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Succeed at Exams

On the day of the exam

Most students have some degree of text anxiety. This is normal regardless of how much you have studied. Anxiety may be reduced if you studied effectively and feel well prepared. Whether your exam is in person or online, try these suggestions to manage exam stress.

  • Do your best to get a good night's sleep; your brain needs rest in order to perform at its best.
  • Consult your list of equipment needed for the test, such as pens, pencils, calculators, and equations. Have them ready ahead of time.
  • Bring a water bottle with you to stay hydrated during the exam.
  • Dress comfortably for the exam. Wearing layers helps you to deal with temperature variations.
  • Turn off your phone and put it away.
  • A cool, calm, and collected head is the biggest asset you can draw on while writing an exam. You can think your way through difficult questions and also avoid the costly little mistakes commonly made when rushing through a test.

If your exam is in-person:

  • Try to get to the classroom or exam area a few minutes early so you can get settled into your seat and do a few relaxation techniques (such deep breathing).
  •  If you have students around you who are panicking and talking about the test, keep some distance and simply walk around a bit to help clear your mind. 
  • Focus on the test and not the students around you.

Test-taking strategies

Look over the entire test

  • Once you receive the test, it's important to listen carefully to the instructor or proctor's verbal directions.
  • Carefully read all the test instructions and questions.
  • Before you begin responding to the questions, write down important formulas, processes, and keywords in a margin so you don’t have to worry about forgetting them when you get to the questions (this is often called a "brain dump").
  • Some tests have multiple parts and some have optional and mandatory questions, so ensure you completely understand what you need to accomplish before you jump into answering the questions. 
  • Sometimes (particularly with essay exams) you may be able to use your knowledge to answer more than one question. Reviewing the questions and quickly planning your answers before you start writing will help you to determine where it's best to use the information you have.

Create a time budget 

  • Build a time budget by taking the time allotted for the exam and subtracting 10 minutes. Next, divide this amount by the number of questions or sections. The result is how long you have to spend on each part.
  • You can also divide the time available by the number of marks each question is worth. Only give each question the time it warrants and then move on to the next. You may get some marks for a part answer.
  • Take a few minutes to double check your answers when you're finished or go back and add more insights to questions where you felt rushed.

Proceed from easy to hard

Most students don't answer exam questions in the order they are given. Don’t worry if your answers are out of sequence; in most cases the order is irrelevant. Always answer the easiest questions first.


  • Focuses your energy on the questions you know the most about, ensuring you get maximum points on these.
  • Gives you a better chance of getting through the more difficult questions.
  • Helps stimulate your mind and prepare you for answering harder questions.
  • Reduces panic when you get to the harder questions. 

Check your work 

  • If you have extra time at the end of the exam, go back and check your work.
  • In general, when reviewing short or multiple choice answers, you should only change an answer if you have a specific reason for doing so (for example, you remembered a new piece of information). Even if you're not entirely sure that your answer is correct, it's usually better to keep it than to switch to another answer at the last minute. 
  • If you still have time after your first round of review is over, go through and check again, perhaps checking from back to front. You may notice new mistakes. 

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