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Preparing for exams  

When studying for exams, you learn a lot about your subject, and you get to practice communicating this knowledge. 

Studying for exams is your chance to learn a lot about your subject and to improve your communication skills, either orally or in writing. The more you prepare for your exam, the better it usually goes. 

There are probably just as many ways of dealing with exams as there are students at the university. For instance, some people prefer studying for their exams in a study group, while others prefer revising alone. Some people work best under pressure, while others need to prepare well in advance. Just like many other things, it can take some time before you figure out what works best for you when its comes to studying for your exams. 

Exam performance is not everything 

It’s a good idea to start by finding out what’s expected and required of you at the exam. What do the academic regulations say? What does your teacher expect? What do you expect of yourself? Once you’ve gained an overview of what’s expected of you, it’s easier to plan how to study for your exams. 

Exams at AU

Overview and preparation are crucial for achieving a good exam result.

In the video (in Danish) below, students and teachers talk about what exams at the university are like and about how to plan studying for your exams. 

Plan your exam period

The exam period may seem very confusing, but if you plan it in advance, you can take ownership of your preparation time and maintain an overview.

Follow the advice bellow: 

Find out when all your exams are held 

Example of exam period schedule

In your calendar, write down the dates for oral exams, when exam questions/assignments will be handed out and when assignments are to be handed in. This will give you an overview and minimise the risk of missing important deadlines. For example, you can set up a monthly plan or create a calendar for your exams. 

Plan your time before and between exams 

Consider what you need to prepare before your exams and between your exams, and how much time you need to spend on it. For example, you can go through the curriculum or your semester plan to assess what you need to revise. This can be texts that you didn’t get around to reading during the semester, texts that you need to read more thoroughly, or texts that you just need to skim. Click here to read more about different studying methods. 

If you want to prepare with others, e.g your study group, it’s a good idea to plan your studying sessions well in advance. 

It’s also a good idea to plan when to take time off between your exams. Study breaks during exams help you recharge so you can focus on your preparation and your exams. 

Set realistic goals and prioritise 

Some exam periods are more stressful than others. It’s therefore important that you set realistic goals for your exams and your work during the exam period. If, for example, you have multiple exams during a period, you may need to prioritise them or adjust your ambitions for one or more of them. 

You should also consider how much you want to prioritise your free time during your exams. It can be a good idea to take a break from exams, but at the same time it can be difficult to find the time to do this if you’re very busy with exams.

Click here to read about stress and how you can plan busy periods. 

Start planning well in advance 

For example, if you need to use some popular books, you can order them in advance. If you need to collect empirical data, e.g. through interviews or field work, it can be a good idea to set up appointments before the exam period to make sure that you have the material you need. 

Get an overview of the course 

It’s a good idea to read the academic regulations to check the requirements for your exam, and then get an overview of the course syllabus. Skim notes, slides, minor assignments and other material from the course. Then make an overall plan for what to study, when to study and, not least, how to study. Click here to read more about exam requirements. 

How to have a good exam period

During exams 

Set up fixed routines.  

Think of your days as working days, where you focus on studying at fixed times. It’s a good idea to use a weekly schedule to plan when you’ll be working, and when you’ll be taking time off. 

Respect your work rhythm.    

Exhausted by 14:00? Then this is not the time to embark on the most difficult part of the syllabus. Instead, use this time for easier tasks and schedule the most mentally demanding tasks for when you’re better able to concentrate. For example, divide your working day into two to three intervals, depending on your mental efficiency curve, and then allocate your work tasks accordingly.   

Listen to your body!  

Give it proper food, water and regular breaks with physical activity. This will keep you physically and mentally fit longer and it will help you remember better.   

Take a break.  

Are you getting too little work done, even if you’re in the reading room all day? Has the use of Facebook and the fridge gotten out of control at home? Are you having problems sleeping, or are you sad and feeling unhappy most of the time? If things are not going well, then take a break and write down what is not working right now, and what you want to do differently – and then do it. Talk to your fellow students or your student counsellor.   

Remember life outside your studies.  

During exam periods, it’s easy to isolate yourself from the outside world and spend all your waking hours studying for the exams. Give yourself permission to go outside and get some fresh air. This recharges your batteries and keeps your brain sharp, so you can concentrate better when you’re working.   

