My little brother is right smack bang in the middle of his NCEA exams. As I wander past him studying hard, I revel in my freedom from exams. However, it was only a year ago that I was in the exact same position: wrote learning essays for English, learning all of the symbols and SI units for Chemistry and Physics, and memorising as many dates and quotes as my brain could handle for History.

When I think about it, NCEA and university exams aren’t that different. They both take 2 to 3 hours, force you to recall nearly everything you’ve learnt, and make you pray for generous exam markers. However, there are a couple of things that separate university exams from good ol’ NCEA.IMG_5453

First of all, multi-choice questions make a comeback at university. When I first discovered this, I was ecstatic. I haven’t had multi-choice questions since the ICAS exams they made us do in middle school, so it was like meeting an old friend! However, university has managed to make multi-choice just as hard as the short and long answer questions. Figures.

For the most part, exams tend to have one section as multi-choice and then have short or long answer questions for the rest of the exam. However, this isn’t always the case. My ANTHRO102 paper was entirely multi-choice. Initially, I thought this was great, but then I went into my exam and hoo boy, it was not as easy as I thought it would be. 100 multi-choice questions = too many.

Another difference between NCEA and university exams is reading time. That’s right; at uni, you get 10 minutes before your exam to flick through the paper and read the questions. I find this fantastic because a) it helps me get into the exam mindset, and b) it allows you to plan your attack. I have found that I feel much calmer when I start writing my exam answers at university than I did when doing NCEA. So that is something for those still at school to look forward to!


Apart from those two differences, I’ve found that there isn’t much else setting the two sets of exams apart. One thing I have noticed though is that I have done much better at university than I did in NCEA. When at school, I was able to sail through Year 11 pretty easily, whereas I found Year 12 and 13 much more difficult. This is due to the fact that I had no idea how to study.

At school, it’s all about memorisation. At university, it becomes less about that and more about being able to apply what you’ve learnt. It is certainly a different way of learning, but I’ve found that study tips I’ve picked up during my time at university would work for those of you still at school too!

Here are just a few:

  • Find out what kind of learner you are – There are 4 different learning categories that you can fall into: Visual, Aural, Kinaesthetic and Read-Write. Depending on what category you align with most, you can alter how you study. For example, I’m a mixture of Visual and Read-Write, so I use highlighters and different coloured markers for my notes, I create mind maps with felt tips, and I type up my notes and then summarise them into key concepts and examples. There are tons of tests online, so give them a whirl!
  • Take advantage of resources available to you – Textbooks, readings and past papers will become your best friends, as long as you use them! Lectures don’t cover absolutely everything, so it’s often helpful to flick through the textbook. It isn’t necessary to do every single reading you are assigned, but the lecturers give them to make your life easier when it comes to exams, so it pays to give them a quick read every once in awhile too. And do those past papers! It helps point out where knowledge may be patchy, as well as giving you an idea of what sort of questions will be asked.
  • Give yourself a break – One trick I have discovered during my time at university to counteract procrastination during studying is the Pomodoro Technique. It is best described as “a technique that uses a timer to break down work into 25 minute intervals, separated by short breaks.” It is supposed to help with mental agility (whatever that means) but I find that it helps most with my concentration. Having a 5-minute break every 25 minutes means that I can grab a glass of water or check Facebook without feeling like I’m cutting into my study time.

Of course, there are tons more study tips and “hacks” available (just search it up on Google, you’ll be overwhelmed!), but these are the ones I have personally found most effective. Remember not to overwork yourself, give yourself a proper break every now and then, and congratulate yourself on getting through each exam. It’s a stressful time, so be kind to yourself.

Best of luck for the rest of your exams!


It’s been real, UoA.

Until next time – Emily