If you’re looking for the best exam study tips to help you ace your exams this year, you’re in the right place.
I’m a memory psychologist and study productivity expert, and have taught thousands of students how to study more effectively over the years.
These are nothing more or less than the 51 all-time BEST science-backed tips, tricks and hacks to help you:
- Learn faster and remember more
- Make the most of your study time
- Write high-scoring assignments
- Create effective study goals
- Tackle exam day with confidence
They’re simple, fast and actionable – try them out TODAY and you’ll be acing your exams and improving your grades in no time.
Prefer to listen? Find these exam study tips as a podcast episode here:
Find the exam study tips you need by using these shortcuts to jump to the different sections of this article:
Are you ready to supercharge your studying? Read on!
Part 1: Tips for achieving study mindset mastery
Use these motivational study tips to keep calm and know your goals – so you can get your head in the study zone!
1. Find your “why”
Motivation starts with your “why,” so make sure you’ve got the answer clear before you do anything else.
Ask: What is this subject designed to teach me? Think beyond the obvious, challenge yourself to come up with 10 reasons.
2. Stretch the boundaries
Remember that everything you want is just outside your comfort zone.
Otherwise – you’d have it already!
3. Don’t put all your psychological eggs in one basket
Have alternative ways to win the day!
If you have a bad day on your dissertation, you can make up for it with a personal best on your run or in the gym – or by trying a recipe you’ve always wanted to make, or remembering to call your Mum.
4. Give yourself a gold star (no, really!)
Once you start making progress, track it, to feed yet more motivation.
I’m 30 years old and I still have a gold star chart on the wall to track the weekly actions and long-term milestones for growing Exam Study Expert. This stuff is simple but it works, people.
5. Play the “yet” game
This is one of my favourite exam study tips: Play the “yet” game.
Never say you can’t do something. Only that you can’t do it YET.
6. Take the pressure off with a great plan B
If you’re feeling stressed out and overwhelmed by a single-minded long-term goal, add in a plan B.
Go ahead and shoot for the moon AND have a viable alternative destination in mind. It will take the pressure off, and in some cases can make it more likely you achieve Plan A, because you’re less anxious and burned-out.
Ask: What’s my alternative outcome? Put mental effort and research time into finding reasons to be excited about your Plan B.
Part 2: Study tips to make you productive – time management and study routines
Apply these simple exam study tips to build yourself a sparklingly effective study routine, and get productive TODAY.
7. Bite the bullet
If it takes less than 5 minutes, do it right now, rather than making a plan to do it later.
Your to-do list will thank you!
8. Never know where the time goes?
Try this experiment for, say, a week: record how you spend each day, each hour, each 10-minute chunk of time, and include every activity.
You might just be in for a few surprises about what you’re doing with your days.
9. You can beat procrastination…
… with inchpebbles.
If you’re procrastinating on a big project break it down into milestones. If you’re procrastinating on a milestone, break it down further into an inchpebble.
Tiny goals give you the momentum to do more AND carry on.
Read one paper abstract. Write two sentences. Come up with your headings structure. And then keep going!
10. Compartmentalise, compartmentalise, compartmentalise
Spending a lot of time in one place, especially if it’s just one room? Use every trick in the book to compartmentalise your life: by time, by space, even by the clothes you wear.
- Time – have a timetable and know when it’s time to work and when it’s time to rest.
- Space – have different spaces within the room for working, resting, working out and sleeping, even if that’s just different corners of the same room.
- Clothes – change your clothes to help mark the transition from work time to relaxation time.
11. Eating frogs has never been healthier
Start the day by eating a frog, and you’ll know that’s the worst thing that can happen to you all day, DONE.
If you get your most aversive task done first, preferably by 11am, then you’ll have more momentum and energy to carry you through the day.
12. Stick to your stopping time
Have a guilt-free stopping time for the night, and stick to it.
This might sound counter-intuitive as an exam study tip but it’s an important one! Enjoying some proper time off will increase your motivation and productivity the following day.
13. Enjoy yourself!
Remember that time you enjoy wasting is not time wasted!
Don’t live your life in the dark playground of the procrastinator, doing neither productive work nor doing things you truly enjoy.
Schedule quality time for each activity, work and rest, and use it well.
14. Want to make something happen?
Put it on the calendar.
Make sure that everything you want to achieve each day is on the calendar and part of your study routine – that includes time to look after yourself, as well as academic activities.
Do you have time blocked out for exercise? If not, add some now!
15. Don’t bite off more (studying) than you can chew
In other words, never knowingly embark on a plan for the day that you know you’ll fail.
Ask: Is there too much in the calendar or to-do list for today?
If the answer is yes, make the hard choices right now and cut or scale back activities so that you stand a fighting chance of delivering on your intentions.
16. Are your daily goals acheiveable?
If you miss your “achievable goals” for the day three days in a row, then they’re not achievable goals for you – YET.
Make them smaller. You can build back up as your stamina grows!
