English: Students need sleep in order to study.

English: Students need sleep in order to study. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Exams are terrifying and are among any students’ nightmares. If you are not studying now, I’m sure you remember those difficult exams that drove you crazy, so what can I do?

I don’t normally make exams to my students, it’s something I can callow myself because my only aim is to teach them a language, not to assess their level or check whether they can pass to another level.

It is a different situation when I have to prepare students for official examinations such as Cambridge English Exams, but according to results my advice must not be that bad! Let’s see if I can help you.

Prepare yourself in advance

We cannot know what will happen in an exam, but the more you have studied, the better you’d feel before start. It is obvious. You cannot pretend not to feel nervous if you haven’t done the necessary work.

No matter how much we study, we will always feel we’d need some more time, but we know when we’ve done far too little work. If that’s the case, there’s nothing to worry about, you are probably going to fail, so no worries and accept your fate.

I must admit that knowing this has helped me during my years at school and I have managed to pass some exams I hadn’t studied enough for, so your attitude is really important.

The previous night and morning

Some people hate exams because they torture themselves the previous night. It seems that if you don’t sleep and spend the entire night drinking two pints of black coffee and pretending you are studying in a rush just to justify yourself you’ve studied, you are going to pass.

For some this works, and I have also done this crab in some occasions, but let’s be honest, it’s not about killing yourself the night before the exam, if you’d done everything right, you should rest and sleep well that night in which you should have only revised a bit. Sleeping is a crucial part of learning, as our brains need to organize during sleep, so you should rest properly.


Sleeping (Photo credit: Ed Yourdon)

Step by step

We should try to get better little by little. Don’t bite more than you can chew as it’s ridiculous. If you plan well ahead, deadlines should never be a problem.

Divide the subject into groups of units that can have a certain relation between them, summarize them if you need to, highlight, rewrite or use any system that you like and set a schedule for the entire content so you can know when you are running late.

Leave the last week or days to revise the entire content and to settle the final parts and ideas, but the hard work should have been done previously.

Use classes effectively

Classes are a very good point to start studying, as we get to understand the content and we have therefore taken the first step. The problem is we have normally forgotten the class’ content before we start studying.

The process is simple, we understand first, then we need to practice, and then we need to use a specific content. So in class we normally understand, but unless we practice the content with some work and plenty of study and we use it in a situation, we’ll forget it.

Let’s put it this way, you got yourself explained World War 1st during your history class. It’s a long way but you pretty much understand the entire process by the end of that unit.

You may not have the exam until a couple of months later, but don’t lose you momentum. Summarize the content, study it now that you understand it and use it, for example make yourself an exam and correct it with the book afterwards. By the time you really have to study for the real exam, the work will be half done.

Once sitting at the desk in front of an exam

TheĀ  moment when we’re given an exam is full of feelings, some get scared, others feel it’s easy, others difficult… but leave it, please, it is what it is and that’s it.

Read the entire exam carefully so you can get yourself an idea of what questions are longer and more difficult, and try to figure your potential best result with that you are well sure you know well. Then go for it!

Some questions are worth more in exams than others, so don’t waste your time for a short answer when we could be writing about the main topic.

If all the questions are worth the same, then start with the easier ones, and go getting points before the clock chimes!

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