My tips for college study, essays and exams

Tips on how to keep on top of the college workload.

Written by Ruthie B



Planning is key to a good essay. Read up on the subject and plan your argument. Break up the essay, organise it into different points and arguments and don’t be afraid to use examples from real life. Get the points you wish to make clear in your head; lecturers can spot quickly if you haven’t a clue what you’re on about. A spider-diagram or a brainstorm can be very helpful in getting started.

Often lecturers will advise that you write the introduction when you have finished the main essay – the theory is that you will have reached some conclusions and so, can say in your introduction what you ‘hope to show’. Make sure to reference your essay properly and thoroughly (see the note on plagiarism below). Always read through the essay when you are finished. You will be surprised at the number of sentences that don’t make sense and the spellings that the spell-checker missed.


Different courses in college have very different exams and so require different methods of study.

If you need to write essays in your exams, it is worth preparing the gist of them in advance. Pull together your class notes; notes from reading you have (hopefully) done, as well as your own thoughts. Then, piece together a general essay. You will have to tailor this to the specific question in the exam, but it will help if you have learned key points, a few authors’ arguments and have a basic plan to work from in the exam hall.

You should spend the few weeks before the exams working on reading and writing basic essays for every question in every subject. Spend the last few days before each exam learning an outline for each essay.

Everyone is different, so try to find what works best for you. Some people will get excellent marks on minimal work, while for others it takes a little longer, but try to do enough so that you won’t be disappointed with your results.


Plagiarism is a big problem in college and is taken very seriously. In this Internet age, students are often tempted to take essays off the 'net, but colleges have complex software to spot copied work. Remember, the lecturer who is reading your essay is an expert on the subject and can often spot stolen work a mile away. There is no problem about including the arguments of others, as long as you credit them in the essay and in your bibliography at the end.


There’s no need to rush out and buy every book on your reading lists. You will have a good few subjects and college books are not cheap! A good guide is the advice of the lecturer – if they emphasise the importance of one core text and encourage buying it, it might be wise to do so.

Make sure to check out all sources of second hand books including: students union website, notice boards around college, second-hand bookshops in town and even eBay. It might be an idea to go splits on a book with one or two of your classmates. In most instances, you will find multiple copies of key texts in the college library, often on desk reserve if it’s a large class.

Be warned though that the last two weeks before the exams the books will be like gold dust and very hard to get your hands on, so it’s a good idea to either keep up with the reading during the term (while taking good notes) or if all else fails, photocopy keys parts of the book a month or more before the exams.


Don’t worry! Once you have survived the Leaving Cert, you really have braved the worst of it. College exams just aren’t as bad for the most part. Lecturers often give great hints; so don’t miss the last few classes before the end of the semester!

Make sure you know where your exam is on and arrive in time. When the exam starts, try not to panic!

Sketch out a plan for your answers if they are essays. Write your answer and move onto the next question when your time is up. You can always return to it at the end, fill in blank spaces and finish it up. Cover yourself question-wise and make sure to answer the correct amount of questions. Lecturers are blue in the face telling students that they simply cannot give marks for unanswered questions. Read the exam instructions carefully!

There is no point writing two fantastic extra-long essays if you leave a third one blank. The very most you could possibly score is around 60% and realistically you will be lucky to get 50%. Instead, make sure you are prepared for all the questions you need to answer, and leave yourself time to do them all.

Try to stay in the exam hall for the length of the exam, once you leave you cannot go back, so use your time to add bits and pieces and read through your work.

Find out more about exams here.

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