Part 3: Tips for boosting your focus and concentration
Use these exam study tips to become one of the SUPER students (I’m thinking laser-eyes focused)!
17. Stop multi-tasking
A distracted brain is a sick brain: stop multitasking with technology.
Turn the phone off, and put all other distractions away and out of sight.
18. Distraction-proof your laptop
If you must keep the laptop on when you’re studying, get rid of the distractions with this three-step method:
- Set impossible-to-remember passwords for Netflix, social media and anything else distracting.
- Write the passwords down on paper and store them as far away from your study desk as possible.
- Log out of everything, and get to down to some distraction-free studying!
19. Make your environment your ally
If you can’t focus, change your environment.
Go to a library if you can – they’re great for that study atmosphere.
If that’s not physically an option for you then try the next best thing:
Study to the sounds of the Bodleian Library at the University of Oxford, and let the library soundscape transport you to a world of intense, studious concentration.
Listening to music can also help you concentrate!
20. Keep a distractions list
If your brain’s buzzing with thoughts while you’re studying, keep a distractions list.
Write them down, get them out of your head, and keep your mind clear so you can focus on the task at hand.
(The same tip applies if you’re struggling to fall asleep because you’ve got too many buzzing thoughts – keep a little list by your bed, write it all down and worry about it later!)
21. Build your concentration muscle
If your attention is weak, try meditating.
It’s like a workout for concentration, helping you focus harder and for longer.
One of my favourite study tips, this also works for calming exam nerves!
22. Make hydration a habit
If you struggle to remember to stay hydrated, start the day with a generous glass or bottle of water.
You can even pour it the night before! Refill it and keep it by your study desk throughout the day.
You’ll habitually start sipping from it, you’ll be more hydrated, and your performance and concentration will improve. Win!
23. Are you getting enough sleep?
If the only thing you have energy for is TV or playing on your phone, ask yourself whether you’re getting enough sleep!
Regular sleep is important for reducing stress, improving your health and boosting your memory!
24. Take regular breaks
This is a short and simple exam study tip that will work wonders for your focus.
Remember to take regular breaks – at least a few mins off each hour, a few hours off each day.
Part 4: Study tips to supercharge learning and memorization
These proven tips and tricks will take your study skills to the next level – killer study sessions, here you come!
25. A test is best – for learning
Remember that testing yourself isn’t just about checking whether you know something or not.
Testing is actually when the learning happens – it’s called retrieval practice.
26. Feel the burn when you learn
The most effective recall practice is when it feels challenging to remember the information.
Leave longer time gaps before re-testing yourself if it feels too easy.
27. Aim for cold – not refreshing!
Don’t make the mistake of reading through your notes as a refresher before doing a retrieval practice session.
The best retrieval practice SHOULD feel hard, that means coming into it cold, without a refresher immediately beforehand.
28. Familiarity … just isn’t enough
Don’t confuse being familiar with what you’re studying with actually knowing it!
Just because something looks familiar when you read it doesn’t mean you can actually reproduce it from memory.
29. Beautiful isn’t better
When it comes to your study materials, make them fast, train with them slow.
In other words, overly beautiful study resources are ineffective because they prioritise style over substance and leave you less time to learn the content. Ugly works great!
Save your time for training, retrieval practice and testing yourself on what you know.
30. Test yourself after a break
A simple but effective study tip that is great for exam revision:
Get in the habit of using the first 5 mins after a break to test yourself on what you just did in the previous study session before your break.
31. Using flashcards? Here’s why less is more:
If you’re using flashcards, remember that the whole point is to test yourself on the information on the back based on a question or cue on the front.
Don’t put so much on the back that you can’t remember it all in one go!
32. Upgrade to “Ultranotes”
If you spend a lot of time making notes, switch to Q&A Ultranotes:
Split your page in half, and put questions down the left-hand side, answers down the right.
Then cover the right hand side, and test yourself on the questions – beautiful retrieval practice!
33. Practice paper protocol
For practice papers, do your practice in two stages:
- Stage 1: test yourself with your notes and books closed!
- Stage 2: check what you got right.
Don’t be tempted to combine Stages 1 and 2! Keep them separate.
That will help you to:
34. Learn from your mistakes
Pay attention to your mistakes, learn from them, and prioritise revisiting them.
Humans evolved to learn more from things we find surprising. And making a mistake is in some small way, surprising. So when you catch anything you’ve misremembered, you’re much more likely to remember it next time round.
35. Don’t stop the first time you get it right
Remember that getting something right once doesn’t mean you’ll get it right forever.
You still need to test yourself on it on a different day. Make time to do so!
36. How to benefit from re-reading:
If you must re-read your books and notes, make sure you benefit:
For a slight benefit, add highlighting
For a much bigger benefit, pre-test yourself on the topic by scribbling down whatever you can remember about it BEFORE you do the reading.
37. Challenge yourself with interleaving
Use interleaving to add an extra challenge to your study sessions by jumbling up your practice.
