• Are you looking to get better grades in your next exam?
  • Are you looking for new ways study to make your studying more engaging and enjoyable?
  • Do you want to know how top students study for exams?

You have come to right the right place! Here is how top 10 best habits and tips on how to ace your next exam.

1. Start Early 

I cannot emphasize this enough. 

Starting early is the best advice I can give you to help you ace your exams. I understand it could be overwhelming and stressful to get started when there is so much going on. Focus on starting early rather than later. 

When I was at university, I would regularly start at least 14 days before the exam to begin studying. In the first few days, I am collecting and familiarizing myself with what I need to study – nothing too heavy in terms of reviewing.

For professional certifications and courses, I would at least 3 months before the exam is due depending on the amount of material that needs to be covered.

Starting for exams early will also massively reduce the exam anxiety many of us experience. When I started studying early, I never felt like I was too late. I felt I was in control of the exam and my schedule. This helped me confidently prepare and face my exams without worrying about cramming. 

For now, just focus on getting started. Even if it is only to gather your study material for 20 minutes, that is great!

2. Study in bursts and ramp up studying slowly.


Many students try to put in 2-3 hours of studying right away to catch up. This is not ideal for effective learning.

Your brain does not have the right capability or physiology for you to support you study extended periods of hours right away. If you try to do too much too fast your body may get sluggish and make you sick. 

Also, mentally you would look forward to studying if it hurts too much to study.

You need to begin  with a small, digestible schedule. Set low expectations in the beginning. Start with 30 minutes of focused undistracted studying, then push forward an hour.

It is not about how long you study, it’s about how focused your attention is and how deeply you are engaged with the material.

Start easy, then increase the intensity as you get comfortable. In order to do this successfully, you should learn to 

3. Start creating an “important concepts” sheet for each course.

Begin creating a running list of important concepts for all your courses. I highly recommend that you hand-write all key formulas, theories, definitions, concepts & details you come across. 

Here are few more things you should think about including into your important concept sheet:

  • Professor’s or instructors clues and hints
  • Concepts you think are important
  • Concepts that are too new or that you never have come across
  • Concepts you have hard time remembering
  • Theories + conclusions + key research covered in lectures
  • Key Definitions Formulas that shows up often

Periodically, review this list for accuracy and refinement. Remember to hand-write, put page numbers, be neat and use proper headings. Feel free to draw diagrams and charts.

Use this sheet to quickly review key concepts when you need to.

4. Handwrite your notes (science backed to improve learning)

Physically handwriting my notes is something I did religiously when I was going to university. I did this especially for my lecture notes. I would say this is one of the best and easiest ways to master the key concepts and details that are necessary for the exams.

There are quite a few benefits associated with writing notes by hand. A few of the benefits include:

  • Increases your ability to focus
  • Increases your comprehension
  • You will be able to understand and process more information
  • Improves your memory
  • Inspire your creativity
  • Engages your mind
  • Extend your attention span
  • Improves your organization of information
  • Improves your prioritizing skills

Provides a condensed document for study purposes later

In university, I remember hand-writing my lecture notes 3-4 times to make sure that I understand the concepts and details thoroughly. This was one of my favorite techniques for studying for exams.

I started my exam prep as soon as possible, so I would have enough time to complete my hand-writing rounds. This method has helped me tremendously in university to get better grades, and has helped get me to professional certifications for my career.

I highly recommend implementing this technique for your studying as soon as possible.

5. For any college or university exam, always begin your studying with your lecture notes and study them in great detail.

This is one of the most important pieces of advice one favourite my professors gave to help me ace my exams.

From lectures, you get the most valuable material that is necessary to do well on your exams than any other source of instruction.

Lectures are the best way to learn about what your professors care about, and how they will create the exams. Always remember, your professors create the exams, and the lectures have your professors’ favorite material.

Lectures usually reflect what your professors care about the most, and what they believe you will need for your future. Prioritize lectures and study them in detail. This is one of the surefire ways to improve your grades.

Lectures are your professor’s main source of information when designing exams. Therefore, you must understand the lecture material inside out before you start studying anything else.

I would spend 70% of the time studying the lecture notes, unless the professor specifically tells you that both lectures and textbook material are equally important. 

If this is the case, then obviously you would need to spend an equal amount of time studying both. Even if this is the case, you would build a great foundation to read the text if you have mastered the lecture material first.

Either way, always begin studying with the lectures because it provides a solid foundation for the material that will be tested on the exam.

Another reason why you should always start with the lecture material first is because the amount of material that is covered in lectures will be lower but will be very specific. This helps you gain a vast amount of important information for the exam, with relatively shorter time and effort.

6. Spaced out repetition is key. Don’t expect to understand new or challenging material right away.

Understand that it takes time to learn and understand things. Don’t expect to immediately understand new material. 

