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Succeed at Exams

How can I prepare for exams?

Preparing for exams is an active process. This means planning (figuring out what you need to know), reviewing (making sure you know and understand the material), and maintaining your health and environment for success. 

Collect Exam Information

Before you begin studying, collect information about the exam, including: 

  • Format 
    • Is it multiple choice, short answer, essay, or a combination? 
    • How much time do you have for the exam, and how many questions will you have? 
    • Is the exam in person or online? 
    • If the exam is online, does it use Respondus lockdown browser? 
  • Location and time 
    • Exams may be held in a different room or building than lectures; be sure to check course link for the time and location of the exam 
    • If one of your exam times conflicts with the exam time for another of your courses, it is your responsibility to resolve the conflict. In some cases, you may need to drop one of the courses. Consult your program counsellor or academic advisor to review your options. 
  • Weighting of the exam in the course 
    • In general, you should invest more time in studying for exams that are worth a large percentage of the final course grade than exams that are worth a smaller percentage of your final course grade. 
    • For example, you may choose to spend more time studying for an exam worth 50% of your final mark than an exam worth 20%. 
  • The learning outcomes and key topics of the course 
    • Learning outcomes and key topics can be found in your course outline, at the beginning of chapters and units on Courselink or within your textbook. 
    • These can help you identify the main themes to review when you study. 
  • Availability of review materials  
    • Practice exams can be a great resource to familiarize yourself with the exam format and test your knowledge, these are often found in Courselink. 
    • Check if your course has an associated Supported Learning Group (SLG); these sessions are a helpful way to practice course material with other students 
    • You can create your own resources to test yourself by compiling textbook questions, turning lecture notes into questions, or writing outlines for essay prompts.  

Identify your priorities

Consider your own priorities and commitments when you prepare for exams. 

  • How many exams are you studying for? 
  • How interested are you in the topic? 
  • What mark are you aiming for? 
  • How much time are you interested in spending? 
  • What other things do you have going on? 

Your responses to these questions may affect your study plan. You may have less time to study than some of your classmates or a less flexible schedule. That’s okay; the important thing is to have a good understanding of what you want to get out of your studying and your goals for the exam preparation process.  

Make a Study Plan

A study plan can help you stay organized and on track when you have a lot to do.

For each course: 

  1. List main topics or content areas that will be assessed in the exam.  
    1. Use textbook chapter headings, learning outcomes in the course outline, or other course material to identify core topics. 
  2. Prioritize topics.  
    1. Emphasize unfamiliar or new content over content you have already reviewed or understand well. 
    2. Prioritize content that is most likely to be on the exam over content that is less likely to appear. 
    3. Taking some time to identify your study priorities can help you feel calmer and in control when it’s time to study.    
  3. Assign the main topics and content areas into study chunks or groups 
    1. You can group study topics by chapter, weeks, topic etc. Create groups in a way that makes sense for your course. 
  4. Use your calendar or planner to identify time when you can prepare and review material for each exam. 
    1. It is more helpful to study in brief blocks of time rather than lengthy cramming sessions. 
    2. Mix your planning and reviewing throughout the week to reduce stress and learn concepts more effectively. 
    3. Study for more than one course each day so that you make time for studying for every course, and not just the first one. Reviewing regularly for different courses will also give more variety to your studying times. 

You can find out more about creating a five-day study plan, including a downloadable template that organizes the planning and review processes. 

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

Resources to help with studying

Handout: Study Smarter Not HarderGuide: Study EffectivelyVideo: 5 ways to study with a matrix chart

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