If you want to get into the college or university of your dreams, an entrance exam can be one of the most important exams you ever take. You want to be prepared. But no matter how motivated and determined you are, it's not just the amount of work you put in that guarantees success. More importantly, it's the quality of the work that determines who gets in and who doesn't.
Coaching and preparation courses for entrance exams are now available in almost every field, and investing in them is not a bad idea. But sometimes money or time constraints don't allow it, or the course format just doesn't suit you. Some people appreciate the opportunity to work at their own pace, using methods that suit them.
Whatever your preparation tactics, there are a few general principles to bear in mind:
- Plan your preparation carefully
- Plan your preparation well in advance
- Know how to prepare your course of study in advance
- Make sure you maximize your concentration and concentration level
- Prepare in advance for the test day
Our course Prepare for entrance exams covers each topic in detail, but this article already gives you a good overview.
1 – Plan your project carefully
The entrance exams, the basic study materials, and the amount of time needed to prepare vary from one field to another. For the most competitive sectors, studying is almost inevitably a full-time, concentrated activity, while for others, basic knowledge and its application play a bigger role.
In any case, planning is critical to your success. Your plans will be based on your goal to succeed in the entrance examination. With smart planning, your main goal will be divided into sub-goals that you can use to create a concrete schedule and measure your progress against.
The planning phase should take into account at least:
- How much time is available for preparation?
- How many days per week are available for studying?
- How many hours per day are available for studying?
- How many hours in total are available for study?
- How much and what materials should be studied?
- What are the stages of study in the plan?
Once you have outlined the scope of your material and the amount of time available, the whole is broken down into a study plan that covers all the time available for preparation.
The study plan will indicate the pace of study and the work to be carried out for the entire time available for the entrance examination, with a daily breakdown. In practice, you list what material you will study, when, and in what way.
However, it is best not to be too precise, as you will never progress at the exact pace you have planned and will inevitably have to make adjustments. At best, you'll find that you're actually progressing much faster than you planned.
A daily timetable tells you in more detail what subjects will be studied, how, for how long, etc.
It is not worth creating daily timetables far into the future, as accurate planning is only possible once you know what pace you will be progressing at with your materials. The best tactic is to create a schedule for the next day as the last thing you do each day. In the morning, studying again starts with going through your schedule for the day ahead.
Planning is a big subject, and if you want to go deeper into it, we have a whole course on planning your studies and projects.
2 – Find out how to study your subject
You are studying for the entrance exams, but it would be foolish to just go through the material without knowing more about what is relevant or what level and accuracy of knowledge you need to master.
At best, you'll have already mastered the basic vocabulary, the principles of information processing, and the most common answering styles, but even in the early stages of your reading work, you're still well ahead of the game.
The old entrance exams give you the best idea of what is expected of you this year. Although the materials to be studied might be new, the structure and basic style of the exam are very likely to remain the same year after year. You don't have to know the answers to the questions yet, but here are some things to look out for:
- Which type of questions will be asked - essay, multiple choice, short answer?
- Do you need to memorize the information as it is or apply it, e.g., by using case studies?
- How long is the test and how much time can be allocated to each task?
- How are the scores weighted between tasks?
- Is it possible to get negative points for wrong answers?
- How comprehensively is the material covered in the test, and which topics are emphasized?
- What aspects and styles are emphasized in the model answers?
- What concepts and principles in the field are essential to master?
Once you have the answers to these questions, it's time to plan your study strategy. It is difficult to make a complete generalization for different entrance exams, but in 90% of cases, the stages of preparation can be divided into the following major steps. Within these stages, many different techniques are utilized.
- A general overview and study of the principles
- More detailed reading and note-taking
- active study, self-testing and memorization
- review (to be discussed in class)
Especially essential is the active learning phase, where you work on the information and try to recall it as effectively as possible without the aid of materials. This is exactly what is expected of you in the entrance exam.
3 – Maximize your alertness and concentration during your studies
As in almost everything else, quality trumps quantity when it comes to reading. Sure, you can try to squeeze in 15-hour study days or skip holidays, but pretty soon you'll find your work output falls well below what you could achieve by staying refreshed and balancing your daily routine.
Staying alert and focused is everything when you really want to learn something. If you spend your time on materials in zombie mode, you'll miss out on actual learning. So you should always have enough time in your preparation plan for exercise, sleep, and other balancing factors such as meeting friends.
