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How to tackle exams if you have not prepared (AT ALL)

It's one week before your exam and you have not prepared AT ALL (and that was a bad idea). You finally realise that you MUST pass these exams or you will face DREADFUL consequences i.e your parents won't be happy. How do you turn around this uncomfortable situation?

Part 1: How to revise if your exam is within one week (and you haven't prepared!)

1. Start with a plan. Organise your revision.

Note down which dates are your exams and how much time is left for revision. Organise your revision according to your schedule. Be realistic, set yourself achievable targets. For example, 4 hours of concentrated revision broken down into 30 minutes sessions may be more productive than revising for 8 hours non-stop.

Break down your revision into sessions and do not forget to take breaks!

2. Analyse the situation

Ask yourself the following questions: How much do you know? Which subjects require more attention? Do you know the basic concepts of the subject area? Do you understand the basic definitions?

If the answer to most of these questions is yes, great! Move to the next step.

If not, watching videos on the core topics of the subject will help. There is a myriad of videos on YouTube, Udemy and other similar websites. While they don't always go into detail, they will help you understand the basic mechanics of the topic. It's also faster than trying to read all notes.

3. Learn the summaries at the end of each chapter in your book

Each book typically ends with summaries of the chapter, memorise those. You might be too short on time to read the whole book.

Do not have a book? Summarise the contents of your copybook notes. For example, summarise a long topic into 10 simple sentences.

Do not have copybook notes? (why?!) Look for notes on the internet and print them or borrow a book from the library

4. Try at least one past paper (and the latest)

Complete at least one full past paper. It's ok if you use your book or marking schemes to research the answers. At least you will be familiar with the exam paper format. If you have to sit for multiple choice papers, practice at least 2 of them. If your questions are essay type, write down the main points on the topic instead of writing the whole essay considering you have limited time.

5. Skim your book

You might be short on time to read every paragraph in your book. Look at key points. Try to memorise simple definitions and calculations you can use in your answers. Build yourself a toolbox. In your exam, you can pick some knowledge from that toolbox.

6. Change your mindset. Motivate yourself!

Instead of thinking:

'oh no, I don't know anything I'm going to fail!'


'It's ok if I make mistakes and do not get full marks. I will use every little bit of knowledge (even if very little) to get that pass mark!'

7. Seek help

If there are friends and teachers willing to give you a small crash course, do not hesitate to seek their help!

Should you sacrifice sleep?

The golden rule is, do not pull a one-nighter the same day of your exam. Unless you are one of those rare people who can still remain concentrated after that! If you wish to revise long hours do it at least 2 days before. Please get a good night sleep before your exams.

What if it's only 1 day before the exam and you are completely unprepared?

It's ok, this can happen. Do not panic! Use the few hours of revision left wisely. Read summaries on the subject and watch relevant videos to the topics online. Do not be demotivated before or after the exam! There are many other upcoming papers. Don't dwell on the past. Focus on the future

Part 2: How to answer exam questions if you have not well prepared

1. Go for the easy marks

Getting easy marks does not simply mean going for the easiest questions first. Even if a question is challenging, you will get marks for basic definitions and calculations, use this to your advantage. With this strategy, you will feel comfortable attempting all questions. Never skip a question!

2. Make sure your answer is relevant to the question

Even those who have thoroughly prepared for an exam can score fewer marks than those who have not, simply because they did not read the question properly!

Highlight the keywords and understand the approach of the question. Keep in mind that a short relevant answer will score more marks than a long, pre-prepared and irrelevant answer. Be as clear as possible.

3. Use the right approach

Multiple Choice
  • Cross off any options you know are incorrect

  • Do not skip any questions, make a guess. There is a chance that the correct answer is the longest one, but do this only if you have no clue!

Short Answers
  • Write a clear and concise answer.

  • Go straight to the point! Do not waste time by writing more information than necessary.

Long responses/essays
  • Be relevant to the question. Write down any definitions and facts you can remember that can be used for this question.

  • Consider both sides of an argument

  • Plan your response and structure your answer properly. Do not lose yourself in a sea of words.

Math exams
  • Start by doing the questions you know and come back to the tricky ones later.

  • Check your work!

  • Make your workings clear as you will get marks for them. Even writing a simple formula can gain you marks

These simple tips will help you gain the most marks of what you already know. The more important part is about keeping a positive mindset for your exam, no matter the degree of preparation. Goodluck!



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