Adjust your reading strategy  

You probably won’t have to read all texts thoroughly from start til finish when you’re studying for your exams. Depending on what kind of text it is, how carefully you’ve read it before (and remember it), and how important it is in the syllabus, you can use various reading techniques: reading to get an overview, close reading, selective reading and skimming. If you’re not revising a known topic, but rather researching a new topic, e.g. for a written exam paper of your own choice, you can also benefit from subject-specific reading methods. 

After the exam


The exam is over, you survived and might prefer to forget about exam reading. But already next semester, the next exam period lies in wait. Therefore, spend just 10-15 minutes picking up on your strategy: what worked well and what do you want to change for the next time? You will be better at reading for exams if you use your experience in the future.

Share your experience. Both good and less good exam experiences can be nice to share with others, as the exam will often be the result of an intensive work process, which can be nice to finish. At an exam with physical presence, it will often be obvious to turn the exam with the fellow students who are also present. For an online exam, you must seek out the interview yourself. Consider. whether to make an appointment for you to call a friend or family member to reverse your exam experience.

Preparing for exams in groups


Collaborate with your study group on exam preparation. This way you get professional help in your preparation, which can help to a better end result.

Through group work, you can help each other review the material, spar and prepare for exams, all of which can help you achieve a better final result. You can look at each other's notes, share notes or present the material to each other. You can also help each other plan work and breaks. Click here to read more about how you can work on academic material together, and how to give and receive feedback. 

Below are examples of activities you can use to prepare for exams in a group: 

Below you will find examples of activities that you can use as exam preparation in the group:

Use a memory game for revising the syllabus 

If you need to prepare and revise academic material for the exam, it can be a good idea to use a memory game. Through the game, you train your ability to formulate the academic material and learn about any gaps in your understanding of the material. 

How to do the exercise: 

1. Write down cues: Write down a lot of cues from the academic material, for example key concepts or theorists that you wish to review. Include both general topics and more specific material. You can find inspiration in your notes, Power Point slides from class and the semester plan. 

2. Make cue cards: Cut out the cues as cards and lay them on the table face down. 

3. Take a card and start talking: In turns, one of the group members takes a card from the table and says everything they know about the subject on the card. 

4. Supplement: Subsequently, the remaining members of the group can ask questions, supplement with more information and comment what was said. 

5. Repeat: After that, a new group member takes a card and starts talking about the subject. Continue the exercise until all the cards have been turned. 

Click here to read more about how you can train for oral exams in groups. 

Practise oral presentation in groups. 

It can be advantageous to practice your introductory presentation with the study group. By holding a mock exam, you can practice the presentations and get a sense of what it feels like to get nervous. 

1. Practice oral presentations: In turns, let one member of the group present a prepared presentation. If you’re going to draw one of several known topics at the exam, you can draw lots between the topics or let the other group members decide which presentation they want to hear. 

2. Time the presentations: It’s a good idea to use a stopwatch and time the presentation, so that the person presenting gets to practice keeping within the time limit of a real exam situation. 

3. Give the presentation: A group member gives their prepared presentation and practices communicating the material clearly. Focus on pace, body language and tone to give a good and confident presentation. Click here to read more about oral communication. 

4. Discussion: When the time is up, the remaining members of the group can ask questions about the academic content of the presentation, and the person who gave the presentation will have a chance to respond. In this way, you can practice the conversation that typically arises between student and examiner/co-examiner in an exam situation, and you’ll also gain a better understanding of the material by discussing it. 

5. Feedback: Finally, you can evaluate the presentation and the discussion. Make sure to give the person who gave the presentation useful feedback on both academic content and oral communication. Click here to read about how to give feedback. 

Avoid cheating at exams

If you know what is allowed during exams, it lowers the risk that you will accidentally cheat.

It’s therefore a good idea to be aware of what is allowed in connection with exams and what is not. 

Click here to read more about the different types of cheating and familiarise yourself with the rules.  

You can also test your knowledge about cheating at exams by taking this test. 

See also

Academic regulations

Orientate yourself in your curriculum on requirements for each individual subject in your programme.

Know the rules

Read about the rules in relation to exams at Aarhus University.

Avoid cheating in your assignment

It is important to follow the rules and guidelines on exam cheating and plagiarism. AU Library guides you on how, so you can easily avoid it.