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Tutor Doctor interview with Maria O’Conor

With the exam period now underway, we interviewed one of our tutors, who specialises in exam preparation, for advice on what students can do to prepare to the best of their ability. Please find her tips for success below – we hope they may be useful in easing anxiety during the somewhat stressful build up to exams.

undefinedMaria O’Conor has over 20 years’ experience in supporting learning and teaching from Secondary school level to postgraduates up to PhD level, combing a unique combination of academic tutoring and personal coaching to empower individuals to achieve better study outcomes. Her qualifications include a PG Certificate in English, Literacy and Dyslexia, Masters degree and Graduate in Psychology, PG Certificate in Support Learning and a Certificate in Personal Coaching.

What is key to successful exam preparation?

Maria advises that, with many different factors affecting exam success, it’s often the most seemingly simple factor that presents the greatest challenge to many of us and that is ….organisation. Although the following tips may seem self-explanatory, it’s often useful to have a written checklist of the more obvious steps to preparing for an exam.

  1. Ensure you know the exact location, dates and times for each exam and always have your exam timetable at hand – perhaps on display on your wall.
  2. Familiarise yourself completely with the format and duration for each of your exams, for example, is the format multiple choice questions, essay writing, analysing texts or a mixture of formats? If it’s a mixture of m/c questions and essay-style questions, what is the percentage weighting of marks for each section?
  3. Prepare your exam kit with spares of everything – rulers, pens, pencils, sharpeners, rubbers - everything you need!
  4. Know your candidate number.
  5. Keep your school bag ready the night before - an obvious one but we’re all guilty of last minute prep at times!

What tips can you give for devising a fail-proof revision plan?

  1. Maria advises to plan your time extremely carefully. Remind yourself how much time you have before each exam and factor this into your plan.
  2. It’s human nature, especially where time constraints are involved, to focus on one or two of our favourite subjects, honing in on those whilst not reserving sufficient time to revise those subjects we like the least. Maria advises that this is a common trap to fall into!
  3. Suffering from exam exhaustion may result in some students staying in their comfort zone - focusing heavily on what they know and what they find easy, pushing aside the more difficult subjects. Maria suggests adhering to a revision plan which forces the student to revise the harder sessions first before moving on to those they find easier.

What should students bear in mind when sitting down to focus on revision?

  1. Don’t forget to schedule in breaks - so important and essential for general well-being. Use a kitchen timer to take a five-minute break every 45 minutes to one hour. Short bursts are best in order to avoid information overload and reflect on and embed your learning.
  2. That said, Maria says each study session should be at least 45 minutes to one hour. Bear in mind that during the first 10-15 minutes of any revision session, you are just warming up/getting in the flow – it’s common to then achieve a state of flow and deeper concentration for the remaining half an hour to 45 minutes.
  3. Constantly refer back to your revision plan to keep on track and avoid those common pitfalls of human nature - procrastination and focusing on what you do best.

What revision techniques can you recommend to students?

  1. Use creative strategies – don’t limit your revision techniques to rote learning.
  2. Focus on and memorise the main points.
  3. Have some examples in mind to evidence the main points – important for essay writing.
  4. Know your strengths and how you like to learn – for example, are you more of a visual or auditory learner? Perhaps a combination of both?
  5. What has helped you in the past? Flash cards, making notes, using shorthand, spidergrams, images and pictures?
  6. A good tip for visual learners of history is to imagine the historical figures with dates stamped to their foreheads.
  7. More auditory learners can make up rhymes or mnemonics to retrieve information.
  8. Do what works for you.

Maria’s TOP TIPS


  1. ALWAYS PRACTISE SAMPLE/PAST EXAM PAPERS UNDER EXAM CONDITIONS – time management is not only fundamental to successful revision but Maria advises not to forget that all-important practice in answering exam questions. To do this justice, it’s imperative that you adhere to the time limits for each question - this is a critical component of exam preparation.
  1. REMEMBER THAT WITH CAREFUL PLANNING AND DISCIPLINE YOU CAN PASS TO THE BEST OF YOUR ABILITY- HOWEVER ALSO REMEMBER, it is not a complete disaster if you don’t get the grade you want. Maria advises that we should not be discouraged by failure – she has helped many students to view it and effectively use it as an opportunity for further learning and personal growth.

GOOD LUCK FROM TUTOR DOCTOR to those of you taking exams and we look forward to hearing from you in August to find out how you got on!

We’d like to thank Maria for her invaluable advice. For more information on how Maria helps students to achieve their goals, you can visit Maria’s own website:

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