Tactical revision: How to prepare for a humanities exam

Dissertations submitted, summative essays sent off; it’s May and you have a couple of weeks, at most, to revise for your humanities exams. Arts at university presents an opportunity to flourish, to be given space – gone are the days of formulaic essays to be regurgitated in an exam setting. This presents its own set of challenges – so here are some tried and tested tips to guide you through this period… by Kumail Jaffer

1. Run a Tight Ship

Fail to prepare, and prepare to fail, as the old adage goes. Before thinking about tackling the exam, one must engage with the content – and before even that, one must know how.

For most, university brings four to eight exams per year – more than A Levels, less than GCSEs or IBs. Balancing subjects is crucial – that means keeping things ‘fresh’, as it were, and not studying the same subject for days on end.

Be goal focused; make a list of the examined modules, and divide those up into sub-topics. These are the dozens of areas which you will need to complete by the time of your first exam (though, preferably before).

A timetable would help here – going into each day with a scattered notion of what to study is inefficient and more than anything, ineffective. These can be made easily online – I personally have used Schedule Builder in the past to good effect.


2. Don’t Revise Everything

As I said earlier, exams at university will be different to previous assessments. Humanities papers usually have several questions, of which you will pick two to four – there is no need to answer everything, and thus, no need to revise everything!

When choosing how many areas to focus on, a general rule of thumb is to take the number of questions you are required to answer in the exam, and add two. A knowledge of backup topics, in case your desired questions don’t turn up, will prove to be very useful!


3. Revise Smart

For many-a naive student, the idea that working long hours leads to success is a false one. As with everything (including humanities exams), it’s quality over quantity.

Have a plan for approaching revision – lay out exactly the material you need to learn (a lecturer’s tangent about Hobbes during a Nozick class, for example, is not needed) and work out the most efficient way for you to learn it.

Some use mind maps while others use longer, more text-based notes; it’s all a matter of preference. The tips provided here, however, are universally helpful.


4. Use Warwick’s Resources

The university, however much you may think it works against you, is there to help. From the thousands of articles and books in the Library to the various workshops on exam and essay techniques, there is a multitude of help available.

My two favourite tips, however, are to use office hours and past papers to great effect. While the former (which is effectively, one to one tutoring) can clear up any issues with the expert on your subject (and the one who set the exam paper!), the latter is ideal for practicing the sort of questions that are likely to come up.


These four tips come from a few years of experience – and make no mistake, they work. Essentially: work smart, efficient and structured; use the resources available, whether they be personnel or material – and, of course, good luck on your exams!


Don’t forget to share this post! #studyblog


Image: dawn-sunset-waters-sea-ship-3361172 / pixel2013CC0 1.0

Comments are closed.

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: