Preparing for Exams: Part One: Strategy

Preparing for Exams

by Owen Fourie

~ Part One: Strategy ~

Studying and preparing for exams involves a lot of work. You need a strategy.

Let’s look at the best situation first of all. After this, we’ll consider what to do when exams are looming and you know you are not ready.

Develop a strategy

  • Aim to work consistently from the beginning of the course.
  • Plan your studies carefully.
  • Set goals for the year, the semester, the term, the month, the week, and for each day.
  • Take notes and review constantly.
  • Develop a proper understanding of each subject.
  • Be familiar with the material long before your exams.

Note this

  • Avoid rewriting the text when you take notes. You do not need another text to study!
  • Reduce your notetaking to numbered or bulleted lists of words or short phrases.
  • Let these words and phrases jog your memory and recall of the material.
  • Learn to use graphic organizers. It is likely that you will find this to be a better way to present your notes.
  • Use both methods if necessary: graphic organizers as well as bulleted and numbered lists.

Your advantage

Working from the beginning will mean no panicking when examination dates are scheduled. You will be prepared to face any exam from multiple choice to essays.

Do not study for exams!

Working consistently from the beginning of the academic year will also mean that you are not studying for exams and grades as such. Instead, you are learning for life.

If you are studying merely to pass an exam,

  • you are missing the point of learning;
  • you are not learning for life;
  • you are putting a lot into your short-term memory* that will be forgotten outside the examination room;
  • you are simply satisfying a system that wants to see a little piece of paper to prove that you are qualified in subjects whose content you cannot even recall.

By learning for life,

  • you are putting what you learn into your long-term memory for recall and practical use and application anywhere and at any time, even many years later;
  • you are giving substance and value to your grade, certificate, diploma, or degree.

Understand this

Here is the perspective that you should have of your education:

  • Your early basic and general education, regardless of your interests, was necessary to pave the way for later studies.
  • Your secondary (high school) and tertiary (college and university) education should give you greater liberty to pursue your interests and to sharpen your talents in those areas for which you are obviously gifted.
  • Your focus should be on learning for life and not on merely studying to pass exams, if you are allowed to follow your particular interests.

This is the ideal situation, especially if you have found your niche, selected your courses wisely, and have an interest in everything you have chosen.

What happens if you find that you have not followed a plan like this, and the exams are virtually on top of you, and you haven’t cracked a text? We’ll deal with this in the next article.

*The technicalities of working memory, short-term memory, and long-term memory are complicated and will not be discussed here.


What is your strategy for studying and exam preparation? What helps you to remember the subjects that you study for a lifetime instead of for the short term only? Your comments, observations, and questions are welcome.

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