This page contains a range of resources and links for the development of revision and exam skills.

Revision and planning

Exams can look truly daunting and their reputation is made worse by the experiences people talk about when they think they may have done badly in an exam. Most negative experiences in exam settings are not down to lack of ability on the student’s part, but on lack of adequate revision and planning strategies for what to expect and how to go about answering questions with only five or ten minutes of planning and no support from notes.

The essential starting point:

  • Past papers: https://www.aber.ac.uk/en/past-papers/
  • Exam questions review This is a planning grid for you to fill in while looking through the past papers. Provides a sense of question types and how they relate to learning outcomes and module content. Note here though that questions do change each year and you should never assume that just because similar questions have appeared in previous years that the same themes will be repeated. What is important to know though, is that all exam questions are reflected through the learning outcomes and aims of each module.
  • To identify learning outcomes and aims of each module that you are taking, consult your module handbook, which should be available in Blackboard, or review them through the Study Schemes web pages.http://www.aber.ac.uk/en/study-schemes/

An essential aspect of successful exam strategy is to be able to create a very quick essay plan within the first few minutes of the exam itself. You will have an answer booklet that allows space for planning at the beginning. Good exam practice suggests that you should put a line through the plan before the end of the exam to show that it is not part of your answer.

Writing in exams

Writing in exams is not the same as writing essays for course assignments. With assignments it is essential to consider all the details of writing a bibliography and associated referencing issues. In an exam you will not be able to do this unless it is an open book or seen exam, where you see the questions before the exam. In those cases is may be necessary to include additional material, but that will depend very much on the rules of the exam itself.

  • You need to consider a modified essay style for writing in exams
  • You don’t have time to consider all the details of a word-processed essay
  • You need to write with clarity, impact and immediacy
  • Start planning with the main body
  • Go back to plan a brief introductory statement
  • Don’t plan the conclusion, but remember:
    • complete your final paragraph when you have ten minutes left
    • write a closing statement when you have five minutes left

 Other things to note:

  • Write clearly and legibly.
  • Write on every other line of the answer booklet to avoid crowding the page with overlapping words.
  • Write within the limits of what you know.
  • Create a brief skeleton plan at the question at the beginning. This should take no more than three to five minutes. It will allow you to work to a plan and stay focused on the question.
  • In relation to the main theoretical points you have identified through module content and learning outcomes, think of a few points or situations that could be used as practical examples.

A good exam answer displays an overall understanding of the issues and how they work in practice

Things to include in an exam answer plan: use note form only and not full sentences: 


Main interpretation of question              

Specific focus 

Main body 

1) *topic (make sure it has a clear relationship with the issue)

3) *short, clear sentences to define and discuss the key points

4) *examples, if needed

This process should be repeated for each paragraph that is included

Do not plan a conclusion, but when you only have five minutes left, finish the paragraph you are writing and write a brief summarising statement to close. This will ensure you have a complete essay.

The twenty minute and counting challenge

  • Go back to the exam questions review document (Exam questions review).
  • Make sure you have identified a range of questions, including some you are familiar and comfortable with—and some you are not familiar and uncomfortable with.
  • Start with a familiar question and create a note form plan in about 20 minutes.
  • Move on to different questions and create plans in 15, 10 and 5 minutes consecutively.
  • Keep practicing until you are comfortable with creating essay plans on a range of main questions for a given module.
  • Make sure you do this with more difficult questions as well, so that you are prepared for all possibilities.
  • Check module content for the current year, in terms of aims, learning outcomes and actual content.

Resources for exams and revision

The Open University guide to Revising and Examinations, covering revision, revision techniques, examinations and managing stress.

A really good general guide on how to be more successful in exams from the University of York. 

A good article explaining how to effectively make a timetable.

Advice on memory techniques from Mind Tools.

Advice from departments

Physics and Mathematics: formulae and constants exam booklet