What it takes to get the best exam grades (hint – you don’t have to be a genius!)

Do you ever sit at your desk looking at a pile of text books thinking ‘I can't possibly learn all that so there's no point in trying!'. Or, do you ever just tell yourself that you're not clever enough to get the top grades in your exams so there's no point in revising? Meeting up with your mates sounds much better than making your brain ache trying to remember dozens of quotes from Macbeth for your English exam.

You're not the first person who has felt defeated by the amount there is to do and learn for your exams.

But, I promise you, it can be done. After all, I'm definitely not a genius (I couldn't tell my left from right until I was well into my teens and still had trouble reading a clock reliably into my twenties) and I managed to get straight As at A-Level.

time management

What it does take is time management and commitment. Time management is something that you can easily learn, if you want to. Commitment is something that you can find in yourself if you dig deep enough and you want something badly enough.

If you mix these two ingredients up in sufficient quantities you're baking a cake that will have ‘CONGRATULATIONS!' iced on the top of it come results day.

So, what's this time management malarky and how do I learn it?

Time management is really all about setting priorities, breaking down tasks into bite-sized chunks and focusing on each task, one at a time, until you've done them all.

What's your priority?

When you're studying for your exams, your priority is definitely your revision. You need to ask some serious questions of yourself about whether you have sufficient hours in your day to get the amount of study done that you have to do.

When I was studying for my A-Levels I dropped just about every other activity and task I had done up to that point in my life. I'd had oboe lessons weekly since I was nine and stopped those. I stopped playing in my county windband. I didn't play sport and I didn't have a part time job. I even gave up driving lessons after taking a few as I couldn't fit them in as well as my study.

I knew my priority was getting straight As so that I had a chance of getting into Cambridge University, and I wasn't going to let any of these other things get in the way of my ambition. I figured I could go back to all these things once the exams were over, and I did. (In The Ten Step Guide to Acing Every Exam You Ever Take I give more detail on how to schedule your time to achieve the very best results.)

You may not be aiming for straight As and Cambridge University, but if you're looking to maximise the grades you get in your exams I'm sure there's something in your life that can go on hold for a few weeks while you're revising and taking your exams. Nearly everything will still be there when the exams are over, but these exam results are something you're going to carry with you forever.

Breaking your study down into bite-sized chunks

Looking at a pile of text books and several lever-arch files full of notes and thinking you have to learn the entire contents of all of them is definitely overwhelming. Anyone would find it so.

The key is to break down the task into bite-sized chunks. So, you can use the structure of your text books e.g. the different chapters and the sub-headings, or your exam syllabus, to help you break it down into bite-sized chunks. This is really how to create a revision plan, and I explain that in detail if you follow that link. But, at it's simplest, you can create a checklist where you tick off every topic as you revise it. Your list is a visual reminder that you're making progress, and it also feels like each mini-task is manageable.

Focus on each task one at a time

When you create your checklist (or just print your exam specification out and use that instead) you have a ready-made list of things to revise that will guide you through your revision. The key is to do one at a time, and tick them off as you go. By focusing on one at a time you make it easier for your brain to take in the information and by ticking them off you give yourself a sense of achievement and growing confidence as you move towards your goal.

Digging deep to find your inner commitment

It's all very well for me to say ‘all you have to do is make a list and tick things off one at a time as you do them'. It sounds too easy, and for some it's very hard.

For the people who find it most difficult, and don't do it, it's largely because they don't want the results badly enough.

If you look deep within yourself to find your motivation for getting amazing exam results, whether this is going to a particular university, getting a particular job when you graduate or just out of sheer pride at having good exam results following you around for the rest of your life, following through on the time management steps is easy.

But, without knowing why you're doing this and summoning up the commitment from deep within yourself, it's going to be tough. And, no-one else can do any of this for you (although I can help you, and I'll do my very best!).

No difficult task is ever completed by being half-hearted about it. And, the more you put in the more you'll get out.

Working towards your future

The thing is that learning time management skills now, as well as digging deep to find your inner commitment, won't just get you great exam results in the immediate future. Once you've started practicing these skills and come to master them, they'll serve you throughout your life.

I'll give you an example.

I learned to plan my study when I was revising from my GCSEs and A-Levels. When I got to university I was faced with a completely new way of working. In my first year I had about eight essays to write in every eight week term. However, the deadlines didn't come regularly, one per week. Sometimes I'd have three weeks without having an essay to hand in, then three all in the same week. I was over-whelmed, until I dug deep. I knew I had to use some major time management skills if I was going to get all my work done and enjoy my time at university.

So, I made a plan for the entire term assigning every day to a particular piece of work. I colour-coded it. I set myself deadlines when I had to complete essays weeks before they actually had to be handed in. This meant I could work from 9am-6pm every day during term time and take every evening off. I got to have a social life AND get my work done to a high-standard.

When I had my interview for my first ever ‘proper' job (not waitressing or working as a temp) one of the questions they asked me was about time management. I told them all about my planning system at university and I could tell by the expression on my interviewer's face that she was impressed. I got the job.

Finally, now I'm a busy mum, I use time managment skills ALL the time. I set up this blog and my business is the spare minutes and hours I have around caring for my two year old and five year old. It's not easy to fit it all in, but I'm committed so I make it happen. I'm still using the time managment skills I started to learn way back in school on daily basis.

How's your time managment?

Leave a comment below to tell me what steps you're taking to manage your time in the run up to exams, and how this is making your life easier. We can all learn from each other, helping everyone achieve better results!


Startup in 60 blog party

This post is part of the Startup In 60 Blog Party! Startup In 60 is a time management course for busy women who are ready to finally start their own businesses whether they’ve got 60 days, 60 minutes, or 60 seconds. Click here to join the program. 


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