Exam prep

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“Study smarter, not harder” is the cliché — but it’s true! Our “Preparing for and taking tests and exams” module is thorough and will help you create a customized study schedule and teach you strategies for effectively preparing, no matter what type of test you face.

Looking for something short and sweet? Read our quick tips about exam prep.

If you would prefer anything in .docx or another accessible format, please email us and we can send it along.


Quick TipsModule: Writing tests and exams at universityI. Before: Preparing for the test/examII. During: Taking the test/examIII. After: Debriefing the test or examStudy schedules and The Study PlanStudying, summary sheets, self-testing, and memory strategiesTypes of ExamsOvercoming test anxietyReturned tests, motivation and sleep during exams



1. Separate your initial learning (when you focus on increasing your understanding of material) from your studying (when you improve your memory of what you know).

2. Start preparing early, or start now.

3. Be informed about the exam: topics to cover, percentage or value of test or exam, format, length, location, aids permitted

4. Be strategic in studying:

  • Identify key topics. Focus on material you don’t know
  • Set targets and dates for completion

5. Select, organize and review key material:

  • Organize material to distinguish between main topics, sub-topics, and details. Look for relationships, connections or patterns
  • Summarize it using charts, tables, mind maps or webs, quantitative concept summaries, or annotated notes depending on the type of material
  • Review, aka study, to build your memory

6. Make a study plan, based on number of hours you think you’ll need:

  • 3 hour blocks (with a 10 minute break every hour) work well, followed by long break (1.5-2 hours) and do it again – – 9 hours max. a day!!
  • Distribute study hours across several days, studying 2 or 3 courses a day

7. Match your depth of study with the test format, and then “teach” someone else:

  • Multiple choice tests can tap details, plus understanding connections and concepts
  • Essay exams can analyze themes, patterns, your interpretations
  • Quantitative problem solving exams assess conceptual understanding, plus fast and accurate computations

8. Write a practice exam, under the same conditions (duration, exam aids):

  • Make up your own questions, based on learning objectives of the course
  • Use old exams and assignments, review questions from the text

9. Be strategic in writing the exam:

  • Take home exams require evidence and evaluation, not just description of facts
  • Answer questions you know first, to maximize grades and gain confidence
  • Include your essay outline, or diagrams in problem solving exams, for part marks

10. Use relaxation techniques to calm your mind and body, and permit clear thinking.

Writing tests and exams at university
Self-reflection and Introduction
Becoming self-aware
I. Before: Preparing for the test/exam

I. Before: Preparing for the test/exam

Steps in preparing for a test or exam
Step 1: Be informed about the exam
Step 2: Be strategic
Step 3: Select and organize key information
Step 4: Reviewing and self-testing
Organizing a study schedule
Cramming sucks but I still need to do it... sometimes!
Memory strategies
II. During: Taking the test or exam

II. During: Taking the test or exam

Self-reflection, issues and strategies
Strategy 1: Content and timing
Strategy 2: Answering different question types
Reducing test anxiety
III. After: Debriefing the test or exam

III. After: Debriefing the test or exam

Introduction and Issues
Nurturing your mind and body



Rules for organizing your study schedule
The Study Plan: Why, what and how
The Study Plan: Create and Exam Study Schedule
Key Planning Tips
How to use 3-hour study blocks
Studying for multiple exams: Expanding the Study Plan
But what if I have to cram?



How to approach a course when you have to...
Understand Concepts
Preparing summary sheets for studying
Why should you use summary sheets?
1. The Cornell method
2. Mind maps
3. Charts
4. Concept summary
Memory strategies
Attention, encoding, and strategies
How students can best prepare for tests and exams
The generation effect and levels of performance
Understanding key information: elaboration helps
What does elaboration mean?
Why, how, and question stems to help you elaborate
'This will be on the test!': Ways to predict test or exam questions
Listen for cues in lectures
Study smarter, not harder
Ask the person who knows
Practice problem solving
Self-testing as a study strategy
How and when to self-test



Multiple choice exams
Essay exams
Problem-type exams
Preparing for essay exams: 5 studying steps
Writing essay exams: 7 things to do
Instruction words in essay and short answer questions
Short-answer exams
Take-home essay exams
Science exams
Revered or feared? The why and what of multiple choice
Multiple choice exam strategies (incl. the 3-Pass Method)
Writing: Ready, set, go!
Math and science tests



Strategies for before, during and after the test or exam
Letting go, part 1: Physical sensations of anxiety
Letting go, part 2: Dealing with thoughts of anxiety
Guided imagery for test anxiety
Math and science anxiety
Overcoming math and science anxiety



Analyzing your returned tests
Breaking down errors
Eight reasons to celebrate mistakes
Intrinsic and extrinsic rewards
Strategies to build motivation
Sleep and the student life
Sleep and the functioning student
Twelve rules for better sleep hygiene
Sleep diary template


First photo courtesy of Amancay Maahs and second photo courtesy of Alberto G. under the Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-No-Derivations 2.0 license.


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