Exam Prep

Very few people enjoy writing exams, but it’s a necessary part of figuring out how much you’ve learned during a course. If you keep up with readings, attend class and review your notes on a regular basis, preparing for an exam is relatively stress-free. The problems arise when you don’t put the time or effort into your studies, causing last-minute exam prep and stress. Whichever way of studying you choose, you can improve your grade by following some of these suggestions.

What kind of test is it?

It isn’t surprising that different types of tests require different ways of studying. A multiple choice test is totally different than a long essay test, so understanding how to study for each will save you time and help you get better marks.

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Multiple choice and True/False exams (objective tests)

These exams often test factual information and require memorization of dates, places, names, definitions, etc. Questions are not usually in-depth and take minimal time to complete.

How to study:

  • ask your instructor what will be on the exam and focus on those topics
  • review lectures and readings weekly
  • write flashcards and quiz yourself
  • use subtopics and key concepts from your notes into exam questions to test yourself
  • work with a study group to test each other
  • go to study sessions for exam examples

Essay exams

Short or long answer essay exams usually test knowledge of general concepts on specific topics, as well as how well you organize information. These are usually weighted higher than objective test questions because of the complexity of the answer.

How to study:

  • ask your instructor what will be on the exam and focus on those topics
  • review main concepts in the course outline and anything your instructor spent more time on
  • practice timed essay writing on some of the topics in the course
  • meet with a study group to discuss possible topics and how you would answer them

Combination exams

These are a combination of multiple choice or true/false questions and short or long essay questions. You study for a combination the same way you would study for each type of question, which may require additional study time.

Cramming for tests

Does this sound familiar? You meet up with friends after a long day of school and at 9pm you realize you haven’t started studying for the test tomorrow afternoon. No problem, you think to yourself. I’ve got hours to cram for it. Cramming for a few hours and showing up on time isn’t the best preparation for an exam.

There are two types of cramming: intense cramming and prepared cramming. Intense cramming is the last-minute studying that is often associated with college students. Prepared cramming is studying over a longer period of time and reviewing just before the exam. Ideally, prepared cramming is the method you want to use because you’ll remember the information long-term. Intense cramming is often in quickly and forgotten just as quickly.

If you find yourself in intense cramming mode a few days before your exam, try the following steps:

  • write down the main topic of the course
  • write an outline with subtopics covered up to the exam
  • Check the course outline, notes, or textbook readings for a list. For each subtopic, write definitions, facts (dates, names, places) or main points and how it relates to the main topic
  • for anything that you don’t understand, meet with your instructor, a tutor or a study group to get clarification until you understand
  • quiz yourself after studying each section in the outline (if you’re studying with a group, test each other)
  • review, review, review

Prepared cramming is much less stressful because you give yourself time to learn the information and review notes and readings over the whole course rather than just at the end. If you schedule time each week to study what you’ve learned, your review time near the exam will be much easier and quicker because you’re already familiar with what you’ve learned. The week before your exam, you can follow the same steps for intense cramming, but you will likely find you need less time to review.

Tips for Exam Prep will give you a good overview of what to do before and during an exam to help you prepare.

Exam anxiety

Have you ever felt physically ill while thinking about your exam? Does nothing make sense as you read it while studying? Sounds like you might have exam anxiety. The following websites have useful tips for coping with exam anxiety:


Last updated November 26, 2016