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The basics
Study abroad : Essentials

Essentials: Top test tips

Find out how to get the best marks in whatever tests you need to take, including how to plan your revision and what you can do on the day...

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Set a schedule

One of the most important things you can do before any test is to actually revise. We all know that, but how many of us actually revise effectively? To ensure that you cover everything on the course, you should write out a list of everything that needs to be covered and come up with a revision schedule. This will ensure that nothing is left out and it also breaks the content down into smaller pieces which your brain finds easier to process.


Avoid distractions

During your revision periods, you should also try and minimise any distractions you may have. If you’ve a spare room or even a study (ideally without a TV) then this should help you work alone for an extended period of time. Where possible, you should try and avoid using the internet – and stay away from social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter! If you can do it, transfer your notes to paper or to a device without internet or data (you can also try turning off notifications for incoming messages and for social media accounts).

People work differently too. Find out whether you work well with music or not (and if so, what kind of music). Some individuals even work well with a TV show or film on in the background (though you should make sure you are actually learning what you need too).


Don’t force yourself

Some people work best when they are focused, spending the day undisturbed; but more often than not people have short attention spans. On average, it is important to give your brain a break once in a while and not push yourself too hard for too long; most experts think once every 60-90 minutes to be ideal. If you are planning on studying for longer than this, then take some snacks and some water with you in order to avoid any necessary trips to the kitchen.


Practise makes perfect

No matter what the qualification, you’re likely to find sample papers available to you online. If this is the case then you should definitely download them as they will form a useful part of your study. If you’ve been learning in a class or seminar environment, then your teacher should provide you with the appropriate materials (and if they don’t, ask! It will look good on your part and you’ll stand out).

You ought to use these tests to become familiar with the exam format and to chart your own progress. Completing these tests will not only allow you to see where your areas of weakness and strength are; but will also allow you to understand what it is like to actually complete the full test with time constrictions in place. The more practice you have with this kind of work, the less daunting your exam will be and you will be much more likely to focus on the actual questions.

 As part if your test you will be expected to compete the paper without leaving the examination hall, so it is important that you become used to working comfortably 3-4 hours or more at a time. This includes sitting in one space for long periods and just getting on with the task at hand.


Look after yourself

It sounds pretty simple, but quite often when revising you tend to forget about your general health, which won’t be beneficial to you while revising for and taking an exam. You tend to eat and drink things you shouldn't or wouldn't normally, such as caffiene-heavy energy drinks and quick-fix snacks. Stick to fresh fruit and water, while still eating decent meals (though not so heavy that you need to nap afterwards).

While it is important to revise, overloading your brain with information can do more harm than good. In the run up to your exam, make sure you not only eat and sleep well, but that you are able to get a bit of exercise on a day-to-day basis; this will help to reduce stress. This can be something heavy-going or just a long walk to get away from your desk.


Preparing and arriving

Anything you can do to reduce your stress levels will contribute towards your ability to focus. Yes, exams are always stressful; but to some extent this can be minimised by arriving at your exam destination well in advance and packing everything you need for the exam the night before hand so you're not stressed.


During the test

During the exam process you should always pace yourself. If the exam format allows, when you begin have a look at all the questions so you can quickly allocate the correct amount of time to each. There is no use spending half of your exam time on the first two questions and then leaving the last three until the final half an hour! Wear a watch into the exam hall, just in case you are not seated near a clock, so you can continuously keep track of time.

Whatever you do, you should also make sure that you try and answer every question, even if you are not entirely sure about the correct answer. While marks will be allocated for a correct answer, they will not be deducted if your answer is wrong; so as long as you put something down, you’re not likely to lose marks.


Try our alternative list of study methods


Browse our student life section to read more articles about studying as well as all other aspects of studying abroad.