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Succeed at Exams

How Can I Succeed at Exams?

When preparing for exams, you have to consider many factors, such as

  • the percentage of your final mark that the exam is worth
  • the marks that you have already earned in the course
  • your available time
  • your interest in the subject
  • the format of the exam
  • the connection between your long-term goals and the exam.

You can use these factors, plus research on how students learn and recall information, to prepare effectively for your exams.

Know the Exam's Format

Before you begin studying, gather information about the exam, including

  • the amount of time you will have to write the exam
  • the format: multiple choice, essay, short answer, problem-based, or a combination
    • See our list on the left of specific study strategies for different exam formats
  • the percentage of your final mark that the exam is worth
  • the learning outcomes that will be assessed on the exam. Review your course outline to find your course's learning outcomes.

If the exam is online, you should also find out

  • the technical requirements for the exam
  • the invigilation or proctoring methods for the exam (if the exam will be monitored)
  • procedures to follow if you have technical problems during the exam
  • for more information about online exams, see our webpages:

Make a Study Plan

After you've found out more about the exam format, make a study plan to keep yourself organized and on track.

  1. List the main topics or content areas that will be assessed in the exam. Many students identify the main topics through textbook chapter headings or the weekly or daily themes listed in their course outlines.
  2. Identify the topics that you want to prioritize. You can prioritize topics based on the content that is least familiar to you, or the content that is most likely to be emphasized on the exam.
  3. Use your calendar or planner to identify possible times when you can review material to prepare for the exam.
    • You will learn more effectively if you can space out your studying over time. If possible, identify small chunks of study time over several days (or weeks). You'll learn material better if you study in small chunks than if you study in one long stretch of time.
  4. Assign main topics or content areas to each study block. It's normal to feel that you will not have enough time to study everything. Instead of focusing on what you don't have to study, make sure that you have allocated enough time for your prioritized topics. 

For more suggestions and tools on managing your time, visit our webpages:

Study Effectively

When you're studying, make sure you're using your study time effectively. University exams usually require you to do more than just recall content; you will often be expected to:

  • apply theoretical concepts from the textbooks and lectures to new situations
  • identify connections and relationships among course concepts.

To ensure that your studying methods go beyond memorization and recall, try some of these suggestions:

  • Integrate course content. Use concept maps or matrix charts to emphasize the relationships between ideas. 

  • Predict - and answer - possible test questions. You can use previous midterms or quizzes as models for creating new questions, or brainstorm some with a classmate.

  • Study with a partner or group. You can practice teaching each other material, brainstorm exam questions, quiz each other, and identify concepts in need of further review.

For more information on studying effectively, visit our webpages:

Stay Healthy

It's difficult to perform at your best if you're not feeling your best. 

  • Get a good night's sleep before the exam. You will be better able to respond to difficult or challenging questions if your brain has had time to rest between studying and writing the exam.
  • Integrate healthy practices into your daily routine. Go outside every day and get exercise every day.
  • Eat well. Avoid too much caffeine before and during your exam because it can increase feelings of anxiety. Instead, drink water and eat protein-rich snacks, like nuts or yogurt.

Resources to help with exam preparation

Guide: Succeed at ExamsGuide: Study EffectivelyHandout: Study Smarter Not Harder

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