Prepping for Exams

Posted by Sam on March 3, 2016

Academic Success

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Young man looking stressed.

There you are. 6:58pm on an unusually warm Thursday evening. Before you to your left lie your battered student card and a selection of pens, immediately in front of you a scary-looking bundle of paper and Scantron sheets.

“THE EXAM WILL BEGIN IN APPROXIMATELY TWO MINUTES,” you hear over the loudspeakers. A wave of shuffling ripples through your fellow classmates as everyone begins their last-minute pre-exam ritual, most notably the “let’s do this” arm stretch over the head.

Behind you a group of students quietly quiz one another. You try to ignore them, but a particular question catches your attention. You distinctly remember reading that section and memorizing the answer. Eager to impress, you begin to turn around to respond when, about halfway through your turn, another student confidently gives a different answer, to which all the other students nod in agreement.

There’s no way. You memorized that answer . . .  could it be wrong? What about all your other answers?! “YOU MAY BEGIN” echoes around the auditorium. In the two-minute period between 6:58pm and 7:00pm, a mere 120 seconds, you have gone from absolute confidence to utter self-doubt.

The next three hours mark one of the more confusing and conflicting times of your life. You walk out of that exam with not a clue as to how you did, and you spend the next month of your life forcing yourself to check the course Moodle for the results, almost not wanting to know.

Looking back, you could have avoided all this needless angst. Had you not crammed all your studying into a two-hour session the night before and a one-hour summary session just before the exam, you wouldn’t have doubted yourself so easily.

To save you some trouble, here’s a list of exam prep suggestions to keep in mind before your next exam:

Large open view of ocean.

Nothing is more intimidating than knowing you have to cram an entire semester’s worth of material into a one- or two-day period. Short, consistent study sessions are much more manageable, even it’s just 45 or 60 minutes a day starting a week or two before your exam. You’ll probably also notice that you remember a lot more, because your brain actually has the chance to absorb the information you’re feeding into it.

Picture of pear with slices of cheese intertwined.

If you are doing a longer session, reward yourself every so often. This could be something like watching an episode of a show (30 minutes or less . . . no Game of Thrones shenanigans) after every hour of studying, or maybe catching up on your cat- and food-ridden Instagram feed. The idea here is just to refresh, to take your mind off studying for a little while before coming back to it.

Man wearing a helmet with feathers in it.

This one may sound a little contradictory to the idea behind this post, but it’s important to understand what kind of studying works for you as an individual. Granted, the majority of students will most likely benefit from the spaced-out, consistent style of studying described in the first point more than from last-minute cram sessions, but not everyone. If cramming works for you, it works for you. If listening to music while you study helps you, do that. Don’t change a working style just because it’s not what everyone else is doing. Note, however, that I said if it “works for you.” If you’re totally stressed all the time or are getting lower grades than you should, your supposed style, even though familiar, is not a good fit. Be honest with yourself.


For the same reason a gym buddy puts more pressure on you to work out regularly, a study buddy/study group puts more pressure on you to prepare for exams and assignments. Even if the people you’re with aren’t studying the same subject, a studious, focused environment in itself is motivating. You just need to make sure you’re disciplined as a group to be effective, at least most of the time. I recall one particular instance where my study group and I binge-watched Sherlock for two and half hours, but generally a group can improve your odds at study success. One way to avoid the scenario of distraction is to assign chapters/sections to every individual group member, so everyone has a task to accomplish before any fun times can begin. Besides, you and your study buddies can also commiserate when the going gets tough, and we all know that venting every now and then helps. Need help finding or setting up study groups? Check out the Study Hub.

So that’s it. No more profuse sweating, grinding your teeth or aggressively digging your pen into your exam paper. Of course these are merely suggestions, but try to keep them in mind when preparing for your next exam. They’ve certainly helped me. Or you can check out what my colleague Rebecca has to say on the topic.

Got any more tips in preparing for exams? Feel free to comment below, or tweet us at @YorkUStudents!

Note: This post was updated on November 29, 2016.


Sam recently graduated with an Honours BA in Communications.

See other posts by Sam