Advice and resources to support you with your exams, covering revision, preparation and sitting your postgraduate exams.
Will I have exams?
Some programmes of study involve sitting exams while others do not; please consult your programme handbook to clarify if you have to take exams.
Exams at taught postgraduate level are an opportunity to demonstrate your knowledge, understanding and mastery of your subject. While exams can be daunting, with proper preparation they can turn into a way of consolidating your learning experience – an enjoyable challenge.
For up-to-date information on assessments and exams please check the continuing students webpage
Your School teams will provide information about the form your assessments will take. Please check your University emails and course information online (e.g. in Blackboard Learn).
Are you achieving your best results?
Preparing for exams and timed assessments with planned revision sessions helps to consolidate your learning. However, simply re-reading texts and notes is quite a passive way to study. It is better to try and be actively more engaged.
Spaced or distributed learning is more effective than massing or cramming. This is best done regularly at planned intervals (e.g. for a set of topics or connected lectures).
An open book assessment tests your ability to find the information you need and apply it to the question or problem posed. Your response will be expected to be well structured and analytical, selectively using material rather than reproducing it.
With a take-home or remote exam you may have significantly more time than in an exam hall. But this does not mean you should be using all of that time to do the exam and you still need to prepare well beforehand. Like other assignments, your work will need to be well presented, acknowledge source materials and observe the word limit.
Preparing for an open-book exam
During the period of an open book assessment you will have access to the wide range of resources you have gathered during your studies including e-resources, printed material and your own notes. You need to be able to retrieve information efficiently.
You should look things up to confirm your own understanding during the assessment, not to find things out for the first time.
Know what you need to know. Look through all of the material associated with your course. How has the course content been structured? Ask yourself which topics are central or core ones and how different topics might be related to each other. What are the learning outcomes? Making lists, overview diagrams or concept maps can help.
For each of the exams you can make a list of the key topics and subtopics. You can use this to divide your revision into manageable chunks of learning. Find out where you may have gaps in your notes. You can prioritise studying topics with a high importance where your notes do not meet your needs or where you feel less confident. You can use our handout or devise your own spreadsheet.
Summarise and organise your notes. Make it easier to find things when you need them. Organise and label your notes and reduce the quantity of them.
When making a summary it helps to make yourself work hard. Rather than simply copying from your notes or texts you may have, leave a time gap between reading material and writing the summary (recall it and then check it). This time gap could be as short as an hour or as long as a day.
Using your notes in an active way helps you to learn effectively. For example, look for points for and against an argument from memory, then check these against your notes. You could summarise these points on a table or concept map. Try and link different parts of your course together in a way that makes it more interesting. Are there examples or case studies you could add in?
The IAD has a handout which makes some suggestions and has a method for using slide notes more actively.
Self-testing. Research suggests self-testing is one of the most powerful things ways anyone can reinforce their own learning. The format of practice tests does not have to be the same as the exam to be effective. It is practising active retrieval that enhances learning.
Take control of your time
You are going to have to take charge of how you spend your time during the pre-assessment and exam periods, and take care of your own wellbeing to perform at your best. That means having a daily routine, building in breaks, eating healthily and maintaining good sleep patterns.
Tips on prioritising, the timer method and tools such as week planners are available in the Time management section.
If you have been given an extended period of time to undertake an assessment, such as 48 hours, you should schedule breaks, rest and sleep during that period (according to the time zone you are in). You are not expected to use all of this time on the assessment. If you have multiple exams it would be exhausting and difficult to maintain working intensively.
You could try scheduling it as if you are sitting a timed exam in an exam hall. For example, if your exam would have been two hours, allow three. You can add short breaks or split it into two 90-minute sessions with a break in the middle. The extended time frame allows for differences in time zones and helps to compensate for technical and connection issues. Aim to submit your assessment in good time.
Making a daily plan can be useful.
Exam Bootcamp is the IAD’s self-enrol resource on Learn to support students doing exams. It covers strategies that work and includes useful tools.
Three steps to exam success
- Get set by preparing: Plan, take stock and identify gaps.
- Do the revision workout: Learn to focus, read effectively, restructure and self-test.
- Develop effective exam strategies: Tried and tested techniques and tips to use during exams.
How do I enrol?
Exam Bootcamp is a course available on the Learn VLE. Self-enrol and add it to your own list of courses. Exam Bootcamp can be found in the Self-Enrol (Students) section of the Learn space.
Past papers can be a useful guide to question styles, format and the mark allocation. They can be used to practise question types. However, the questions in new exam papers will be different and course content changes.
Up-to-date information on the learning outcomes, subjects and topics covered in your courses and assessments will be in your course or programme handbooks and other information provided by your School. You should plan to go into the exams period with enough knowledge to answer questions on any of the major topics in a course.
Exam Papers Online is a service provided by Information Services and provides access for University of Edinburgh students to most degree examination papers. They may be used by students as a study aid only and some papers for some examinations are excluded.
Official information on exam diets, exam timetables, the regulations and a list of frequently asked questions from Student Administration services.
It is important to look after your own health and wellbeing to do well in your studies. The Student Counselling Service provide advice on ways to do this.
Too much stress can get in the way of performing effectively in exams. The Student Counselling Service have produced a helpful e-booklet about stress, why we need it and how to manage our stress levels to strike the right balance.