Facing the Final: Tips for Exam Success

If you’re at all nervous about upcoming exams, here are a few tips from a variety of experts that may help you get ready to face the final! Up until finals week, I’ll post a tip every day.

Tip #1: Get Ready

While this may sound obvious, good preparation is your main ally when heading into exam season. You want to make sure you know what is coming your way.

Most important, obviously, is the content you’ll need to know. Sometimes instructors are fairly vague, saying “Questions will be based on everything you have learned in the course”. That can be a bit exhausting, but go back to your course outline – it’ll show you what topics the instructor considers to have been learned in the course. Unless advised otherwise, be sure to study these topics using material from your own notes, from the textbook, and from the instructor’s notes (if they have given out powerpoint notes, etc) to make sure you get all the details you need.

Other instructors prefer to give more detail regarding exactly what topics are going to be covered on the exam, sometimes even giving the questions you can expect word-for-word. In those cases, you don’t want to learn all the extraneous course material even if you feel a bit panicky about skipping large sections of it. You want to focus on getting the questions you ARE asked done right – so spend pretty much all your time studying those.

As tempting as it is to skip class in the last week or two to get studying/paper-writing done instead, try to go to all your classes! Instructors often give out some pretty important exam information. Even if they’ve already done so, a lot of the time students keep pestering them for more details, and in many cases theygive some pretty strong clues or hints as answers, which can make showing up in class more than worth it when the exam rolls around.

It’s good to be prepared in terms of format too. You’ll usually know the format of the exam ahead of time – long answer, essay question, multiple choice? Be prepared for what’s coming in terms of format as well as content. Examples: if you know the exam is going to be an essay, make sure you brush up on how to write a strong thesis statement. If you know the exam is going to be multiple choice, remember to learn specific concepts and vocabulary very definitely so that you don’t get confused by trick questions which throw in familiar-sounding words.

Think about how much time you have for the exam and how much time you might really take. Some exams really are in-and-out deals. However, if you know that it’s going to take you the full two or three hours allotted based on your exam-writing style or the instructor’s exam format, psych yourself up for that. Build up your endurance so you don’t get exhausted halfway through and just give up – know that you have to be ready to concentrate and do your best work for a long time span.

Finally, think about the other exams you’ve written for this course already. Even if it’s the first exam you’ve written in the course, you will generally have a sense of what type of instructor you’ve got. Are they going to be mean and ask the nastiest questions ever, or are they likely to re-use wording right from the textbook or stick only to the course notes? Do they have a tendency to be vague and confusing? Do they mark generously or are they pretty tough? Do they like to include trick questions? Can you count on any giveaway marks? Will they expect complete sentences or is point form OK? There’s really nothing you can do about the instructor’s style of writing up or marking an exam, but knowing what to expect can help you approach it with the best strategy in mind and keep you from panicking on test day.

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