How to revise for university exams

If you don’t know where to start with your uni exam revision, don’t stress. With some great advice from the TSR community, these six steps will help you get everything sorted to nail your revision and nail your exams. 


1) Organise yourself

The earlier you get organised, the better, but even if you’ve left it a bit late don’t miss this step. “Note down all your modules/topics and subtopics, organising all your notes for each,” advises BLineDisaster. This will make each topic seem much more manageable and help you get a clear picture of everything you need to go over. 

If you’ve got any missing notes or information now’s your time to catch up. If there’s any core concepts you’re struggling to understand make a time to speak to your lecturer so you’re clear. You don’t want to do all your revision only to discover down the line that you’ve got something fundamentally wrong. 


2) Make a revision plan

Make sure you’ve got a solid revision plan you can stick to, building in plenty of rest time and breaks so you don’t burn out. 

You’ll need to prioritise the areas that are your weakest – don’t spend all your time revising the easy stuff and ignoring your more challenging topics. You can try “swallowing the frog” by getting the nastiest topics out the way first. Once you’ve done them you’ll feel so much better and the rest of your session will go by like a breeze. 

Make your plan achievable and be realistic: if you set yourself a solid 18 hour day of revision, chances are you’re not going to succeed. You’ll end up feeling like a failure, and ultimately more demotivated and prone to procrastination. Start your revision goals small (say, a few hours) and then build up from there as your concentration and motivation improve. 

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study girl

3) Learn the core concepts

Once you’ve got your plan and you’re organised, it’s time to do some actual revising. Whatever you do, don’t just read books or go over notes: you need to make sure you really understand the fundamentals; just regurgitating information won’t get you marks. Once you’ve got a core understanding of the topic, everything else should fall in to place. 

Don’t just rely on what you’re told in lectures and what’s on the syllabus – unlike A-levels, this won’t be enough at undergrad. “I read beyond the syllabus, and made some short notes on how to extend the topics covered in the lecture,” says Chr0n. For humanities and essay based subjects in particular, reading widely beyond the lectures is key to getting high marks. For STEM subjects, having a solid grounding in the core ideas and theories will help everything else make sense logically, so they’ll be easier to remember.

Explaining difficult concepts to others is a really effective way of clarifying your own thoughts and understanding. “I taught the material to my peers who gave me feedback on any gaps in my knowledge,” says SecretDuck, “this made answering questions much easier because I know the logical flow to get to the answer.”

If you don’t fancy sitting your housemates down for an impromptu lecture, don’t worry. “I made loads of neat study notes, made as if I was explaining the concepts and how to answer the questions to someone else,” says Chaotic Butterfly. 

It’s also a good idea to plan your key arguments for each topic now. Don’t wait until the exam to decide what angle you’re going to take, and make sure you know the current areas of research and schools of thought inside out. 

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revision tutorials

4) Make the most out of revision tutorials

“When the lecturers say: ‘Do the tutorials!’ - do the tutorials,” says Chaotic Butterfly. “Lecturers literally write the exams, they know what is going to be on them.”

That’s right, your lecturer sets the exam questions themselves, so not attending any revision lectures with them is missing out on a free lunch. “They aren't going to focus on other content in the revision lectures,” says PQ. 
“In my course some lecturers would hand out their own revision materials that they make,” says tinkerbell_xxx.

Remember your lecturers want you to do well, and they know the common mistakes that students make year on year, so take on board any advice they have to give. Pay extra attention to any exam skills they have to share, such as how long roughly you should spend on each question, and whether you’re expected to include quotes or sources in your answers. 

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exam conditions

5) Practise in exam conditions

“Learn the material and then do loads of exam practice,” says I smell like maths. Exam practice is so important as it familiarises you with the environment and gets you used to writing lots under pressure. 

“Practise questions and most importantly do timed past papers,” says Chr0n. If you can’t get a hold of past papers, then use any questions that you were set for seminars or essays to practice with. 

Time yourself and write out your answers by hand, without looking at your notes – just like you would if you were in an exam. Once you’re done, go over your answers to see where you went wrong and identify any gaps in your knowledge. This is a great way to highlight your weak areas and identify what you need to work on.


6) Accept that you're human

While you’re revising, it’s really important to look after yourself. Take plenty of breaks, and factor in leisure time. Your social life doesn’t have to die off completely just because it’s exam period, and holing yourself up in your room for three weeks is not going to do wonders for your stress levels. 

Make sure you get plenty of sleep, do some exercise and go out and have fun. This will give you something to look forwards to and will also allow you a complete break away from studying. 

Remember you’re a human, not a robot, and your brain needs down time to process information and relax.

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