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My personal advice for exam success

Today I’m writing a personal note, because what is psychology if not rooted in the personal? I go in for my final psychology exam of this semester tomorrow. So today I’m sat at home revising for Occupational and Organisational Psychology. [For Europeans that means Work Psychology and for Americans that mean Industrial/Organisational psychology. For everyone else it just means the psychology of business.]

Here are my five commandments for revision. Ignore them at your peril:

1. Keep your revision active. Never be tempted to sit just reading notes. Always be performing some operation on the information.

2. Short bursts are best. Take regular breaks. This keeps you fresh(er) and (slightly) more interested.

3. Always always always keep an overview of the subject you are studying in mind. If you’re writing an essay in the exam then you need to be able to to see the big picture.

4. On the day, try to relax. Use any method that works for you. Stress seriously hampers your ability to remember things. Confidence with a subject reduces stress. In the days leading up to the exam focus on what you do know about a subject – not what you don’t.

5. Sleep well. The rest is anecdotal but I know this one is backed up by evidence. You will learn better if you sleep well after your learning session.

As an aside, there is evidence that exams are sexist. The process resembles a hunt, for which men are better prepared by evolution. Exams tend to reward focussed attention on one subject for a long period, followed by a short burst of adrenaline at the end. Women’s tendency to prefer collaboration is better served by coursework.

About the author

Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.

He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks:

Dr Dean’s bio, Twitter, Facebook and how to contact him.

Perhaps one day in an enlightened future – especially if more evidence is found for this theory – we will completely eliminate exams. Until then my commandments are our best hope for success!



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