5 study secrets from Oxbridge students

Each year, more than 400,000 freshmen will begin a 3-4 year life of drinking, socializing and a little studying. These students have perfected the art of revision (and make no mistake, revision IS an art). We've caught up with some Oxbridge graduates to find out exactly what their secret is.

Author: Adi Sen

Table of Contents

Each year, 400,000+ freshers will begin a 3 or 4-year life of drinking, socialising and a little bit of studying in-between.

Of this 400,000, around 7,000 will embark on their journeys at Oxford or Cambridge. These students have managed to perfect the art of revision (and make no mistake, revising IS an art) so much so that they’re the chosen 1.75% accepted to Oxbridge.


We’ve reached out to some successful Oxbridge graduates to find out exactly what is their secret. Here’s what we found out.

Identify what kind of learner you are. You will fall into one of two categories; Task-focused or time-focused. Each has drawbacks and you’ll likely be a little from column A and a little from column B. Learn how to accommodate for your personal learning style.

Kam Taj

Kam Taj knows a thing or two about how to study effectively. He is a professional performance coach who runs his own personal and professional development company.


  • Task-focused learners will work as long as they need to complete a task, even if this means falling behind schedule.
  • Time-focused learners will set x amount of time to complete a task, then make sure the task is completed within the set timeframe.


Both styles have positives and negatives. Task-focused learners often find it difficult to find the discipline to actually start working, but once they do, they’re extremely focused on finishing what they started. Time-focused learners are generally well organised and start a task when they say they will. However, they can get distracted by WhatsApp messages, Snapchat and other distractions. They’ll usually consider this wasted time as a part of the time spent working on that task!


If you consider these two learning styles as opposite ends of a spectrum, you’ll find yourself sitting somewhere on that spectrum. If you truly understand your own drawbacks, then you can account for them. If you’re time-focused, make sure you’ve got no potential distractions around you when you start working. This way you’ll make sure to use all the time available to you effectively.

It’s important to know your starting point. Write out what you know from memory. Then think about what you don’t know, or what you don’t understand. Write it ALL down.

Dr Chris Lovejoy

This is a tip from Dr Chris Lovejoy. He is a University of Cambridge Medicine graduate. Knowing your baseline is extremely important as you can judge your current situation. It’s vital you write out what you know entirely from memory before looking at any revision materials. This ensures you only write what is already in your mind without any external help.


The next step Chris suggests is to understand what you don’t know. Do the same process – write it all out. You should have some questions in the back of your mind that you want to know the answer to or be able to do by end of your revision. Use this to structure your revision. When you’re finished, come back and see whether you can answer the questions from memory. If you can, you’ve successfully achieved what you wanted.

Decide what the single most important thing is for you to learn… then make sure you learn that one thing.

Dr Rohan Agarwal

This is a tip from Dr Rohan Agarwal, co-founder of UniAdmissions, a top 30 under 30 entrepreneur and a Cambridge graduate. This is a tip that works for life, well beyond just revision. Just swap out “learn” for “do” and you’ve got a universal piece of advice.


  1. Write out the 6 most important things you could be doing right now.
  2. Number them from 1-6 in terms of importance.
  3. Work on number 1 until completion (without stopping or switching to any other task).
  4. Then do number 2, number 3 and so on.


This is by far the most time-efficient method of completing tasks as you will work in order of benefit. If you run out of time for the day and only manage to complete 1 or 2 tasks, then you can rest easy in knowing you’ve completed the 2 most important tasks at hand.

Think about the return on your time invested. What is the overall goal? Do the task that directly helps achieve your overall goal. It’s easy to get side-tracked with tasks that feel like you’re achieving something, but in reality, your time could have been spent better.

Dr David Salt

This piece of advice is from Dr David Salt, co-founder of UniAdmissions. David is a Cambridge Medicine graduate and Director of HR for LOGIVAN.


  • ROI: return on investment. This isn’t just something businesses should consider, it can be applied to all aspects of your life. More specifically, the return on TIME invested is even more important for revision.


With the revision, you have a limited amount of time to work with. Because of this, it’s vital you make the most of the time spent doing certain tasks. Think about what’s going to benefit you more; learning 95% of the deep intricacies related to ribosomes, or learning 60% of the exam specification for DNA and RNA?


Going the 60% route… sure, you might not know everything about DNA, but you’ll have a wider understanding which will likely translate to more marks in the exam overall. If you went the 95% route, you’ll get the one mark on ribosomes, but the extra time invested won’t translate to a higher grade.

Always reflect and improve on next time. Progression with revision is rarely linear but persistence through it all will see you have massive improvements over time.

Henry (Oxford Graduate)

This tip is from Henry, an Oxford Classics graduate and a university admissions specialist. Continuous improvement, also known as Kaizen, is the art of always improving all functions and actions each time you do them. Again, this is a principle most often used in business but can be easily applied to revision.


Learning is a continuous process that you will do for the rest of your life, whether you know it or not. The rate at which you learn is largely determined by the amount of time you spend reflecting on your learning and thinking of ideas for improvement. With any revision strategy or tactic, you should always think about how you can improve it for next time. What worked well? What didn’t work so well? Asking yourself these questions will help you think of ways to improve your processes.


If you continuously improve your revision processes and stay consistent with them, you’ll see a massive progression over time – I promise!

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