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Top tips for surviving postgraduate masters exams

Students of today are officially the most examined generation in the history of the world. Ever! By the time you reach your masters exams you’ll have probably honed your revision techniques and daily routines down to a fine art, though however battle-hardened you are exams can still be a bit of an ordeal. Any tactics that keep you from psyching yourself out are good tactics. Fact! So with this in mind we present the best ways to revise productively without bringing on a breakdown and to ensure success.


1. Work with your peers

What works for coursework also works for exams: and in this instance your peers are your favourite people. Group revision sessions, whether they involve everyone or a smaller crew, are great for bouncing ideas off each other and pooling your respective strengths. Go through past papers together and discuss how you would all answer the questions – the variety of approaches you’ll all come up with will freshen everyone’s perspective and increase the number of topics you can answer. In the pressured and time-constrained exam environment having recently learnt about that extra topic or two could just make all the difference.

2. Write plenty of essay plans

For arts students, as important as facts and figures are, they do not an exam essay make. A key part of revising a topic is planning it properly and working out what your line of argument is.  Churning out essay plan after essay plan covering as wide a variety of past questions as you can manage is a good way to consolidate your knowledge and form a reasoned and articulate argument that can be called upon in the heat of the moment.  Of course we’re not suggesting you shoehorn an essay plan into any question vaguely related to the topic, but having a general analytical sense of where you might go with the question is hugely reassuring and provides a basic framework from which to build.

3. Don't overload your brain!

When preparing for exams it is tempting to read every book on every reading list and every half-hearted scribble you ever made on every subject, JUST IN CASE. By doing this you will therefore know everything and will be able to answer any nasty question that is thrown at you. However this approach can actually be more of a hindrance than a help. Revising a healthy variety of subjects is a no-brainer but overloading your brain with every last detail on them impedes your ability to think critically in the exam itself. Often you have so much to sift through in your brain that exam answers lie in danger of becoming a descriptive splurge of knowledge, rather than a tightly argued critique.

4. Read selectively

Linked to the previous point is the necessity of reading selectively. By the time you get to exams you will probably know what the principal works are and the main authorities on your subject area. Make sure you are familiar with their work (whether or not you agree with their point of view...) and pick out the articles/books that will give you decent coverage of potential exam topics without bogging you down in minutiae. Although it may seem counterintuitive, knowing everything isn’t necessarily an advantage when you step into the exam hall!

5.    Keep calm

Although at times this may seem like an impossible task - do try your best to stay calm throughout.

Good Luck!


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