Exam Tips from the DVA's

Sascha, Timaru DVA

Allow an adequate revision period
I usually start prepping for exams a month out from the exam. I find it takes a couple of weeks for the information to really start to sink in and then by the time the exam rolls around the information is well memorised.

Allow time for information absorption
Allowing a substantial revision period before an exam also means you can take the odd day off and give the information time to sink in and consolidate.

Ask your lecturer for advice
Often lecturers will post information on Stream indicating which material and topics will be examinable. If you want to get started on exam preparation and that information has not yet been posted, be proactive and email your lecturer. They are always happy to offer advice.

Use previous exams
One of the best ways to prepare for exams is to access past exams for your course. Past exams give a good indication of how the exam is likely to be structured and the type of questions that are likely to be asked. You may find that some questions from past exams will be included in your exam. Work your way through a previous couple of exams, answering all the questions, and then work on memorising them. Past exam papers can be accessed here

Use lecture slides and bullet point formats to revise information
I find that information is easier to learn if it is presented in lecture slides or bullet point format as it gives the important key points without any other unnecessary words. I quite often type up my own bullet points and work on learning them.

Use memory techniques that work for you 
Different techniques work for different people. Mind maps work well for many people, or some people use mnemonics or the method of loci. One that works for me is acronyms – if I have a list of words or key points to remember, I make up a ridiculous word from the first letters of each word in the list. Generally, the more ridiculous it is, the easier it will be to remember.

Test yourself
If I have a list of key points I need to remember, I will test myself each day by typing up as many of them as I can remember. This is also a way to test whether your memory techniques are working.

Trina, dunedin dva

Whiteboard markers are your friend
Whiteboards are expensive but you can use whiteboard markers on windows, mirrors or even whiteware to leave study notes around the house or practice exam questions. Easy to clean up too.

Pam, previous Auckland DVA

Time Management Tip
Finding time to study and learn can be challenging. Establishing alternative routines to cope with everyday aspects of home and family can help. I’d like to provide an example:

Once a single-parenting father rang me at the end of his tether… Household chores were interfering with his study time. Specifically, doing the daily washing was cutting into the morning, his only time to study. We discussed his daily routine and it was decided he would do the washing in the evening and hang it out at night. Solved! Ok, it’s a summer solution, but small changes like this can and do help when extra hours are needed at exam time.

Study Tip
When taking notes from articles or texts, whether studying or researching for an assignment, always reference the source and page numbers in your notes. This way you can return to reading materials easily if needed. It is frustrating having to waste time searching for something previously read.

Fiona, Waikato DVA

  • Studies show that to learn something, you need to be exposed to it three times. So, when first learning content in your course via the textbook: read it through once, then read it a second time taking notes. You can then write out cue cards of the key facts. If the course provides activities do them, if they provide videos to watch, watch them! This will cement the learning into your memory banks. At exam revision time try out the cue cards and see how much you can remember. Go through the process at least 3 times. 
  • It's useful to test your knowledge with another person. Try talking through the points with a friend, or family member, because when you are forced to explain it to someone who isn't familiar with the concepts, it helps you to get the concepts clear in your own mind, and highlight areas where you need to learn more. 
  • Practice writing short answers and essays. You can use old exam papers, or content from the course. Do this for at least 3-4 topics. 
  • Set aside time to study. Make sure you have a designated study area and no interruptions. And study in short intervals. We learn better when we work for 20 minutes and then take a break. Even if you just stand up and do some stretches and then return to study for another 20 minutes.
  • I find it helpful to display formulas or key dates, key researchers and the year of publishing on a noticeboard that I can pass by every day. I make a point of reading it several times a day.
  • We consolidate our memories while we sleep, so read over your notes, cue cards, or display material before you go to bed. 


Keen to share their best (or worst!) tips for preparing for exams, the following is offered by students from the Extramural Community Facebook page in time for the summer school exams (January 2016), but valid for any time of year!

  • My best tip is to shut all animals and family members out of what room you're studying in, and make sure that if you're in a room with a TV then the remote is with someone else.
  • Use an app like 'Stop Procrastinating' to block certain websites or even the Internet.
  • Record yourself saying important content that you want to remember, and then listen to it constantly. This works surprisingly well for me!  
  • Make a Mind Maps for each topic.
  • Schedule time to study and take a short break every hour
  • Break it down into small achievable goals 
  • My tip is to trust that you know stuff. And then to sleep with your study notes under your pillow 
  • Make bullet points then record them into your phone using the voice recorder. Then you can listen to them when driving.
  • If something is complicated pretend you are trying to explain it to a 5-year-old. This forces you to really simplify it and understand it. And imagine the questions they might ask, then answer those.
  • Play with the topic imagines you giving a presentation, or visualise characters acting out a scene that relates to the things you have to remember. Make a story of it. Your brain remembers stories.
  • #1 Make sure you have the date of your exams right. Seriously!
  • Double check the venue. Don't assume because you went to a venue last semester it is still the same one! 
  • Don't try and cram before you go into the exam, it sends you into a panic and you'll forget what you've learnt. If you don't know it by then, you don't know it!
  • Start study early on, write notes as you go along then read notes for exam prep, make cue cards of important points to memorise, get a good sleep/study/relaxing structured routine while studying 
  • Carefully analyse what questions are most likely to come up, based on previous exams in that same course, and the general tone of the study material, including any, hints the lecturer may have dropped. Use a "three level of importance" strategy.... make sure you know A LOT about the topics most likely to come up, a reasonable amount about topics that *might* come up, and enough to at least say *something* about the topics that probably will not come up, but just *might*. That strategy has always worked well for me and has helped to get me some incredibly good grades at times (in humanities disciplines, I would think science is a bit different)
  • I took a week off work and spent it in the library. Got good results!
  • I like exercising before I study. It helps me relax and focus. It’s particularly good before an exam.
  • Lots of past exam papers, in max conditions! I find writing helps me remember well, and I get to make sure I am going to leave myself enough time.  Sit several past exams under exam conditions to discover your strong and weak points.
  • If possible walk or cycle to your exam venue. Even if you just walk around the block when you arrive the blood will circulate and stimulate your brain activity just when you need it most. This also helps to burn off some nervous tension that can freeze you up as soon as you open up the exam paper.  
  • Don't forget your clear water bottle and take sips regularly  - dehydration is the brains greatest enemy.
  • Good use of pre-reading time:  Use the pre-reading time in the exam room to identify the low-hanging fruit. Grab all the easy marks first, and preferably in a shorter time than the marks allow. While pre-reading, don't panic at any questions that make you go blank. Concentrate on what you can answer. In the remaining time, work from your most comfortable to your least comfortable areas, until you exhaust the required number of questions.
  • Eat lightly before the exam:  Too little food and hunger will distract. Too much, especially too heavy on the carbs, and you'll end up sleepy and performing your best.

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