Smart Self-preparation for Exams

Information provided by The Learning Centre, CAPS, The Library and Student Life and Community:


The exam period is a time when stress levels are higher than usual. Stress can be positive, helping you to stay motivated and focused. However, too much stress can be unhelpful, it can make you feel overwhelmed, confused, exhausted and edgy.

It's important to try and keep things in perspective and find ways of reducing stress if things seem to be getting on top of you.

Top Pointers for Staying Sane

  • Keep up with your friends and family, even if it is only in brief calls or “chats” online.
  • Regular exercise, continue to engage in interests and hobbies.
  • A healthy diet. This means trying to eat plenty of fruit and vegetables and whole grains and stay away from a lot of sugar and caffeine.  
  • A good sleep routine, most adults need 7 – 8 hours, limit caffeinated drinks such as coffee and Red Bull and all nighters
  • Don’t experiment with chemicals – e.g. NoDoz or Valium or betablockers. This may go horribly wrong and exam time is not the time to experiment
  • Take time out from study to relax. You need to recharge so you can keep up the focus over several weeks rather than crash too early – think of it like a marathon rather than a sprint.
  • Relaxation exercises - engaging in some slow breathing and picturing yourself in a nice, relaxing place, can help to reduce your stress.

Time you invest in these activities will result in better quality study.



Study area - Having a good study area can make a huge difference to how well you learn. Study in a well-lit, quiet area, away from noises and people in the house. If this is impossible, it might be better to study at the library. Make sure your desk is tidy and organised - it means you can concentrate on studying and learning, not trying to find information.

Study groups - Forming a studying group can be a helpful way to revise your notes and work through past exam questions (it can also help you feel supported, keep you motivated and focused). If you have questions about your work, a study group may be a good place to have them answered. Beware though, some study buddies may be distracting.

UNSW Library is open until midnight during exams

Did you know that during study and exam periods, the Library remains open until midnight?

The library stays open as a study hall, with access available to the computers and study rooms.

Help Zone staff are available from 9am - 7pm, and you can ask us a question at any time wherever you are.



  • Work out when you study most effectively and schedule study times that suit your personal rhythms.
  • Take regular breaks - Getting up, moving around and away from your desk at least every 50 minutes for 10 minutes makes you concentrate and learn better.
  • Begin studying early. Ideally you should begin about four weeks before your exams.
  • Ask lots of questions of your tutor - Your teacher or tutor can help if you are having trouble developing a study routine or need help with understanding subjects or a particular topic. Asking for help doesn't mean you're a failure or stupid - it's smart to tap into their experience and knowledge to help you perform better.
  • Make a revision timetable. Block in study times and plan what you will study during each session then prior to each study session make a To Do List. Breaking tasks down into small, manageable tasks will make it less over-whelming. Cross them off as you go. Deciding what to complete in a session will help you keep track of what you are studying.
  • Spend more time studying the subjects you find most difficult. Schedule these first
  • Organise your material. Make sure you have a complete set of lecture and tutorial notes for each course. If you have missed lectures, borrow copies of the notes from another student. Once you have organised all your material, you can study by topic.
  • Wallpaper - Write down key concepts you have to learn on small sheets of paper followed by examples of how they are used. Post these sheets around your house, (eg - your bed, the toilet door, on the CD collection. It helps with remembering things like equations, quotes and foreign languages.
  • Revise and learn - (don’t just re-read) - Sometimes reading through notes doesn’t result in learning or understanding. Try to summarise what you have learnt or teach someone else.
  • Look at the wording of the questions and familiarise yourself with the clue words 
  • Review past exam papers. Work through them and look at how they fit into the course. Practice doing the papers under exam conditions and carefully review your answers.
  • Need to find past exam papers?

If you are looking for a past exam paper to help you study, check with UNSW Library.

In some cases lecturers have provided the Library with copies of past exam papers. These can be found by entering the course code into thecatalogue. Please note that the Library does not automatically receive copies of all past exam papers.



