William Wadsworth

by William Wadsworth

The Cambridge-educated memory psychologist & study coach on a mission to help YOU ace your exams. Helping half a million students in 175+ countries every year to study smarter, not harder. Supercharge your studies today with our time-saving, grade-boosting “genius” study tips sheet.

These are the BEST exam study tips to help students build effective study skills. They’re simple, fast, and actionable, and based on the latest science.

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: Study Tips For Mastering Your Student Mindset

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”

Motivational study tip

According to the renowned Simon Sinek, motivation starts with why*, so make sure you’ve got the answer clear before you do anything else.

Ask: what is this subject designed to teach me?

Knowledge? A skill for a later course or career? Tenacity, creativity, resilience?

Or simply the grades to get you where you’re going?

Think beyond the obvious, challenge yourself to come up with 10 reasons. For inspiration, try these suggestions.

2. Don’t Fear Your Boundaries

Remember that everything you want is just outside your comfort zone.

Otherwise… you would have it already!

Exam study tip

3. Have Alternative Ways To Win The Day

For all it’s great to push your comfort zone, when you do, there will be good days and… less good days.

That’s all part of the process.

But to reduce feelings of disappointment, consider setting up alternative goals for each 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. Reinforce Your Progress

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!

I like to get a calendar on the wall, and tick off each day I did what I set out to do. There’s a real satisfaction that comes from building your “streak” of days.

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.

Not good at Math(s)? Make that “I’m not good at Math(s)… YET”.

It acknowledges your present reality in a very honest way, while also opening the mental door to future possibilities. It’s all about the power of growth mindset, as developed by Carol Dweck.

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.

Ask: What’s my alternative outcome?

Put mental effort and research time into finding reasons to be excited about your 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.



Part 2: Study Tips To Supercharge Your Productivity: Time Management & Study Routines

Apply these simple exam study tips to build yourself an effortlessly effective study routine, and get productive TODAY.

7. Just Do It (Now)

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?

Track it!

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. Study Tip For Overcoming Procrastianation: Break It Down

Studying often comes down to big projects: big tests to study for in school or college, big essays and assignments.

There’s nothing like a big, hairy, fuzzy goal to unleash your inner procrastinator.

So 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, incredibly specific goals that give you the momentum to do more AND carry on.

Read one paper abstract. Write two sentences. Come up with your headings structure.

And once you’ve done one inchpebble, do another! Keep going, and before long, you’ll be deep into it.

10. Stay Sane While Studying With Effective Compartmentalisation

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 study and when it’s time to rest.
  • Space – have different spaces within the room for studying, resting, working out and sleeping, even if that’s just different corners of the same room.
  • Clothes – even consider changing your clothes to help mark the transition from work time to relaxation time.

Your brain is surprisingly sensitive to these kinds of environmental cues, and they will really help you stay focused when it’s time to study, and relax when the work is done.

Above all else, don’t ever study on your bed!

11. Use This Quick Study Tip To Kick-Start Your Day

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, that will give you more momentum and energy to carry you through the day.

This is called the “Eat The Frog” time management technique, made famous by productivity legend Brian Tracy, who was on the Exam Study Expert podcast recently.

12. Know When To Stop

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. Make Time Off Quality Time Off

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. One Calendar To Rule It All

If you 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!

Study routine

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.

Make your daily study goal achievable.

16. What If I Miss?

If you miss your “achievable goals” for the day three days in a row, then recognise that they’re not achievable goals for you – YET.

Make them smaller.

Stop aiming to study for 6 hours a day; try 3.

Stop trying to fit in 2 hours studying before breakfast; try half an hour.

Make it something that you can absolutely achieve, no matter how little energy or willpower you have that day.

You can build back up as your stamina grows!

Part 3: Study Tips To Maximise Focus And Concentrate For Longer

Use these study tips built for students to help you level up your concentration.

No more mind-wandering and distractions.

It’s time to get focused on your studies.

17. [TOP STUDY TIP] Do One Thing

A distracted brain is a sick brain: stop multitasking.

Technology distractions from your phone, laptop and more are a major problem in academia, associated with lower performance for students in school, college and university.

