study timetable on the wall? Check.

Coloured pencils at the ready? Check.

A big pad of paper dug out for mind maps? Check.

Any idea of how to make start? Em, not really.

Maybe the ideas will come after an episode or 4 of something on Netflix, or maybe after you check every single one of your social media accounts – again – just in case. Try allocating a couple of hours to dedicated revision and leave your phone in a different room or switch it off altogether. You can be reunited when you stop for a scheduled break, then get straight back to the study again.

Finding your study routine

So, how do you avoid wasting this valuable study time you have? Making lists of what you don’t know is a pretty good place to start. You can work your way through them and get that warm fuzzy feeling inside when you cross something off. Find the routine that works best for you by…

Picking the right…


There’s no point in dragging yourself out of bed at 6 a.m. when you know you’re not at your best until around mid-day. Arrange a practical work schedule around this and use your time wisely. Only you know the best time of day or night that you find it easiest to concentrate, so don’t waste those hours and make them count.


Sometimes just getting outside with your books, or at least changing the view from your window can help with inspiration.

…study partner/s

Revising with friends can often help you stay focused. Someone else will understand the things you don’t and vice versa. Get your peers together for an informal tutorial and start a study group. You’ll learn from each other and it’s better than pondering over the same problems on your own.

Revision tools – past papers and mind maps

No revision tool is more valuable than past exam papers, and it’s a great way of revising as a group. Getting yourself familiar with the format and content of past exam questions can help you understand the main topics, and steer you towards focused revision. Having questions to work through also means you’re less likely to waste a whole hour creating a masterpiece of a mind map with only 3 facts and a cute picture on it.

Mind maps can work pretty well for some people, but you need to know how to create and use them effectively. Have a look here for some tips on using software, or just do it the plain old-fashioned way with pen and paper.

Use colours if that’s what floats your boat, but remember that a picture alone won’t give you instant recall of those reaction mechanisms, even if it is worthy of being in the Louvre! Use it as a tool, not a displacement activity.

Preparation – lots!

It’s easy to convince yourself that you’re studying hard. But time spent studying is not directly proportional to maximum exam preparation. Tackle the stuff you don’t understand, and don’t spend too long on the things that you find easiest. Find a routine that works well for you – this is where you make good use of those lecture notes taken during the semester.

And don’t forget to check the revision section right here on KirsopLabs. Keep an eye out for video summary lectures from Dr. Peter Kirsop on the lead up to exam time – it’s a great resource.

For more exam study tips have a look here. Pick a few things to try, and see if they work for you. If they don’t, that’s fine. Everyone learns differently, so just try something else – something that works for you. There are lots of websites for study methods, so Google a few. What have you got to lose?

Take a break

You can’t study all the time. If you don’t schedule regular breaks the quality of your concentration will fall, and it becomes a pointless exercise – which then becomes wasted time. Set aside some time in the day where you do something different. Go for a walk, make some tea, dance around singing into a hair brush – anything that helps clear your head. You’ll feel refreshed and ready to get back to it with more energy.

Good Luck!

You might like to read:

Study hints for first class grades
Are you getting the most out of your lectures

Posted under: Revision

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About Dr Allison Kirsop

Co-founder of the KirsopLabs project, and Editorial Manager of Neuroendocrinology, a peer-review Medical Sciences journal. Writing for a science blog is a great way for students to get published early in their career and great for a CV. Drop me a line if you'd like to discuss how to get involved with the KLabs project.

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