21 exam preparation tips to ace any test on the first try

Success depends upon our previous preparations, and without such preparations, there is sure to be failure. Confucius

Preparing for an exam can be so much easier and successful if you follow a few simple rules to avoid frustration and optimize your learning strategy. I completely turned my fear into excitement and after taking so many exam I am always looking forward to get to the next challenge. Along the way I developed these simple strategies to make passing exams an exciting experience!

Before you enroll

1.Do a thorough exam research 

Answer the following questions: Is this exam valuable for my career? Does the training provider have a good reputation? Is the study material the best I can get? How did others learn and prepare? What was there experience with test centers and the exam itself? Download the syllabus from the exam provider and look for their study recommendations. Remember: The best exam is always the one you DON’T take if it does not bring you forward in any way.

2.Do a thorough material research

This is a very important part of your research. Especially valuable are book reviews and any other material that summarizes the topics you have to study. Use googles special search function (e.g. type ” cheat sheet filetype:pdf”. You are not the first one that takes this exam so there will be valuable information available if you know how to find it. Search for audio programs and online training (like on Udemy or CBT nuggets), search Pinterest for infographics, attend seminars or webinars, search on youtube and don’t forget to visit your local bookstore!

3.Learn about learning

If you think about learning and immediately “books” come to your mind think again. Try new techniques and new types of material you found in your research. A video course can never replace a detailed book but it gives you the necessary overview and prepares you for the topic. This makes it much easier to read any book if you know what you can expect from the material. Try new methods (e.g. the OPIR method when reading a book), create mind maps and exam questions from the material you take in.

4.Review your lessons learned

Especially when you are a continuous learner like me and take many exams you should maintain a record of lessons learned. While this is a common technique in Project Management or Agile development it also should be applied in your personal life. Even if you fail an exam you need to use that experience to improve. Always ask: What did I do right? And: What would I do differently the next time? – Write down the answer and always review your experience.

5.Book in advance

Do not just start learning, book your exam first. This is a commitment and makes your decision final. This also helps you to clarify your study effort. Now the days are limited so you can plan ahead.

During your study

6.Calculate your pace 

As mentioned before the booking of your exam does not only define your goal but also help you to calculate your training effort. Allocate the time you need and get to work every day at the same time. Try to maintain a steady learning pace, include review sessions and make sure you always include some buffer time for unexpected events.

7.Create an overview 

Do not just start, get an overview of what you are going to learn. You have the syllabus from your research, book summaries, watch the first chapter of your video courses, get your mind ready for the material. Ask and write down questions that you want the material to answer for you. What do you know already about the topic?

8.Take notes

I cannot emphasize this enough – take notes, mark up your material and summarize it with your OWN words. The best recommendation is to visualize the facts with a mind map. If you never tried it before this is the best advice you can get. Mind maps are incredibly powerful.

9.Review regularly

Most of the things you read are forgotten within the first 24 hours. Begin the day with a short review of yesterdays topics!

10.Finish earlier

Plan your study so that you finish all the required topics at least one or two days before your exam. This gives you a feeling of security. You learned it all. You are ready. Nothing is worse than realizing 2 days before your exam that you missed a certain topic… panic is the death of any certificate!

11.Use the last day for review

The last day should be ONLY used for review and relaxation. Take a look at your mind map, pin it to the wall and look through all the topics again. Take the material for a walk. Get fresh air and let the picture of your mind map appear in front of your inner eye, walk through the material. You can also try to recreate it from your memory and then compare the result with the original. This is a very powerful technique.


The week before

12.Do your exercise and take a topic for a walk

Exercise and fresh air is not something only for exams and the last week of course but within the last seven days you can use a good walk to clear your mind, to think the topic through, to identify gaps. Did you really understand the material? Could you explain it to someone else? Sometimes thinking it through during a walk brings you clarity, explaining it to yourself makes you realize the important facts.

13.Keep a steady pace

Just because it is the last week does not mean you need to create u panic learning allnighter. Keep your pace, you calculated everything so there is no need to double your daily study hours. Reassure yourself that you are where you should be with your study and keep calm.

14.Create a cheat sheet 

This is the best preparation method ever. If you are forced to summarize everything on 1 or 2 pages you need to find what is essential about the material. You will get the big picture and how it all fits together. Take this sheet with you … I always have it with me – during preparation so I can quickly look up a fact that I cannot remember – and though I never used it even during the exam – it somehow gives me confidence.

15.Visit the test site

Fear is the greatest enemy of successful exams. If you can familiarize yourself with the exam site before the exam day. Not only do you know exactly where it is and how long it takes to get there but you will feel calmer on your big day when you arrive at a place you are familiar with.

16.No parties

This is a no-brainer of course – delay all outings and parties … anything that disturbs your rhythm – have a (big !) party AFTER you have your certificate

17.Avoid stress

Make sure the last week is stress-free… no important presentation or duty at your job – no visit at the dentist or any other things that will have a negative influence on your ability to concentrate on the task at hand.


The day before

18.No cramming

The day before is best used to do a review of your summary. Do not try to bombard your mind with new information and concepts. This will only make you nervous.

19.Keep your rhythm

Do not change anything – just because it is the day before that doesn’t mean you need to go to bed earlier or do an extra long repeat session … you have planned ahead – nothing left to be done – the day before the exam is for calm review so you can go to bed with the knowledge that you have what it takes to get your certificate!

Make sure you have everything for a healthy breakfast – Buy all you need for a nutritious healthy power breakfast!

20.Prepare your documents

Get all your documents ready. Passport or any other ID, Exam fee or voucher, any material you are allowed to bring, print out the address and a map, a contact from the test site and any other information you might need on that day. Recharge your phone and prepare relaxation music.

21.Get a good sleep

Go to bed at the usual time. Now you can already experience an invaluable advantage of your preparation and advantage. The knowledge that you have done everything possible to ace this test is very relaxing. No nervous thinking, anxiety or problems to fall asleep. I actually need to admit that I always felt excited that the day I have worked so hard for finally comes to I can take home the prize !

Follow these simple steps and you dramatically increase your chance to have a relaxed and successful exam experience.

Let me know how you prepare for your big day in the comments below

Learn more about passing exams – Here are the top 3 Udemy Courses to help you !

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