How to pass and excel in exams?

While many students dislike exams, learning and mastering the art and science of excelling in examinations have contributed to enhancing the life qualities of many people whom I know and care.

From passing the exams, progressing to the next levels of study, to winning life-changing scholarships, exams have played and will continue playing undeniably essential roles in many people.

Below are some thoughts and tips that can be used to pass and excel in exams.

  1. Decide what we want to achieve and use our targets as our compass. In high school, I made a decision that I must achieve grades that made be qualify for a scholarship because my parents informed me that they would not be able to support a tertiary education.
  2. Plan! Use at least both checklist and Google Calendar, consider also note-taking apps; I love google keep, Samsung note (handwritten notes are better than typed notes)! "In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable." ~ Dwight D. Eisenhower
  3. Master our emotions, instead of letting emotions (fear, worry) control us. Argue with negative emotions in words and revise our positive answers whenever negative feelings creep in. For example, if you have a thought e.g. "What if the exam is harder than expected?" Write down your worry and the neutralizing positive responses e.g. "I have done my best in preparing for the exam, I revised every covered chapters, practiced the questions, even if I do not know how to do 1-2 questions, I can still do the majority of the questions. For a particular question that cannot be solved by someone like me who have done a lot of preparation, it is likely that many students cannot solve it too."
  4. While the outcomes (results, grades, achievements) are important and likely to affect your future, focus on your efforts while you are studying.
  5. 3Es to ensure physical strengths: Exercise routinely, Eat nutritious and balanced food, Enough rest and sleep (at least eight hours). Sleep helps to remember. Hydrate your body with at least eight glasses of water a day. Eat chicken (rich in choline), egg (rich in choline), cauliflower (rich in choline), broccoli (rich in choline), flaxseed (rich in omega-3 fatty acids), walnut (rich in omega-3 fatty acids), blueberries (rich in flavanoids).
  6. Ask yourself and others to test our understandings. Study with questions in mind. "I keep six honest serving-men (They taught me all I knew); Their names are What and Why and When And How and Where and Who." ~ The Elephant’s Child by Rudyard Kipling
  7. Use multiple ways to learn the same information, e.g. read the lecture notes, read the textbook, watch online videos, create a mind map, teach, practice solving questions.
  8. Practice makes perfect. Self-test.
  9. Simplify and summarize. Make your own notes (not transcribe lectures verbatim). Create mind maps. Use mnemonic devices like visuals (e.g. comparison tables, flowcharts), acronyms, loci method, or your own personal stories. For example, to memorize the electromagnetic spectrum in order of increasing frequency, use this mnemonic: Raging Martians Invaded Venus Using X-ray Guns (In order of increasing frequency, the electromagnetic spectrum is: Radio, Microwave, Infrared, Visible, Ultraviolet, X-rays, Gamma rays).
  10. Review and revise. Review the information periodically, instead of cramming, to transform our short-term memory into long-term memory. Embracing Buddha’s feet (临时抱佛脚) may work for small quizzes, but not for exams covering multiple topics. Review your notes within 24 hours of learning a new topic.
  11. Connect ideas. Connect what you are learning (new ideas) with something you already know or something from other fields / disciplines. "For example, if you’re learning about electricity, you could relate it to the flow of water. Voltage is akin to water pressure, current is akin to the flow rate of water, a battery is akin to a pump, and so on."
  12. Environment matters. There is likely an inverse correlation between the distance of seats in the classroom from the instructors and the grades. Thus, sit closer to the source of knowledge.
  13. Protect yourself from distractions, necessary actions include social media diet, decluttering, use timebox / pomodoro.
  14. Alternate between work and rest, because energy is cyclical. Learn from nature e.g. cell cycle (too fast cycles result in cancers, too slow cycles results in aging). To improve focus, take a break after a period of work, use pomodoro.
  15. Reward yourself at the end of each study session. The reward can be as simple as a toilet break, a shower, a brief dance to stretch our body, a short walk, a drink (hot chocolate or just a glass of water), a healthy snack or a favorite matcha KitKat.
  16. Familiarize yourself with the battle field, here referring to the structure of exams. How many sections will the exam have? Will there be multiple-choice questions, open-ended questions, quantitative questions, or any combination of them? How many marks will there be in total and what are the breakdown of the marks? If possible, allocate how much time you should spend on each question before the exam. Look through the entire exam at the beginning of exam, to decide on easy / challenging questions and adjust your time allocation accordingly. If you’re unable to solve a problem, maintain your composure and move on the next one.

A final message: "Life is the most difficult EXAM. Many people fail because they try to copy others – Not realizing that everyone has a different question paper!" ~ anonymous.

See also:
./ in Asia2015 folder
How to boost your happiness while learning?
7 rules to be a straight-A student by Daniel Wong; In a summary: (1) always have a plan, (2) be organized, (2) take care of your physical health – the foundation of academic excellence, (4) don’t cram. Instead, use a periodic review system, (5) form a homework group, (6) set up a distraction-free study area, (7) clarify your doubts immediately, ask questions (this indeed has been the theme of Happy Green Panda posts).

20151109 (observing students taking examinations, 8.7% and 30% are left-handed and wearing spectacles, respectively).


One comment

  1. […] a lifelong learner and a perpetual student, writing exam papers can help transforming one into a better exam taker. This is the same principle as one learns best when one has to teach what s/he has […]


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