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Dr. Kevin Dalby Discusses How to Prepare for Exams Effectively

Originally published on

Many excellent students struggle with exams – for a good reason. The skills needed to do well on an exam are significantly different from the skills required to learn the material. Here, professor Kevin Dalby lays out three essential tips for exam preparation in an exact, easy-to-follow way.

It is important to note that none of these top tips for exam preparation have anything to do with studying. Yes, you have to learn the information, but knowing the material is not the key to getting high grades on the test for many test-takers. It is often more about your mental and physical condition when you sit down to take the exam than the amount of studying you have done.

Eat a Nutritious Breakfast

Research has found that learners who miss breakfast experience a 20% to 40% reduction in cognition ability. Without adequate food to fuel your brain, your ability to concentrate will falter, and your memory will fail you. A well-balanced meal will make you feel full longer, stabilize your mood, and give you an abundance of energy for the day.


The adult human body is comprised of around 60% water. The cells in the body, including your brain cells, depend on water to carry out their essential functions. Therefore, if water levels are too low, your brain cells cannot function properly, leading to cognitive problems and low test scores.


Studies have shown that moderate-intensity exercise is directly related to increased performance in working memory and cognitive ability. High-intensity exercise increases the speed of information processing. To ensure you don’t sit for an exam with sore muscles, make exercise a regular part of your academic experience.

Bonus Tip

As a bonus, here is a tip that has to do with taking, not preparing, for an exam. Focus on what you know. If you become overly concerned with what you don’t understand during an exam, you will likely miss questions that should have been simple for you to get correct.

The first time you go through the questions, only answer one that you know the correct answer. After that, go through the remaining questions, thinking through all of the items you are unsure about.

Don’t stress too much about your exams. Stress will hurt your score more than a lack of knowledge. Eat a good breakfast, drink plenty of water, be in good physical shape, and then sit down with confidence.

About Kevin Dalby

Dr. Kevin Dalby is a professor of chemical biology and medicinal chemistry in the College of Pharmacy, Department of Oncology at The University of Texas in Austin. He is researching the mechanisms of cancer cell signaling to develop targeted therapeutics. Dr. Dalby’s efforts were recognized by the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) and the National Institutes of Health, granting him nearly $5 million to support his research.