Revising for Your Online Exam Strategies for Success

Revising is a key element of University learning, as you pull together everything you’ve learned all semester. We all have our own tried-and-true Revision methods; you can find a few in our Revision Bites resource.

This year, with exams moving online, you may need to make some changes to how you revise. Also, many of us will be trying to work without the familiar space of the Library. This guide will suggest some ways you can improve your revision skills during these challenging times.

Getting Started

Get to grips with the exam format. How many questions will there be? Will you have a choice of which ones you answer? Find out if there's a wordcount and check if you're expected to refer to secondary sources. Make sure you know exactly when the exam begins and ends. Having all of this information clear in your head (and written down somewhere!) will help you feel more in control.

Make a revision plan. Count how many days you have before each exam and figure out how many topics you have to revise. Make sure you schedule extra time for the difficult parts and leave time to go back and review material. Revising a topic, then testing yourself a day or two later, is one of the best ways to learn.

Remember that spaced practice works best. Spending 2 hours a day on each module is more effective than cramming for one module for a week, then moving on to the next. Coming back to the material again and again over a longer period of time is the best way to make sure it stays in your head.


Use your favourite revision strategies. Just because exams are moving online doesn't mean that everything has changed— many of your tried and true revision techniques will work as well as ever. If you want some inspiration, check out our Revision Bites resource.

Focus on understanding, not memorisation. If your online exam is open book, there's no point in cramming your head full of facts. Focus instead on understanding on why a process works or how the information fits together. (Note: even for normal exams, this is a good strategy. If you understand why and how, you’ll remember the facts much more easily.)

Revise actively, not passively. Passive strategies include reading, highlighting, and copying your notes. These strategies make you feel like you're working but they don't actually help you learn. Try active strategies like quizzing yourself (or your friends), the Brain Dump (writing out everything you can remember about a topic), or creating a diagram or mindmap of key concepts.

Revising Online

Keep your digital workspace tidy. We all know we work best at a clear desk, but it's just as important to keep your computer free from distractions. Shut down social media and put your phone on silent. Avoid jumping back and forth between revising and surfing the internet— try to work hard for 25 minutes, then reward yourself with 5 minutes of funny cat videos.

Familiarise yourself with digital tools. We all have our go-to apps, but now may be a good time to try something new. You have access to all the Microsoft 365 apps for free through the University— why not try using OneNote to store your notes, To-Do for organising your tasks, and PowerPoint for creating infographics? If none of these quite suit, there are all kinds of helpful apps available for free online.

Go old-school. Since many of us don’t have printers at home, we can’t just print out our notes anymore. The good news is, writing by hand can actually improve your memory, so pull out a notebook and take advantage of this effect! Don’t just copy your notes verbatim— reorganise them as you go. To add some artistic flair, try mindmaps or flashcards, or use colour-coded Post-It notes to organise key concepts. Just remember to keep all your notes tidy and accessible for the exam.

Avoiding Plagiarism

Check with your School if you're supposed to refer to secondary sources. Some schools may want you to write down only your own thoughts, while others may expect a full bibliography, just like for an essay. The requirements will vary depending on your subject, so check with your lecturer if you're not sure.

Take good notes. As you read, write down the key information and ideas. Taking notes will help you remember what you've read, and it will also let you give credit once you're in the exam. Sometimes students forget that they read an idea in a paper, so they write it in an exam without giving credit. Even though this is accidental, it still counts as plagiarism!

Use your own words. When you take notes, make sure not to copy words and phrases from the text. Try to describe everything in your own words, like you’re explaining it to a friend. If you do copy any key words or phrases from the text, put them in quotation marks to remind yourself that they're not yours.

Reference as you revise. Every time you read a paper, write down the reference in a separate document. This may sound like a lot of work, but during the exam it means you'll be able to compile a full bibliography in no time at all!

Keep everything organised. Whether you’re working digitally or on paper, make sure your notes and bibliography are easily searchable. There's nothing worse than remembering that you read something, but not being able to find it again!

Don't share work with your friends. While it's acceptable to quiz your friends or discuss course concepts with them, it's not okay to plan answers together or share your written work for someone else to submit. To learn more, check out our resource on Collaboration vs. Collusion.

Practice Run

Test the technology ahead of time. Before your exam, you’ll be given access to a My Dundee module where you can go through the full process of submitting a sample exam paper. This will reduce the chances of something going wrong with your real upload and will lower your stress during the exam.

Use past papers or practice questions to test yourself. When the exam is getting close, find a 2-hour window where you can write a mock exam. Many schools will provide past papers or practice questions that you can use to test your understanding of the subject.

Test your friends. Make up your own practice questions and give your friends a mock exam. If you want to go high-tech, try using an online quiz-making app. You could even host it live, Pub Quiz style! Your friends will appreciate your creativity, and making up all the questions is an excellent way for you to revise.

Managing Stress

Remember that revision is a marathon, not a sprint. Don't expect to put in 10-hour days revising, as this will just cause burnout. It's far better to set a sustainable pace and be able to keep going throughout the full exam period. Aim to work for 4-6 solid hours every day, then use the rest of your time for intentional rest.

Make wellbeing a priority. Remember to eat healthily, sleep 7-8 hours a night, and exercise regularly. Take time to do activities you enjoy, like working out, playing a musical instrument, or simply watching Netflix. For more suggestions, check out LIVE SMART.

If you live with others, speak to them about the importance of your exams. Try to negotiate quiet hours for you to work uninterrupted. Remember to be patient— a shared house will never be as quiet as the Silent section of the library!

Manage your expectations. Everyone in the world is feeling the impact of Covid-19, and it affects us all in different ways. While some of us may settle quickly into a new routine, others may find it impossible to work as efficiently in our new environments. Our Working from Home guide has some suggestions for adjusting to this new way of working, but it's important to be patient with yourself and not get frustrated if you're not as productive as you'd like to be.

Get Support

For help with all aspects of online learning, log on to our eLearning Resources for Students organisation on my Dundee.

The Academic Skills Centre (ASC) is ready to support you. Check out our Revision Bites resource and the Exams section of LEARN SMART. If you'd like to speak to someone about revision strategies, email writing@dundee.ac.uk to arrange an online appointment.

The Library and Learning Centre (LLC) provides a wide range of online resources to support your revision, which you can find on the LLC website. Get in contact via Library Chat if you require support in locating and using eResources, or email our Digital Skills Team to make a one-to-one appointment: LLC-digitalskills@dundee.ac.uk

If you have technological difficulties with your online exams, contact Help4U@dundee.ac.uk with “Exam Help” in the subject line.

If you have any other questions or concerns, contact the Enquiry Centre: enquiry@dundee.ac.uk

This guide was created by Dr. Rachel Horrocks-Birss at the Academic Skills Centre, University of Dundee. Please contact us at asc@dundee.ac.uk.

Created By
Rachel Horrocks Birss


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