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How to ensure exams don’t feel like the end of the world

Ali Schwabe | Fulcrum Staff

CLASSES ARE OVER and as exams start, you have one last chance to bring your grades up to where you want them to be or to at least maintain the average you’ve worked so hard for all semester. The Fulcrum’s got you covered with a guide on how to tackle any type of test thrown your way.

Think smart to be smart
With no more classes, ‘tis the season for sleeping in, right? Wrong. Don’t let the fact that you don’t have to be in class at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday mornings become an excuse for sleeping until noon for three weeks. Make yourself a new schedule, and fill it with all the things that will keep you sane during exam time. Make sure you schedule study time at the library, and remember the best way to study is to simulate what you’ll actually be doing on the exam. Practise writing essays or solving multi-step problems, don’t just read and reread your notes.

Take care of yourself physically to do better mentally! Remember your schedule? Set aside at least 30 minutes a day to get some exercise and enough time every day to make and eat healthy meals. Also include one trip per day outside of your room/apartment—trust me, the fresh air will do you good. Remember to include your exams on your schedule and throw in some guilt-free downtime too. Whether your breaks are movies with friends or early-morning coffee dates, you need to take the occasional timeout from studying.

The day before your exam, make sure you get a good night’s sleep. We know you know to eat a healthy breakfast the morning of your exam, but it bears repeating—studies show you’ll perform better if you get some protein and carbs in you! Before leaving the house, double check that your pencil case has everything you need, especially your student card!

Tips for take-homes
Take-homes can be tricky. Sure, the unpredictable element of exams is taken out when you get the questions and have all the time you need to find the answers, but your professor is also expecting a much higher quality of work than if you had a sit-in exam. The trick to acing take-homes is to initially work with some friends from your class to make sure you’re on the right track, and then proofread. Do not submit a take-home until you’ve printed it out and read it aloud to catch all your grammar mistakes and incoherent strains of thought. To really push yourself into the realm of A’s, source some of the class readings in your answers.

Tips for multiple-choice exams
Some students sing praises for multiple-choice tests—the answers are right in front you of, after all—but you need to study hard to be able to recognize them. There’s no bull-shitting: you need to know if it’s A, B, C, or D, so your best bet is to really know your stuff before the exam. Once you’re in the thick of it though, there are a couple of ways to ensure you do well. Make sure you read the questions thoroughly—tricky wording can cause you to make silly mistakes. If you’re pressed for time, put a mark next to questions that are stumping you and come back to them later. Finally, for the love of all things academic, occasionally check that you’re filling in the scantron correctly—one skipped number can mean a failed exam.

Tips for essay exams
Essay-based finals are your chance to show off what you know and fill pages and pages of exam booklets with your knowledge, but if your answers are all over the place, you won’t get the marks you deserve. The number one tip to ace this type of exam is to use a rough scrap of paper to make an outline of the essay. Use the back of the exam question sheet to jot down a basic thesis, the big points you want to hit, and a couple of supporting notes for each big point. If you ever find yourself lost during the mad scribbling process that is an essay exam, just refer back to your outline and you’ll be golden.

Tips for problem-based exams
Problem-based exams require you to think on your feet. The way to prepare isn’t by obsessively rereading the textbook or reviewing your notes a million times, it’s by simulating what the actual exam will be like. Do practice questions from textbooks and problems you find online, and talk to people who have taken the course before to see if they have additional problem sets you can go through. When you get to the exam, see how many questions there are, determine how they’re weighted, and divide your time accordingly. Don’t get freaked if you glance at the last question and have no idea how you’d solve it—usually this type of test is progressive, and by the time you get to the end you’ll figure out how to apply the skills you know to solve the problem.

Good luck!