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Test and exam preparation

“Study smarter, not harder” may be a cliché… but it’s true!

Learning how to study for midterms and exams is vital for students’ academic success. We review a broad range of tools to help you create a customized study schedule, understand how to prepare, take, and debrief exams, and adopt strategies for effective studying and anxiety reduction.

Need to make a plan for exams?

Try our exam study schedule (April 2019).

If you haven’t used the study schedule before, you can read about how to use it or make an appointment with a learning strategist.

Modules and resourcesTest & exam preparation

  • Self-reflectionStart with some self-reflection questions to help you become aware of your own test-taking skills, attitudes, behaviours, and resources.
  • Preparing for the test/exam: What to do before the test. How to be informed, strategic, select and organize study materials, and review/self-test.
  • While taking the test/exam: Strategies for adjusting to the content, timing, and different question types, as well as for dealing with test anxiety.
  • After the test or exam: Debriefing to analyze, celebrate, and take stock of body and mind.
  • Planning tools: Templates and instructions to help you organizing your study schedule, how to use your study blocks, and tips for studying for multiple exams.
  • Effective study strategiesSummarizing, Memorizing, Understanding, Elaborating, and Self-Testing.
  • Format-specific strategies: Multiple Choice, Essays, Short Answer, Problems, Math & Science.
  • Test anxiety: Strategies for before, during, and after the test or exam.

Quick tips for exam prep

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.

3. Be informed about the exam: topics to cover, percentage or value of test or exam, format, length, location, aids permitted. Don’t be afraid to contact your professor or TA for this information.

4. Be strategic in studying:

  • Identify key topics and 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 the material using charts, tables, mind maps or webs, quantitative concept summaries, or annotated notes depending on the type of material
  • Review (that is, study) to build your memory

6. Make a study plan, based on the 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). Then, do it again — up to a maximum of 9 hours/day.
  • Distribute study hours across several days, studying two or three courses a day.
  • Plan out how to use each of your 3-hour study blocks.

7. Match your study method 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.

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