Need an example? Rather than doing an hour of math(s) differentiation followed by an hour of integration, mix it up! Switch back and forth between a couple of differentiation problems, then a couple of integration problems.
This works a charm in math(s), but also in practising science problems, language grammar exercises, and even for training physical skills.
Part 5: Tips for mastering essays, assignments, and tricky problems
I know you can nail this – because these are the BEST study tips to whip your assignments into shape and get you into a great place for your exams!
38. Point the way with signposts
Make sure you’re signposting clearly in your writing.
- Tell your reader what you’re going to write about (first, second, third).
- Then point out where you are in the structure as you write about it.
- Use headings to separate your arguments.
39. Think pebbles: small and polished gradually
This useful exam study tip is a great reminder to break up your essay or assignment into more stages (similar to Tip #9!).
If you’re writing a first draft, don’t be afraid to be rough or sketch-y at first.
It’s often easier to do a rough pass and then polish it up later, than try to produce polished prose first time round.
And ironically, by breaking it up into more stages you often get the final result quicker!
40. If you’re lost, make a map
Sketch out the big building blocks of the topic.
This study tip works whether you’re trying to craft an essay or get your head round a tricky chapter you need to learn for an exam.
Use post-it notes if you want, so you can move the building blocks around as your understanding or ideas evolve.
41. If you’re stuck, take a walk
This is a favourite exam study tip of mine as it has so many benefits!
If you’re getting stuck with your task, take a walk, preferably in nature.
It’s great for creativity and problem solving, and lets you return with fresh eyes and fresh energy.
42. Capture the unexpected ideas
Good ideas often come to us when we least expect them (not least when we’re out for a walk!).
Capture them in the moment – the notes app on your phone is often a good place to go.
I even know people that have waterproof notebooks in the shower for when mid-shower inspiration strikes!
43. Understand the components
If you don’t understand the component parts, you’ll have no chance at understanding the whole.
Pause what you’re trying to do, and spend time zooming in on those little details, getting comfortable with anything you don’t properly understand.
That could mean going and looking up definitions, terminology, or better still, spending a moment memorising those key component parts. Then when you go back to the whole it all should make a lot more sense!
If you still can’t make sense of it, try a different explanation:
- Places like YouTube and Khan Academy are great places to try for alternatively explained videos.
44. Check off the final steps
Get into the editing mindset and make sure you complete the final steps checklist. Don’t let careless mistakes drag your grade down:
- Double check your formatting is spot on and consistent!
- Have you included and checked all your references, cross-references and figures?
- Proofread carefully before handing in – know yourself and the common errors you make, and make use of available tools (like Grammarly).
Part 6: The BEST study tips for exam performance
It’s exam day and you’re READY. How do I know? Because you’re going to use these study tips to ace your exams:
45. Immunise yourself
Take a vaccine against exam-day nerves.
How? By taking mocks under timed conditions to get used to performing under pressure.
46. Invest in planning
If your paper includes long written answers or essays, be generous in the time you allocate to planning.
Spending at least a quarter of your time just planning your response can be a fantastic investment of your time.
Try it out and feel the difference it makes!
47. Cheat-sheets without cheating (yes, really!)
Don’t be afraid to use cheat sheets: and I don’t mean bring them into exams, that’s cheating and will land you in trouble!
I mean spending the first few minutes of the exam writing out any mission-critical information you’ll need throughout the paper, such as:
- All the key formulas you’ve got to know for maths and science.
- Grammar tables for languages.
48. Master the questions … with a pen
When we read, our eyes don’t focus on every word, they move in jumps called saccades.
Don’t let a combination of stress and your eyes’ natural saccadic movements let you skip over key words in a question!
Read with a pen in hand and underline key words and commands in the question.
If you’re taking a paper on the computer, you can use your mouse to follow along or temporarily highlight those keywords in the question as well.
It’s an often under-used exam study tip, but one that will serve you well in combatting those exam nerves!
49. Don’t fly blind
Have a clear gameplan for how you’ll spend time in the exam.
Plan it out: How long am I going to allocate to each section?
50. Find the best order for you
The order the exam paper is set is not necessarily the best order for you to tackle it in.
Be strategic, and don’t be afraid to work in a different order than set out in the paper.
Include details like this in your exam paper gameplan!
You made it! I hope these exam study tips have got you feeling SUPER inspired to boost your studying game.
What was your favourite tip? Have you got any to add? Tell us in the comments section below!
Here’s my final (and important!) BONUS TIP:
51. Outsmart your exams
For many more strategies to score maximum marks on exam day, you might like to check out my book on the subject, Outsmart Your Exams.
You won’t be disappointed, it’s awesome and action-packed.
Another great way to get regular access to proven, science-backed tips and hints is to join the Exam Study Expert newsletter. It’s full of killer strategies that will have you studying smarter and boosting your grades in no time. Sign up below and download my free exam success cheat sheet today!
As always, I wish you every success in your studies!