How To Know What To Study For An Exam

One question often asked by students is how do you know what to study for an exam?

If you are asking this question the night before your exam you are probably too late! Plan for your exam revision well in advance of the actual date!

The best source of information on what is likely to come up in an exam is past exam papers. Often questions in exams are recycled from previous years. Even if the same questions are not asked directly, they are often related or grouped around important topics.

Past exam papers are a good indicator of common themes or subjects that are likely to provide sources for questions in an exam. Take these “themes” as indicators of important areas you should study for.

Another way to find out what you should study for an exam is to ask your lecturers! Most of the time they will not tell you anything, but some may offer some clues. They will usually go as far as advising on the essential elements… in a roundabout way.

They key to knowing what to study in an exam really lies in attending your lectures and taking good notes. This will allow you to identify important topics which are likely to become the source of exam questions. Taking effective notes will also increase your efficiency when it comes to studying for an exam. Use a system such as the Cornell note taking system throughout your course, this will dramatically increase your productivity when it comes to revision.

Another source of information on what you should study for an exam can come from students who studied that course the year before. If you are friendly with students in the following year, then speak to them about it, although they will often not remember…

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The fact is, exams are designed so that you DO NOT KNOW what questions will be asked, that is the point of them, so all you really have to go on are the four things I identify here:

  • Past exam papers
  • Lecturers
  • Your own notes
  • Students who took the exam the previous year

Do not rely on the above, they are at best indicators of what you should study for your exam.

The first time I used past exam papers I was very successful, all the themes from previous years came up in my exam… I thought I had hit the jackpot!

The next exam I took, I did the same thing, I used past exam papers, none of the questions were repeated, my exam was totally different.

There is no substitute for knowing your subject, attending lectures, taking good notes. When the chips are down this is what will get you the marks.

You should really only use things like past exam papers only to ascertain the level of difficulty / standard required, and only use information from Lecturers or past students to try and ensure you have missed anything out of your revision.