Complete guide to tests and exams
Feeling confident and prepared for an exam is one of the keys to academic success.
Try these tips from SAIT's Academic Coaching team and Student Development and Counselling to help you feel ready to ace each test and ease exam anxiety.
Prep like a pro
Know what to expect
- Exams vary. Always double check the details of your exam with your instructor — the date, time (and time zone), format, length and topics covered.
- Find out what materials are allowed/required in the exam — is it open or closed book?
- Start your review early and create a study schedule to avoid cramming. Use your learning objectives to create a study guide and summarize important content. Map out topics from highest to lowest priority, and start with the highest priority first.
- Break your studying into short, frequent sessions and schedule breaks throughout — after 25 minutes of study, take a short five-minute break to de-stress and refresh. Use a timer to keep yourself on track.
- Use active study strategies to learn and memorize your content. Test yourself. Recite out loud. Make mental videos. Work with a study buddy.
📚 Organize your study space
Your physical environment can make or break your study sessions, so be intentional about it. Choose a spot free that’s free of distractions and comfortable (but not too comfy!). Make sure you have the proper technology and equipment. Try to separate your study area from the space you use for relaxation. Create an environment that helps you focus.
Write the right way
- Start with the easiest and shortest questions.
- Next, move to the longer or more challenging questions with answers you know or can get to with a bit more time.
- Finally, stop at the unanswered questions. If you're stuck, look for hints in other test questions. Ask yourself what you do know and start there. If all else fails, use your best guess.
- Pace yourself. Keep your eye on the clock and set a goal to complete at least 60% of the exam in 50% of the time.
- Always make sure you know what the question is asking and answer accordingly.
- Study and prepare as you would any other exam.
- If you're writing your exam from home, choose a place to write that is comfortable, familiar and distraction free. This can reduce stress and test-related anxiety and improve your ability to focus. Put up a ‘do not disturb’ sign and inform family and roommates you'll be writing an exam.
- Make sure you have a strong internet connection. Ask your family and roommates to limit their streaming or gaming during your exam, as this can impact your connection speeds.
- Ask your instructor for details about the exam and read the exam instructions. Know how to set up your space and if there are specific rules for the exam.
- Test your technology ahead of time, and if you encounter technical difficulties, inform your instructor as soon as possible.
- Organize your materials, but don’t rely on books, notes or cheat sheets during your exam. It’s important to prepare in advance for an open book exam as you would for any other exam.
- Time on these exams can be limited and looking through notes or a book to answer questions during a test can take a lot of time.
- Produce your own answer first and look for it in the list.
- Use a process of elimination to choose the best answer.
- Change your answer only when you're sure.
- Break down the answers. Read the question with the first answer, while covering the rest of the answers. Is the statement true or false? Move to the next option and repeat.
- If any part of the question is false, the answer is false.
- True means always true, 100% of the time — qualifiers such as "always", "all" and "never", usually indicate a false statement.
- Your first response is usually your best.
- Start with the easiest question and make sure you understand it — if you don't, ask.
- Before you start writing, make a quick outline — this will keep you on track and capture your ideas up front.
- Use your most important points first — and get to the point.
- Pace yourself based on how much each question is worth and the time allotted.
- If you get stuck, move on — another question may trigger the answer.
- Write something for each question — point form is better than nothing.
- Check that you've answered all parts of the question, then review your answers for grammar and clarity.
Ease exam anxiety
Leading up to exam day
- Focus on sleeping well the night prior to your exam.
- Eat well, stay hydrated and get active to reduce stress.
- Your perspective matters! Think of the exam as an opportunity to show yourself how much you've learned. Develop a success mindset — practice focusing on the positive with this activity.
- Lower your stress using the headversity app or with a mindfulness exercise.
Before you start
- Take a deep breath.
- Get the directions down — listen/read carefully.
- Scan the whole exam and get a feel for the pace you'll need to finish strong.
- Jot down any memory devices or formulas you know you'll need and might forget.
After the exam
- Relax knowing you did your best.
- Set aside time to unwind or plan a restorative activity.
- When you’re ready, reflect. What went well? Is there anything you’ll do differently next time?
Connect with support
- Link up with the Lamb Learner Success Centre — talk to the pros in Academic Coaching and Tutoring.
- Contact Student Development and Counselling for more useful strategies to combat stress — or if you just need to talk.
- Make the most of your Reg Erhardt Library — get help finding the information you need for your projects or book a study space.
Focus on well-being
Maintaining positive mental health and well-being is a key factor in your success as a student, in your career and in life. There’s no magic formula, but there are ways every student can thrive at SAIT — plus resources and services to support you whether you’re studying on or off-campus.
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