No matter what classes you’re taking this semester, these tips can help you prepare, stay focused and ace your finals.
Before your exams
The most effective way to prepare for exams is to start early. Give yourself plenty of time to study, sleep, eat and take breaks. Keep in mind that everyone studies, learns and retains information in different ways. Study methods that work for your classmates or friends may not necessarily work for you, so it’s important to find what fits your own personal study style.
Here are some helpful tactics you can use to maximize your study sessions.
During your exams
Have you ever sat down for an exam and felt like you’ve suddenly forgotten everything you studied last night?
Here are a few strategies to help you stay cool, calm and collected during high-stress exams.
Try square breathing
As you wait to start your exam, consider doing a quick guided breathing exercise or meditation. You can follow along with a video or use the square breathing technique outlined below. Remember that this technique can also be used during your exam if you start to feel anxious or stressed.
- Breathe in slowly through your nose for four seconds.
- Hold your breath for four seconds.
- Slowly exhale out your mouth for four seconds.
- Hold you exhale for four seconds.
Practice this technique throughout the day to help you remember the steps. It’s okay to repeat as often as needed. If you start to feel lightheaded, try to breathe more slowly.
Try to keep track of how much time you’re spending on each question and how much time you have left to set a good pace for yourself throughout the exam. This can help you determine how much time you can spend on each of the remaining questions.
Here are some more tips to help you pace yourself.
- If you’re struggling with a specific question, skip it for now and come back to it later. This will help you stay on track and not spend too much time on one question.
- You can also think of your exam in terms of milestones. For instance, you might want to set a goal of being halfway through once your time is halfway over.
- If possible, give yourself enough time to review your answers before the end of the exam time. This will help you catch mistakes or answer questions you may have skipped before. If you’re using a scantron, be sure to double check your answers against the bubbles you filled in to make sure they match.
Look for question clues
Sometimes when we feel stressed, it can be easier to miss key information or directions.
Here are a couple of tips to help you answer each question thoroughly.
- Read each question carefully. Underline or circle any key words or phrases that can help you select the right answer. For instance, you may be directed to: “Provide three examples…”, “Identify which of the following did not occur…”, etc.
- If you’re taking an exam online, use your cursor to highlight keywords to check your understanding before answering the question.
After your exam
For many of us, finishing an exam can leave us feeling relieved, exhausted, anxious or a mix of emotions. Regardless of what you’re feeling, allow yourself to disconnect from the test in an intentional way.
Here are some strategies you can use to feel better after an exam.
- Take some deep breaths (use the square breathing technique if needed).
- Let go of what you wish you could have done better.
- Remind yourself that you did the best you could with what was available to you.
- Take some time to do something you enjoy.
- Move your body to relieve anxiety or stress (take a walk, stretch, go for a bike ride, etc.).
- Enjoy dinner or coffee with friends.
Disconnecting intentionally can help relieve the heightened emotions we may have experienced during finals. It also allows us to celebrate our successes and appreciate how far we’ve made it this semester.