Best way to understand new or challenging material is through repetition, more specifically spaced out repetition.

Spaced out repetition is easy to do. It is about reviewing the same material after a certain period of time. Here is an example of how I studied my lecture notes 3 times using spaced out repetition.

  1. First review of lecture 1 material
  2. First review of lecture 2 material
  3. First review of lecture 3 material


  1. Second review of lecture 1 material
  2. Second review of lecture 2 material
  3. Second review of lecture 3 material


  1. Third review of lecture 1 material
  2. Third review of lecture 2 material
  3. Third review of lecture 3 material

The time that is taken up between reviewing lecture 1 material for the first time and second time is the spacing out effect. 

Only when I am done with these 3 rounds, I move to reviewing lectures 4, 5 and 6 if needed.

How to space out your studying?

When you are performing this method,  it is best if you study for 1 hour for 3 days, rather than 3 hours in one day. This doesn’t mean that you should only study for 1 hour a day. 

It means you should plan to distribute your studying over multiple days in order to digest the material better in your mind.

In order to fully absorb the study material, you need to review them more than once. 

Ask yourself how much you can really remember for the exam if you read  your textbook only once?

Understand and be comfortable with repetition. In the early days, I would study my lecture material about 5 times to make sure I knew all the details and nuances in the lecture slides. 

Even Kobe Bryant admitted that practices the same move thousands of times before you try to do it during game time. Repetition builds memory easily. More reps you have, the more comfortable you will be during the test or exam.

It is also an important space out of your studying as well. You don’t need to complete all the reviews at the same time.

7. Monitor and track your study progress

Tracking your progress is very important for your motivation and focus. Researchers have found that students who track their progress accomplish their goals much faster than those who do not.

Studies shows that by frequently tracking and checking your progress, you increase the chances of your success. Based on this research by the American Psychological Association your chances of success are even more likely if you report your progress publicly or physically record it. 

When I was in university, I used excel to track my progress. I created a template that you would be able to print out and use. Download this Study Tracker Template and track your progress.

8. Know the key details of the exam

Knowing the key details of the exam helps you prepare for your exam more confidently and avoid last minute surprises.

Here are few items, you should track down immediately and record:

  • Room location
  • Time of exam
  • Format (i.e. MCQ, Short Answer, or Essay-type etc)
  • Number of questions
  • How much time
  • Number of marks for each section
  • What topics will be covered?
  • Is it cumulative?

9. Make flashcards of important concepts and know them by heart

Learning from flashcards is one of the most effective learning techniques that I have come across. I have used flashcards to ace academic courses and professional certifications confidently.

Numerous research has found using flashcards for studying to be a very effective way to learn. Researchers have found that students who use  flashcards significantly score higher on exams than students who do not.

Another research confirmed significant improvements in learning can be experienced, regardless whether it was paper-based or digital flashcards. Essentially, paper-based or digital flashcards are equally potent ways to master your course material.

Using flashcards to study encourages your mind to memorize the information and actively recall. If you repeat this enough times, you will have an easier time recalling important concepts that you need during the exam.

Just like building muscle, you need to develop the ability to actively recall information as well as memorize. This is also known as retrieval practice. Retrieval Practice techniques such as flashcards are shown to produce enhanced long-term memory retention when compared to several other techniques.

Want to know when to create flashcards for your studying?

Here are some ideas on what to put you in flashcards:

  • Concepts you think are important
  • Concepts that are too new or that you never have come across
  • Concepts you have hard time remembering
  • Theories + conclusions + key research covered in lectures
  • Key Definitions Formulas that shows up often

10. Do practice problems to super-charge your learning

Doing practice problems is one sure-fire ways to supercharge your learning.

However, many students think that a few rounds of review are enough to do well in exams. This may work for some students, but it does not work for most. When I was in university, I didn’t get good grades right away. I needed to try many other techniques to find out the ones that eventually worked for me.

I realized that in order to do well in exams, I needed to develop the skill of Retrieval Practice or Active Recall. Active Recall is essentially your ability to recall previously learned information on command. Many students are good at storing information, however, they are not good at recalling the previously learned information on request. This is why many students complain that they don’t remember things they studied during exams.

During exams, you need to be able recall the information on command. The best way to do this is to actively collect and do practice problems for your courses. When you do practice problems, you develop the skill of Active Recall naturally. This form of training is also known as retrieval practice. It is one of the most potent ways to learn large sets of information.

Where to find practice problems:

– Textbook
– Online (i.e. study.com, other universities)
– Other people
– Create your own

Active recall or retrieval practice is especially important for students who take mathematics-based courses. The best way to get mastery over math concepts is to repeatedly work on practice problems.

What your most effective ways to study for exams?