Avoid procrastination - Procrastination is when you do everything else but the task you need to do. It is normal to procrastinate a little. However too much procrastination can just add to your stress and can result in you not giving yourself enough time to prepare. Managing your time and setting realistic goals for each study session can be helpful ways to avoid procrastinating and make tasks seem less overwhelming.

Make a study timetable – Write down all the things you need to do each day of the week, and how long you need for each, including time for enough sleep, relaxation, and exercise. Find out the date of each exam and work out a study timetable leading up to them. Include tests that will help you identify gaps in your knowledge. This can give you some direction and help you focus on what to study each week or day.

Switch the phone or email off! - If you find that you are being distracted by the phone or emails, it might help to put the answering machine on or get others in the house to take messages for a while.



  • Confirm the exam date, time and location. Make sure you know how to get to the exam location in good time.
  • Avoid late-night cramming and too many Red Bulls. Get a good night’s sleep and eat breakfast (or lunch, or have a snack). You’ll work better if you’re well-rested and nourished.
  • Make sure that you have all the necessary equipment. Pack a bag the night before.
  • Avoid ‘panic talk’ with other students about how little study you’ve all done or how hard the exam will be; this will only stress you out more.
  • Remember to breathe and check out our guide to surviving exams



Online Academic Skills Resources

Question wording  Monash University Language and Learning Online

Answering Exam Questions  Colorado State University

For information on studying for exams see the following links:



If you are feeling overwhelmed with exam stress or worried about failing there's plenty of help available on campus. Talk to your tutor, lecturer or make an appointment with a Student Support Advisor:

When: Monday – Friday (9am – 5pm)
Contact:  02 9385 9365 l

Where:  The Nucleus Student Hub l Second Floor l Library Building Kensington campus (drop-in sessions)

       AND John Goodsell Building l Ground Floor Kensington campus (booked appointments)

Make an appointment


Exam Stress can sometimes aggravate health conditions

ELS: Equitable Learning Services

If you are trying to manage the demands of university as well as a health condition, learning disability or personal circumstances that are having an impact on your studies, ELS may be able to provide you with assistance.

ELS aims to ensure that UNSW is a safe and inclusive environment for all students, free from discrimination and a place where diversity and multiculturalism is celebrated and welcomed.

Our Equitable Learning Advisors work with other sections of the university on your behalf to put in place a range of services and educational adjustments so that you are able to fulfil your course requirements.

If you are an enrolled UNSW student, our free and confidential services can help you. We provide advice and put support in place so you can study and complete your degree.

What is a disability?

‘Disability’ is a broad term used to cover a wide range of professionally diagnosed illnesses, learning difficulties, injuries, medical and mental health conditions. You may be affected permanently or have symptoms that occur from time to time.

Your disability could be one or more of the following:

Attention Deficit DisorderNeurological condition
Anxiety disorder (including Obsessive Compulsive Disorder)Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
Autism spectrum (including Asperger’s Syndrome)Physical disability
Depressive disorderPsychiatric condition
Eating disorderPsychological condition
Hearing impairmentPsychotic disorder
Learning disabilityVision impairment
Medical conditionCarer

Depending on the severity of your condition, you may require long or short term assistance with any of the above.

Please consider registering for educational adjustments if you have a health or learning condition - even if you think you have everything under control. Sometimes previous health or medical conditions can recur while at university because of the change in your environment – study, deadlines, exams, extra stress etc. You may find you require support later, so it is wise to be prepared and register early.

You might think you can cope without support but if circumstances change, you could find your uni work a struggle. If you require support it is much easier to put services in place when you need them if you are already registered.

ELS: Equitable Learning Services
Ground Floor, John Goodsell Building
UNSW Map Ref F20
Opposite the Central Lecture Block

Telephone: (02) 9385 4734
Office hours: Monday - Friday:  10.00am – 4.30pm