Make sure that at least the following take place during your reading project:
- Get 7-9 hours of sleep a night
- Eat an adequate and varied diet at regular intervals
- Get enough exercise every day
- Do some light calisthenics on your study breaks
- Make regular time for your social life
By keeping the rest of your life in balance, you will make the task significantly easier on yourself. It will also make it easier to stay focused and take on challenging tasks.
Concentration is partly an individual trait, but a larger part of it is related to our environment and the stimuli and disturbances it produces. In today's world, mobile devices, social media, and 24/7 connectivity have made multi-tasking and a state of distributed attention our default settings.
In the end, maximizing our ability to focus is not much more than not allowing ourselves to react to stimuli in the first place. Below is a list of tips to make it easier for you to concentrate. Getting used to new habits can be challenging at first, but you'll soon find that your concentration improves dramatically.
- Put all notifications on mute on your smart devices. This applies to mobile phones, tablets, and computers. This way you won't react unnecessarily to messages, for example. You'll have time to look at them during your break.
- Put your phone out of reach when you're studying. Looking at new notifications can be irresistible if your phone is within reach. Move it to another room entirely.
- Keep only the apps you need for studying open. It's easy to get lost in the depths of YouTube or Facebook. When you're studying, don't even open them.
- Make sure the room is quiet, or you have some music on for studying. In general, instrumental or familiar music works best.
- Keep your study space clean and minimalist.
If you are interested in improving your concentration and balancing your studies with the rest of your life, our course Optimize your learning goes deeper on these topics and covers a lot more. The course is aimed at helping you get more out of the time you spend studying.
4 – Take enough time to study, especially on subjects you do not yet know
Reviewing is a good idea from the very first day of study, and in fact, active study and self-testing are already reviewing in a way. However, at this stage, we are talking about the revision phase, when the actual study work is well under way and the exams are approaching.
It is essential to find the things that we have not yet mastered perfectly and to get the most objective feedback possible on our skills. Our aim is still to make learning as active as possible.
By reviewing, you ensure that you really remember what you have learned in the exam situation. It's easy to read a book and imagine that you know a topic when you are familiar with it. However, we often master information passively, i.e., we recognize and understand it, but we are not yet able to recall it, let alone work on it or adapt it. It is for this reason that active learning methods trump passive ones.
The aim is to find out:
- Are you able to recall the big picture?
- Can you explain or give an answer with the precision required by the test?
- Where is the information anchored? For example, is the keyword list comprehensive enough to enable you to fully recall the topic?
If you are interested in finding out more about reviewing, we have a whole blog post about the best ways to review for an exam.
5 – Prepare for the day of the exam in advance
Use the last few days before the entrance exam to review, but feel free to take it easier. The last day in particular should be dedicated to relaxing and doing things that you enjoy and that relax you. This will also help you sleep better the next night and allow you to focus all your attention on the exam itself.
On the eve of the test day, you will probably already be feeling nervous, which can make it difficult to sleep. Make sure you get enough fresh air and exercise during the day, and relax as much as possible in the evening. If you have trouble sleeping in general, it might not be a bad idea to take melatonin in the evening just in case.
Wake up early in the morning and remember to set two separate alarm clocks just in case. It would be rather embarrassing to ruin your whole preparation period by oversleeping on the day of the test. Do all the practical preparations, such as choosing your clothes and packing your supplies, the day before, so you can concentrate on taking it easy in the morning. If you're afraid of being too nervous in the exam to get a good result, you can read our tips for overcoming exam nerves.
Find out the practical essentials in advance:
- Schedule of the test. What is the latest time to be there? Please note that the latest arrival time is at least half an hour before the actual start of the test.
- What is the test site like, where exactly is it located, how do you get there and what do you need to take into account in the schedule? You should be particularly careful if you are taking the test outside your home town. Personally, I would practice the route beforehand, at least using Google Maps, as part of your mental preparation.
- What equipment should I bring? Don't forget spare equipment just in case!
- How much time will the test take?
- Can you take a snack with you?
- Possible challenges? What if I am sick? What if the test has to be rescheduled? What if my bus is late?
- What do I do after the test? Remember to reward yourself! You've done a huge job. On the days of entrance exams, there are often parties and gatherings between candidates. By all means, join in!
Good luck to you in your preparation and, of course, the exam itself! We will go into much more detail about the preparation process in our course Prepare for entrance exams. You are welcome to learn with us!