15 essential exam and study strategies

Eat. Sleep. Study. Repeat. Read our list of study advice to help you to do your best in an exam.

1. Revision timetable

A great place to start your study strategy is to devise a routine. Research suggests that short study blocks with frequent breaks are most effective. Combine this with mixing the subject areas throughout the day to give yourself more variety. Also, set yourself clear daily, weekly and monthly targets – this makes it easier to track your progress in relation to the exam date.

2. Learning maps

Map out what you need to learn. Get colourful and creative, use mind maps, Venn diagrams and topic trees to clearly show what you need to study. This will help you visualise the topics and find synergies between them.

3. Spaces and places

Find a place that suits how you study. For most it’s somewhere quiet with little distraction, like a library or a small café. Everyone’s different, so as long as it works for you – stick with it.

4. When and how

If you’re a full-time student then you can devote all day to studying, though as mentioned above, you still need to plan a strategy – having so much time on your hands can be overwhelming and doing nothing but studying can actually be a frustration. Alternatively, for those working and/or with families, you need to study as and when you can, so the temptation will be to study intensively, but you should follow some structure to your sessions and factor in breaks and time to reflect.

5. Past papers – do a lot!

This is simple and something that tops the study strategy list for most successful ACCAs – practice answering exam questions as much as possible. A good strategy: before revising a particular subject thoroughly, take a look at past papers, but do not attempt to do one yet, just get a feel for it. Then revise the syllabus for that subject thoroughly and when you’ve covered everything, start attempting the papers. They’re definitely useful when you get closer to the exams as they offer exam practice, so set a time limit and mark yourself sincerely.

6. Make summary notes

Again obvious, but many don’t do this. Summarise theories and information into your own words in notebooks or flash cards. Writing in your own words is an excellent way to help internalise theories.

7. Group study

Form study groups with students doing the same subjects as you. Studying with people can provide support when you’re stuck on a topic, it can help keep you motivated and it can be sociable, giving you the chance to take breaks with others.

8. Rest, eat, exercise

As highlighted above, taking regular breaks throughout your study sessions is important, but so too is the bigger picture. You need to rest properly and not feel guilty about spending spare time doing non-exam preparation activities. Think too about eating well and exercising, not just for physical health, but it’s proven to support brain performance, decreasing stress and promoting confidence.

9. Reward yourself

Yes, it’s ok to treat yourself, even before the exam, but only if you’ve been meeting your revision targets. How you reward yourself is up to you – cinema, night out with friends, shopping etc – but make sure you’ve earned it.

10. Short vs long-term memory

Close to exams is not a good time to start learning big theories or concepts, it’s likely too late and you should have done this already. Now is the time for past papers and boosting your short-term memory with exam strategies and facts to bolster your wider understanding.

11. Easiest first

In the exam, answer the easy questions first. This is good for confidence and gets you into the exam ‘rhythm’.

12. Don’t get side-tracked

When you’re answering a question, make sure you stick closely to what the question needs you to do; don’t start providing more than is relevant, this can be a waste of time and can take the power out of your answer.

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13. If stuck, move on

Don’t worry if you’re struggling on a question, a response may come to you later. Answer a different question, regain confidence and get some perspective on the concept you were struggling with.

14. Stay hydrated

Sounds unimportant, but it’s not, especially if you get easily nervous or live in a hot country. Drink plenty of water – your brain likes it too, as dehydration can cause headaches, dizziness and fainting.

15. Never leave early

If you think you’ve finished and you have time left, don’t leave! Go over and over your responses, check spelling and grammar, cross check answers, find ways to strengthen your arguments. There’s always something you could be doing till the buzzer sounds.

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