Learn how to master test-taking!
Learn the skills and strategies you need to be able to do well on your next exam. When prepping for your exam, it’s important to break down the exam process into three categories: Before an Exam, Day of the Exam, and After an Exam. Focusing on these three stages will allow you to approach an exam in a constructive and effective way so you can achieve your best.
Before an Exam
It’s important that you take the time to plan out how you are going to tackle all the material that needs to be covered for your exam.
Make a clear and comprehensive list of all the things that will be covered on the exam. It’s important to be detailed – write down each lecture, chapter, assignment, sample test etc. that will be included. Then, parcel out each of these tasks onto your study schedule – don’t forget to leave a little wiggle room with at least one day to review right before your exam!
Studying and Testing
Now that you have a plan, it’s time to study!
Make sure you have a good study environment and that you are thinking about how your study environment is interacting with your five senses, as well as the time of day you are studying. Make sure you are studying through multiple means and at a difficulty level that makes the work effortful.
Don't forget to practice like it's the exam and test yourself!
Don't forget to take the time to practice some self-care!
It is still important to take care of your body, your emotions, and to connect with people you love even during an exam period!
Day of the Exam
The day of the exam is no longer the time to be learning new things. Wherever you are at in your studying, now is the time to sit down and review your notes. Take the time to go over what you have been studying and write down the things you are worried about remembering. Quiz yourself on your notes and remember to focus on content rather than feelings.
In order to perform your best you need to enter the exam calm and prepared. Take the time to practice some deep breathing techniques to keep calm and focused. Box breathing (pictured below) is a great system for counting your breaths and staying focused on the moment:
Box breathing technique: inhale for 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds, exhale for 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds. Repeat.
As soon as you get into the exam, do a mind dump and write down all the things you are worried about forgetting. Then, preview the entire exam and make a plan of attack – estimate how long each section will take, start with the harder questions and the questions worth the most.
As your work through the exam take the time to read carefully. Highlight action words in questions and don’t forget to take breaks!
Once you are done, review your exam and keep your eyes out for simple mistakes.
After an Exam
Be proud of yourself! You did it!
Plan to do something fun and rewarding after your exam. Once your exams are returned, take the time to review the exam and double-check the grading.
Once you have reviewed your exam, it’s time to reflect. How did the exam go overall? What went right, what went wrong and why? What would you do the same next time and what would you change? Reflecting on your studying and exam process is an important step in improving your test-taking skills.
Utilize the following Inventory of Test-Taking Skills from Purdue University to see where you did well and where you can improve:
Resources & Apps
- The Art of Taking Exams
- Your Study Environment
- Postcard: Exam-Taking Tips and Tricks
- Postcard: Studying 101
- Inventory of Test-Taking Skills
- Test-Taking Preparation (University of Manitoba)
- Tips for Multiple Choice Exams (University of Manitoba)
- Verbs Used in Essay Questions (University of Manitoba)
- Writing Essay Exams (University of Manitoba)