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Student Learning Success Guides!

EXAM PREPARATION shouldn’t start just a few days before the exam. The best preparation involves reviewing throughout the semester and studying during the weeks leading up to the exam.


Organize your study space—try to reduce distractions and give yourself room to spread out your books and notes.

Study multiple topics in one sitting rather than getting bogged down on a single subject. Take regular study breaks.

Set-up a study group with non-distracting friends or classmates.

Find a quiet desk, set a timer, and take a practice exam under test-like conditions. This will help you with the stress and timing of writing an exam! (Your instructor may have a practice exam you can use.)


Think of some topics that you know a lot about. How did you develop this knowledge?

When has an exam left you feeling unprepared?

What material will be covered on the exam?

What steps can you take to better prepare for exams?

Start Studying Early

Your pre-exam review should be a continuation of the course work you’ve been doing throughout the semester.

  • Write exam dates on your calendar. Then write, "Start studying for X exam" 2 or 3 weeks earlier.
  • What topics were covered in the class syllabus? Use diagrams or flowcharts to plot the material covered in the course and identify which areas you feel confident about and which areas will need more time and attention.
  • Keeping up with readings and attending lectures can be the bulk of your exam preparation if you have good study habits.

Learn the Details of the Exam

Knowing the answers to these questions will help you stay calm and focus on your exam preparation.

  • How much is it worth?
  • What material will it cover?
  • How will the exam be divided up between short-answer questions, essay questions, and multiple-choice questions?
  • What sources or topics will it cover?
  • What should you bring to the exam?
  • How long will it be?

Learn the Expectations of the Exam

Will the exam test higher- or lower-level thinking?

Lower-level thinking:

Basic knowledge and comprehension (choose, define, find, identify, label, list).

Higher-level thinking:

  •     Application: use what you know on a new problem.
  •     Analysis: identify motives or causes; find evidence.
  •     Evaluation: justify or validate opinions; use criteria.
  •     Synthesis: create something new; propose alternatives.

Plan How You Will Study

Which material do you know well and which material do you find difficult? Spend more time on what you find difficult.

  • Include study blocks in your daily and weekly plans.
  • List the topics to be covered on the exam.
  • Review what you know well to boost your confidence and to make connections with overall concepts.
  • Take a practice exam a couple days before the real exam and note which questions you struggled with and which questions you got wrong.
  • Schedule more time for these difficult questions and areas.

Create Practice Questions and Teach Others

Try these two effective learning strategies!

  • Create exam questions to focus on the vital information and key concepts, predict incorrect responses and understand why they are wrong. Write questions that match the type of questions that will be on the exam so you can get inside your instructor's head.
  • Pretend you have to teach the material. This is even more effective if you can practice teaching a friend or classmate, since this will force you to remember the overall concepts as well as the details.