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Varsity Breakout






Frankly speaking, exams suck. And we all hate them. Even if we were given cash to write every exam they’d still suck (although it would definitely even things out a little). My saving grace? I look at exams as a ‘stress’ investment for future income. With that in mind, wouldn’t we all like to get the first alphabet in this year’s exams? If you didn’t already know- you can! Getting an A for exams is not an easy task. At least, that’s if you haven’t read this guide. So with no further ado, here are 8 hacks to help you Ace Exams:


Hack 1.  Always aim higher than you think is possible.

Judgment: “Aim for the moon so when you fall you land on a cloud.”

 Whether you’re a self-professed geek, or you’re barely scraping through, aiming higher than you can conceive is the first step to getting a high mark. I have heard students say exams are designed to make them fail (confused face). Don’t forget, failures make your lecturer and your school look bad too.

“A student’s attitude and psychology are key ingredients to getting an outstanding mark,” says Malik Mirza, an accounting lecturer and private tutor. He let me on to a secret I’m going to share with you: Consistent A students get A’s because they truly believe they are A students. From the moment they Aced their first exam and all the teachers applauded, something got ingrained in their minds, “I am an A student”, and they never looked back. Now here’s the thing, if you’ve got an A before in your life, you can get it again….

Don’t get me wrong, there is a difference between having confidence and being overconfident. Overconfidence makes you make mistakes, confidence makes you compensate so you never make mistakes. Because confidence without preparation just makes you a confident fool. This leads us to our next hacks.


Hack 2. Don’t just study, sing!

Judgment: It’s far easier to get an A when you rhyme what you say!

Dominic O’ Brien, a memory expert, did an interesting study. He showed that use of mnemonics will improve your marks by up to 25%! Mnemonics are learning techniques to help you remember things. It includes using phrases, acronyms, rhymes, and melodies, all of which aid in memory retention. For example, to memorise the colours of the rainbow (Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo and violet) one could use the phrase, “Run over your granny because it violent”- each of the initial letters match the colours of the rainbow in their order.

Revise using mnemonics. Just reading through your notes is one of the worst ways to study. Turn your notes into rhymes and songs! Take this rule a step further and record your rhymes and songs on a voice recorder or on your phone and play it back to yourself often.

For tips on using mnemonics click here

The trick to this rule is organizing key points into rhymes & playing or reading them back consistently.


Hack 3. Memorize key points.


Judgment: Know your story and stick to it.

You learn a lot at school. Exams aren’t a chance to regurgitate all that you’ve learnt. Few things, in comparison to what you’ve learnt, are going to be on trial in your exams. These topics have important key points- memorise them.

The bulk of your exam marks arise from these key points. If you don’t know what they find out A.s.a.p.! (Preferably from your lecturer or tutor)

A good way to memorise key points is to write them in charts, using different colours and hang them in front of your bed or any other area you look at often. Seeing them daily will imprint the key points in your mind.

Hack 4. Use mind maps.

Judgment: In memory retainment, the only thing as good as mnemonics are visuals.

Visuals can be a powerful study tool. You can learn a lot more with less effort by using mind maps. Mind maps are extremely useful in explaining complex concepts or topics and structures.

When using a mind map, use different colours to separate different ideas. This helps you visualise the map for recall. Use single words or phrases and use symbols and pictures where possible. This helps you remember information more effectively than words.

For help using mind maps click here


Hack 5. Study what you struggle with.

Judgment: Studying what you already know is denial. Face your fears. Nothing is too hard for you.

Study what you struggle with first. Studying what you already know is a lot like a body builder using the same 15kg weights every time he gyms. He just won’t get bigger. If you battle with something, give it your attention. Use mind maps to help you understand it and use mnemonics to help you memorise it.

Your time and effort during studies should be dedicated to understanding topics and points you struggle with or that might confuse you in exams. A key to acing exams is over preparation. So when you’ve just understood something that was giving you a hard time, keep practicing it.


Hack 6. Do past papers.

Judgment: Learn from the past to predict the future.

Get as many past papers as you can get your hands on. Past papers have at least 85% of the questions you will be asked in the exam. There is no better way to practice for your final exam. And yes, the more past papers you do the more prepared you will be to Ace your exam.

Doing past papers is like cheating legally. You get to know what questions will be asked and how the marks will be allocated- very important to acing exams. What’s more, you can question spot. By looking at past papers from several years back you can attempt to spot a pattern in the questions asked and successfully predict which questions will come up.

The importance of past papers cannot be stressed enough, especially in the pursuit of  Acing exams. When you do them, time yourself against the clock. Time is short in an exam and timing yourself will get you used to writing quickly (but write legibly). Past papers are an A students secret weapon.


Hack 7. Use a study time table.

Judgment: Failing to plan is planning to fail.

During exam season, whether you’ve started writing or not, creating and sticking to a study timetable could be the difference between Acing exams or just passing them. Creating a timetable helps you manage your time and prioritize what you’re studying. It also helps you assess how much you’ve done and still need to do.

Do not study one subject a day or study one subject till its all covered. Time is precious and all your subjects need to get a chance. Prioritize the bulk of your time to subjects and points you struggle with. These should be done early in the morning while your brain is still fresh. At the very least, put in 8 hours a day into studying during exam season, making sure you rest before an exam, see:….

Do not be fooled, however, a human’s concentration span lasts only 45mins at the most. So split each subject into 45 minute study periods. Taking 3-4 study periods on a subject at a time. When you’re on a break, take a break! Don’t discuss or look at your work.


8. Teach someone what you are learning.

Judgment: My dad always used to say, “If you’re not talking about it, you’re not learning it.”

And he was very right. If you struggle to explain a concept, topic or anything you’ve been studying to someone, you will struggle to explain it in the exam. The ability to speak about what you have learnt and teach reinforces what you’ve learnt and is a sure sign that you have grasped the material.

Teaching what you’ve learnt deepens your understanding. According to, the learning pyramid shows that learners retain 90% of what they learnt when they teach someone, as supposed to 75% from practising and 10% from just reading.

This just goes to prove the old saying, “To teach is to learn twice.”

And there you have it my fellow future A students! The ultimate hacks to acing exams. Don’t forget where you got it from!



  1. Hugh Grigg

    November 8, 2012 at 6:14 pm

    Couldn’t agree more about trying to teach other people what you’re learning. A very effective way to make this a consistent part of your studies is to run a blog or website about what you’re learning, which I would highly recommend doing.

  2. Pingback: Varsity Breakout | HOW TO BEAT EXAM STRESS

  3. Calm Student

    February 15, 2015 at 6:59 pm

    gosh, thanks. the only thing i manage to not do all the time is teach and sing.
    there are some subjects where i tell myself i’ll ace it because i’m amazing, psychologically victory and there are just those that “haven’t” psychologically defeated 🙁
    Useful article 🙂

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