Help Yourself to Exam Success



At this time of year,  I receive many requests for advice and guidance from students on  ways of ensuring exam success.

I know exactly how they feel.

I have taken more than 30 exams myself over the years. I have also set exam questions and marked examination papers at university level.

For some years, I also ran a series  of workshops around the UK helping students of all ages get good results and overcoming inevitable exam nerves.


I help a student during one of my exam workshops.

Free Advice and Guidance

On this website  I offer free help and guidance to any of you who struggle to  succeed under exam pressure.

I have also produced DVD describing the seven steps to good marks. Grades which fairly  reflect all the hard work and effort you have put in to your studies.

My procedures are already being used by hundreds of school and thousands of  students.

My Procedures Work for Students of All Ages

Although the focus in my DVD Pass That Exam, is on secondary school students – it was filmed in one of these schools with the help and cooperation of the teachers and principal – my procedures can be applied to almost every  type of examination  and   students of every age. They are equally useful to medical  and law students, police officers  and trainee airline pilots.

They include instructions for constructing my unique Teaching Machine – from a sheet of card – using the powerful learning tool I call the Knowledge Network, as well as advice about revising, time management and, crucially, dealing with exam nerves.

Start Using Them Right Away

Below  you will find a link to a preview of my video, in which I discuss how to use  time to best advantage when taking the exam.

In the rest of this blog I will give you some practical guidance when revising, how to do it, when to do it and how to do it most efficiently and effectively.

 Revising  Efficiently and Effectively

Taking an exam is like preparing to run a marathon.

The sooner you start getting into shape the better your chances of completing the course successfully.

If possible, begin revising four to six weeks before your first exam so that the studying can be broken down into short, regular, sessions spread over many days rather than, as so often happens, being crammed into a few, frantic days.

Although you’ll obviously need to devote more time on subjects you find especially difficult, avoid the mistake of thinking that because you find a subject easy you need not revise it so thoroughly. Such misplaced confidence has caused many students to do badly on just those exams where everybody, including themselves, expected an excellent grade.

It is equally inadvisable to neglect subjects you find especially hard on the assumption that since you are bound to fail revising would be a waste of time. By working intensively on a poorly understood topic students often find that their confusions are resolved and it all begins to make sense. Such perseverance is, of course, especially important when that subject is an essential qualification for entry into the career or further education course you’ve set your heart on.

Keeping a Written Record

Maintain a written record of your progress by preparing a timetable on a large sheet of paper which can be pinned up in the room where you revise.

Write the days remaining until to your first exam down the left-hand side of the sheet and the subjects, or topics, being revised, along the top. Draw in vertical and horizontal lines to create a box for every subject against each of the revision days. Next decide how many hours each day you can devote to revision.

I suggest that you work only six days a week, allowing the seventh for rest and enjoyment. You might decide, for instance, that you can set aside two hours each weekday and four hours on Saturday. This means you will be revising for a total of 14 hours each week.

Revise for Shorter Periods

Revise for twenty minutes and take a ten minute break between each session. Working for such short periods enhances memory, improves concentration and increases motivation.

This allocation of time means you complete two revision periods per hour. Calculate the number of sessions each week by doubling the hours set aside for revision. Next consider how many sessions should be allocated to each subject.

The simplest way is to divide the number of sessions by the number of subjects being revised. If you have 28 sessions to allocated. In the case of four subjects being studied, this would allow you to devote 7 sessions to each.

You would probably want to allocate more time to difficult subjects. For instance, you might decide to devote 10 sessions to subject A; 8 to subject B, and 6 subject C and 4 to D. A total of 28 sessions. Use the timetable to plan your revision sessions according to difficulty of subject. Be prepared to modify it if, as revision progresses, some subjects prove easier – or harder – than anticipated.

As each session is completed tick the appropriate box on your timetable. This tells you at a glance the progress you are making. You may, of course, need to modify this timetable if, as your revision progresses, you find that some subjects are proving easier than others.

Use Coloured Pens

By using coloured pens for the different subjects you can also check that sufficient revision time is being set aside for each. Suppose you begin a two hour revision session at five o’clock in the evening. The first session finishes at five twenty.

Be disciplined, never finish either before or too long after the scheduled end of a session. Use a timer, or the alarm on your watch, to alert you when the session has finished. If you intend to move to a second topic during the next revision session, tidy away your notes for the first subject and prepare the material needed for the next one.

Take Regular Breaks

Now get up from your desk. Walk around, listen to music, have some fresh air, and generally wind down from the study period. This helps consolidate recently acquired information into memory and reduces the risk of facts from one subject getting muddled up with information about the next.

When the rest period is over, return to your studying right away. Work for another twenty minutes and then take your second, ten minute, break. Proceed in the same way for the second hour. Use the remaining ten minutes at the end of this time to tidy away your notes.             Although it may appear that you will be wasting rather a lot of time by taking so many breaks, you’ll actually learn far more successfully because your brain is being allowed to work more efficiently.


  • Start revising several weeks before the first examination.
  • Study for 20 minutes then take a 10 minute break.
  • Between sessions walk about, listen to music, get some fresh air.
  • Allow an hour between your final study period and bed.
  • Write mathematical or other formulae, write on a card and read these immediately prior to exam. Once the exam has started copy these down onto a sheet of scrap paper before doing anything else.
  • Avoid last minute revision.

Making the Most of Your Time During Exams – Preview

Electrical Memories

Recent research, published by scientists at Boston University, in the current issue of Nature Neuroscience, has shown that by stimulating the human brain for 25 minutes, using an alternating current, it is possible to halt the decline in working memory associated with ageing,


A participant  having her brain stimulated by alternating current as part of the memory study. Photo courtesy BOSTON UNIVERSITY

This ground-breaking study reminded me of work conducted by the American – Canadian neurosurgeon Wilder Graves Penfield during the ‘fifties and ‘sixties.

Penfield’s found that by directly stimulating the exposed brain with an electric current it was possible to recapture memories the patient long believed had vanished for ever.

In this short video we see Wilder Penfield discussing his work and performing surgery in the operating theatre.

The patient is conscious and able to respond to instructions from the surgeon as he probes the exposed cortex. You will also hear some of the memories which the technique brought to life.


If you would like to learn practical ways of improving your own memory, go to ‘Mind Enhancement’ where you can watch my interview with World Memory Champion Dominic O’Brian and learn the secrets of his amazing powers of retention and recall.