Before the exam

Key words: exam, revision timetable, trimester planner, weekly study planner, time audit, priority organiser, exam preparation planner, exam anxiety

By planning ahead – from the beginning of the trimester – you can maximise your study and revision efforts and arrive at the exam well prepared and feeling positive.

Organising revision / timetabling

There are two parts to exam revision: revision during the trimester; and revision at crunch time, that is, 4-6 weeks before the exam. For effective exam revision, you need to plan and organise your revision time. Follow the tips and download and complete the planners available from this site.

During the trimester

  • Start revising early.
    • The beginning of the trimester is not too early to start.
    • Be an active learner.
    • Complete all learning activities set by your lecturer.
    • Seek help when necessary – from lecturers, mentors, fellow students.
  • Prepare a trimester planner to get the ‘big picture’.
Exercise 1: Trimester Planner
NOTE: You may already have completed this activity if you have worked through Time management on this site.

Print and complete a trimester planner, following the instructions below:

Download the Trimester planner

        • Write your units down the left hand column.
        • Now, for each unit, write your assessment details in the due week. Show:
            • The assessment task (e.g. essay, report …)
            • Length (word count)
            • Due date
            • % weighting

          See an example

  • You may find you have several assessments due around the same time. You will need to plan carefully to ensure all assessments are completed on time and to your satisfaction.
  • At this point, you may like to plan how you will break up your assessment tasks and write these into your planner. For example, let’s assume that for Unit AAA101, the first assessment is a 1200 word essay, it is due 19 March and is worth 20% of your final mark. Follow this suggestion:
    • Identify the stages required for your assessment and, working backwards from the due date, allocate appropriate time to each stage. Here is an example.

You may also like to use the Daily Subject Planner.

  • Prepare your revision timetable for the trimester
Exercise 2: Revision timetable – for the Trimester

On your Trimester Planner (above) you can now write in your revision timetable:

  • Work out how much time you have.
  • Decide which units to study first – generally, focus first on units that have a higher percentage exam weighting and those that are prerequisites for your future plans.
  • Now you are ready to write up your weekly planner – this will be your working tool! It will probably change each week.
Exercise 3: Weekly planner

Print and complete a weekly planner, following the instructions below (you may also like to print a copy of an example):

Weekly study planner – for early risers + EXAMPLE 
Weekly study planner – for night owls + EXAMPLE

  • Consider your study goals for the week – refer to your trimester planner (above).
  • Evaluate your weekly commitments. If you haven’t already done so, you may need to:
  • Consider other study commitments. For example:
    • What preparation is needed for each unit?
    • How much reading is there?
    • How much time is required to participate in the discussion board?
  • Now, begin plotting your commitments, study times and revision times for the week. Where there are competing activities, consider which is more important.
NOTE: With shared routines, careful negotiation is the key to success.

Crunch time (5-6 weeks to go)

This period leading up to the exams requires increased organisation and effort!

Organise yourself and your materials for revision:
  1. Gather all your materials: lecture notes, summaries, handouts, required reading, assignments, tests, model answers.
  2. Prepare an exam preparation planner for each unit (see an example).
    • Within each unit, select the topics to revise.
      • If you have to answer three questions in the exam, revise at least 5 topics.
      • Choose topics on which you’ve spent the most course time.
    • For each topic, set yourself tasks to complete. For example:
      • Answer past exam questions (under exam conditions).
      • Set yourself a range of questions you might be asked in the exam – and answer them.
      • Learn the most important theories, references and evidence.
      • Organise your selected information in a way that suits your learning style and assists memorisation.
    • Tick tasks off as you complete them.
  3. Prepare a new weekly study planner for each of the remaining weeks, showing existing study and personal commitments and exam study time. Plan to complete all the topics and tasks shown in your exam preparation planner noted above.

Effective revision

There are a number of pitfalls to effective revision. Which of the following five common pitfalls apply to you?

Read each statement below then click the response that applies to you.

I tend to leave revision until the last minute.


This can lead to stress and disappointment. Here are some suggestions:

  • Begin revision early – the beginning of the trimester is NOT too early. Complete revision timetables (as detailed above).
  • Make notes throughout the course. To help build memory, make them:
    • readable
    • attractive
    • colourful
    • graphic (e.g. mind maps).
  • Review your notes regularly to retain the information. With no reviews, you will have forgotten the information within a month.
  • About 4-6 weeks before the exam, begin revising intensively. Complete an exam preparation planner for each unit. Here is an example

The chances are you have good time management and revision skills.


