Five Last-Minute Tips to Conquer Exams

Posted by Sam on December 8, 2016

Academic Success

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Exams started yesterday, and today I present to you not your typical guide to exam prep and survival, as the days of leisurely flipping through your notes are probably over and you are now most likely in the last-minute, more frantic stages of getting ready for the end of the term and all it means. So take a peek at this quick list of easily digestible tips I’ve created for you to make the best of your final few study sessions.


I know what you’re thinking. “Detach? My exam is tomorrow!”. Well, have you ever noticed that you tend to come up with best solutions when you step away for a moment from the problem at hand? The same logic applies to studying. When your mind has a chance to unfocus for a second and actually digest everything you’ve been throwing at it, your ability to recall that information when needed is greatly increased. Ten, or even five minutes before your exam, put down the notes and let everything sink in.

Bowl of salad with the words, "Nutritions is your friend"

Like a race car operating on the lowest-possible octane fuel, your body and mind are not going to perform at their best if you feed it nothing but top ramen and energy drinks. After the initial drive of caffeine and simple carbohydrates, the inevitable crash that follows isn’t going to help anything. Whether it be the night, morning, or afternoon before, try to throw in at least one or two nutritionally dense meals to help your body function at its top performance before you sit down to write that three-hour exam or make the final push on your paper.

Young man sitting at a desk with the words "At least nap"

Sleep is wonderful. It’s like a seal — all the events of the day are processed and stored away for future use. Logically, then, sleeping is arguably the best study aid there is. To fry your mind with 4, 5, 6 hours of relentless, often new information and not allow it to process seems incredibly silly. Of course, you gain this type of insight when you look at the situation logically, not when you’re stressed, nervous and overwhelmed, knowing your next exam begins in two hours. The mind has an incredible knack to ignore logic in situations like this. Regardless, even if its just 60 minutes (though we recommend a good number of hours), try to treat yourself to at least some form of sleep. Your marks (and sanity) will thank you for it.

Picture of a clock on the wall with the words, "Know the Details"

It seems like common sense, but take note of the little details. Where is the exam, how long do you have, what form will the exam take, do you need a pencil as well as a pen . . . ? I would be lying if I said I didn’t know anyone who suffered from failing to take note of at least one of these questions. Just speaking from personal experience, I recall an incident where I realized halfway to the Aviva Centre that I didn’t have a pencil on me, resulting in me sprinting across campus and buying the first pencil I laid my eyes on, which ultimately resulted in me showing up late to my exam. Whether they would have simply given me a pencil, I don’t know . . . the point is that I should have made sure I had everything in order before I left my house.

Piece of cake with a slice out of it with the words "Study in pieces"

As much as we might not want to believe this, studying six out of eight hours with 20-minute breaks every hour is much more effective than studying for eight hours without stopping. When you break information down into more easily digestible pieces, recalling those specific pieces becomes much easier than when trying to recall information from a nonstop block of overload. While everyone’s style certainly differs, I have found the piecemeal method of studying to be particularly effective, especially for exam prep.

So there you have it — your quick guide to last-minute exam prep. I won’t keep you any longer, as I’m sure you have exams to tend to, but should you have any of your own advice that has worked for you, feel free to leave it in the comments below, or tweet us at @yorkustudents. When it comes to exams, the more help the better.


Sam recently graduated with an Honours BA in Communications.

See other posts by Sam