So: turn the phone off, and put all other distractions away and out of sight.

18. Distraction-Proof Your Laptop

But what if you need your laptop to study?

If you really must keep the laptop on when you’re studying, get rid of the distractions with this three-step method:

  1. Set impossible-to-remember passwords for Netflix, social media and anything else distracting.
  2. Write the passwords down on paper and store them as far away from your study desk as possible.
  3. Log out of everything, and get to down to some distraction-free studying!

19. Motivational Study Tip: Make Your Environment Your Ally

If you can’t focus, change your environment.

Best study tips

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, make 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!)

Study tip for students

21. Study Tip For Training 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 for students, this also works for calming exam nerves!

22. Make Hydration A Habit While Studying

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 even boosting your memory!

Check out sleep expert and neuroscientist Matthew Walker’s TED Talk for tips on better sleep that could really help students.

24. Take Regular Breaks: Study Tip For Improved Focus

Remember to take regular breaks – at least a few mins off each hour, a few hours off each day.

It will work wonders for your focus!

Effective study tips

Part 4: Science-Backed Exam Study Tips To Learn Faster & Remember More

These proven tips and tricks will take your study skills to the next level – killer study sessions, here you come!

25. [TOP STUDY TIP] Pull It OUT, Don’t Push It In

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.

It’s widely regarded by psychologists as the most important strategy to help you learn faster and remember for longer, and as such is probably the single best exam study tip for students I can offer.

If you’re new to the idea, read my article on memorisation techniques for exams for details and lots of practical advice.

Study tips for memorization

26. Feel The Burn When You Learn!

The most effective retrieval practice is when it feels challenging to remember the information.

So if it feels to easy to accurately remember what you need to know, leave longer time gaps before re-testing yourself.

(It’s called “spaced learning“, also known as spaced reptition.)

27. Don’t “Cheat” Your Retrieval Practice

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, which means coming into your re-test cold, without a refresher immediately beforehand.

28. Familiarity Doesn’t Mean Knowing

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.

Work to improve your memory with retrieval practice and spaced learning.

29. Ditch Neat & Beautiful, Aim For FAST

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. Less Is More On Flashcards

Flashcards are a fabulous way to do retrieval practice because

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. Study Tip For Students Who Make Notes

As a means of learning, note-making is a terrible idea: you learn slow and forget fast (the opposite of what you’re aiming for!).

But if you spend a lot of time making notes, I have good news:

Switch to my “Q&A Ultranotes” technique for VASTLY improved memory results!

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!

Effective study tips

33. Practice Papers Properly With This Study Tip

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 around.

35. Right Once Isn’t Right Forever

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!

See this study by renowned learning psychologists Kornell & Bjork that showed “dropping” flashcards you know from a pack hurts your test score.

36. Get More From Re-Reading With This Study Tip

As a way to learn, re-reading is even WORSE than note-making!

But if you must re-read your books and notes, there are some ways to get more out of the exercise.

For a slight benefit, add highlighting or underlining of the key words.

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. Top Study Tip For Math(s) Students: Mix Up Your Practice

Use interleaving to add an extra challenge to your study sessions by jumbling up your practice.

Study tips for exams

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.

In the original famous study that got the world excited about interleaving, researchers found a 25-percentage-point test score improvement from interleaving (Rohrer & Taylor, 2007).

Part 5: Tips For Crushing Essays, Assignments & 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. Study Tip For Top Marks In Essays: Use 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. One Step At A Time

This useful exam study tip is a great reminder to break up your essay or assignment into more stages (similar to Tip #9!).

Best study tips

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!

Exam study tips

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. Don’t Fall At The Final Hurdle

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 Stellar Exam Performance

It’s exam day and you’re READY. How do I know? Because you’re going to use these study tips for students who ACE their exams:

45. Immunise Yourself Against Nerves

Take a vaccine against exam-day nerves.

How? By taking mocks under timed conditions to get used to performing under pressure.

Study tips for exams

46. Prioritise 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?

Final exam study tips

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!

Congratulations!

You made it! I hope these exam study tips for students 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.

Outsmart your exams book

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!


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William Wadsworth
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