I find it difficult to concentrate.


Try these suggestions:

  • Organise your study space and adopt study habits that suit your learning style.
  • Revise when you are ‘at your best’. For some people it may be early in the morning; for others it may be in the evening.
  • Work in short bursts with a break between them. Write study breaks into your revision timetable.
  • Reward yourself on completion of a study session.
  • Find ways to bring variety into your study session.
  • Mind and body go together, so keep your body healthy. Get enough sleep, exercise regularly and eat healthy food.
  • Consider revising with other students – discuss, explain, test, ask questions.

You are clearly focused on your study and revision.


I try to memorise my notes by going over and over them.

  • Sometimes rote learning can be a useful strategy, for example learning names, dates, formulae and theories.
  • However, university study is about understanding material and applying theories to solve problems.
  • Ask yourself questions about your notes then answer them. This encourages you to think about the subject.

Sometimes rote learning can be a useful strategy, for example learning names, dates, formulae and theories. However, it will generally be necessary to understand the issues around these as well.


I get anxious about exams. I stress about whether I’ll get through my studies and whether I will remember anything!

  • A certain level of stress is desirable. ‘Healthy’ stress allows us to perform better by stimulating and focusing our attention.
  • However, excess stress is harmful to our mental and physical health and affects our ability to concentrate.
  • Learn about how to manage exam anxiety.
  • Don’t be afraid of exams. Remember that exams allow you to show your understanding of the unit you have studied.
  • A certain level of stress is desirable. ‘Healthy’ stress allows us to perform better by stimulating and focusing our attention.


I have too many other important commitments that prevent me from revising.

  • Good time management allows you to enjoy a balance of university study, family life, work, recreation and leisure.
  • Make sure those close to you understand your study goals. Negotiate study times with them.
  • Make use of  ‘down’ time throughout your day, for example travelling time, and coffee breaks.
  • Learn about time management.
  • Time management is a personal matter. Good time management allows you to enjoy a balance of university study, family life, work, recreation and leisure.

Revision strategies

First of all, consider your past revision strategies: how did your approach to the exams help or hinder your success? Decide what you need to change or improve for your next exam.

Here are some exam strategies you might like to consider:

Click the strategies below to find out more:

Plan and manage your time
  • Follow the suggestions in Organising revision / timetabling above.
  • Plan to take regular, limited breaks – include some exercise in these.
  • Deal with excuses for not revising.
  • Use spare moments for extra revision.
Be creative
  • Use mind maps/diagrams.
  • Record yourself answering questions – this can help memory.
  • Aim to understand, not just memorise.
  • Use varied and interesting ways of going over the material.
Work with and seek help from others
  • Arrange revision sessions with friends.
  • Ask for help from your tutors, mentors, peers.
Do past exam papers
  • Access past UNE exam papers.
  • Check which topics come up regularly.
  • Familiarise yourself with the exam paper format and instructions. However, in case of a change in format, be sure to read all instructions carefully in the exam.
  • Brainstorm answers to past exam questions.
  • Prepare outline plans for questions.
  • Attempt questions under exam conditions.
  • Check answers with lecturers/peers.
Stay healthy and positive
  • Take regular breaks and exercise; eat well; and get enough sleep.
  • Work on your motivation.
  • Work on your stress levels.
  • Give yourself positive messages.

Overcoming exam anxiety

Most students experience some degree of anxiety during their course of study. It is important to manage anxiety in the lead up to the exam and during the exam.

Find out in advance

There is nothing worse than rushing off to an exam in a state of panic, wondering: Where should I be? What should I take? Where are some pens? Follow these suggestions:

The week before the exam:

  • Print and complete this exam day planner.
  • If possible, visit the exam room and get the feel of it.

The night before the exam:

  • Check over your exam day planner and assemble all items.
  • Avoid people who panic.
  • Have a good night’s sleep.

On the day:

  • Eat well.
  • Allow plenty of time to get to the exam room – there could be delays.
  • Arrive at the exam room as it opens – to give you time to find your seat and gather your thoughts.