Top Exam Prep Tips from the Pros


The best way to control exam stress is to be prepared. This means attending every class, reviewing your notes, studying in advance, and getting help early if you’re falling behind. This seems obvious, but if you’ve missed some classes, and your notes are spotty, don’t despair. There’s lots you can do to fill in the gaps and get the help you need.


Talk to Your Teacher: If you’ve missed a few classes, or if your notes are not up-to-par, ask your teacher to review a topic or concept with you. You’ll get the best response if you approach them with specific questions (and not the day before the exam!). Ask them for study tips, extra practice questions, or links to any helpful study prep websites.

Take Good Notes. Clearly written notes make all the difference when it comes to studying. Give yourself lots of white space to add notes, and use highlighters to focus on key information.

Or Borrow Them! We all have off days and sometimes notes that made sense at the time look like gibberish when it’s time to study. Find a friend and do a “note exchange.” Two heads are better than one!

Join a Study Group: Get together with some friends to share ideas, quiz each other and compare notes. Order some pizza and make a night of it!

Practice, practice & more practice: Redo old test questions, or find exam review questions online to quiz yourself.  To create “exam conditions”, give yourself a time limit, don’t take breaks, and don’t look at your notes.  The more you rehearse this, the less stress you’ll feel on exam day.

Exercise: Try to build time into your day for some exercise. This can be a great stress reliever. Take the dog for a walk, go for a jog, or a quick workout at the gym. Whatever works for you!

Pace Yourself: Last minute cramming adds stress, so be sure to start studying a week or two before exams. The night before, don’t cram. Go to bed early, eat a good breakfast in the morning, and get to the exam early. You’ll feel more relaxed and in control.


Breathe and Relax: Deep breathing is calming and increases your oxygen supply.  Exhale, then take a deep slow breath, pulling the air from your abdomen, hold it for a count of two and then breathe out slowly. Relax your muscles by systematically progressing down your body, tensing and releasing each muscle group.


Get it on the Page: Write down everything you know about the topic. This gets your ideas flowing and gives you a visual reminder as you move through the exam.

Use Positive Self-Talk: Tell yourself that the exam is an opportunity to show what you know.

Read Each Question Carefully: Make sure you understand what the question is asking! Read each question in full. Highlight or underline key words, and jot down reminders or key points to help you stay on-topic or develop a logical solution.  Not reading carefully is a surprising cause of lost marks.

Do the Easiest Questions First: Many people like this approach; it gets the ball rolling and gives a mini confidence boost. Once you’re “warmed up”, tackle the trickier questions.

Grab Every Mark: Not every exam question will be easy, but there are still marks up for grabs if you explain what you do know. Consider using diagrams/ sketches, key words, and land marking your questions by writing down required equations, terms or ideas that will demonstrate your knowledge. This strategy can also help organize your thoughts and map out steps in problem solving. It’s a win-win!

Check Your Work: Even if you’re still writing right down to the last few seconds, do reserve a few minutes to check over your work.  Small errors can add up, so it’s always a good idea to make sure what you have done is correct!


Be objective: When you get your results, look objectively at how you did. Evaluate your grade, the amount of preparation you did, your anxiety level, and your answers. Review the results and aim to prepare better for the next time. Even if you did well, it is useful to reflect on what you might do differently next time.

Analyze and Assess – Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Did I anticipate the style, format, and questions?
  • What didn’t I expect?
  • What did I do right?
  • What should I have studied more?
  • How was my recall?
  • Did I prepare enough?
  • Did I ask my teacher for help before the test?
  • Did I handle text anxiety well?
  • Did being part of a study group help or hinder me?

Keep your Perspective: Worrying too much holds us back and does not help memory either. It is just one exam. What’s most important is that we learn from our mistakes.

Reflect on the Purpose: Exams provide feedback on what you have mastered during the course, as well as your test taking skills. They do not measure your self-worth, your intelligence, or your ability to contribute to society. Don’t get too discouraged if you didn’t do as well as you thought. Learn from your mistakes, try some of these tips, and ace it next time!

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OnCourse Education

OnCourse Education