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Ace Your Exams

How to perform your best

Being prepared lays the foundation for success on an exam.  That said, it is also important to stay calm and maintain a positive self-dialogue during the exam.  Finally, you can learn a lot from past exams by reflecting on your preparation and performance. What went well? What could you improve on?

Explore the tabs below and gain confidence for your upcoming exams.

Before the Exam

Having a plan and using effective study methods are critical steps as you approach your exam.

Tips for Multiple Choice Tests
  • Anticipate answers: Cover up the provided answers with a piece of paper or your hand.  Next, read the question carefully and anticipate what the answer could be.  Doing so helps you to focus on the question.  Be sure to key in on important phrases when reading the question—missing an important word or phrase can lead to mistakes.
  • Read all choices: Read each choice carefully. The first choice may seem correct, but do not select until reading through each option.  Remember that the "distractors," or incorrect options in a multiple-choice exam, are often partially true.
  • Eliminate wrong answers: Cross out or ignore answers that you know are incorrect.  This will help you focus on the remaining options and save time.
  • Skip difficult questions (if possible): If you do not know the answer to a question, make a notation to remind yourself to come back to it and move to the next question. Moving past a difficult problem can help reduce anxiety. Doing so also give you more time for later questions that you may have a better chance of getting right.  Finally, another question in the exam may trigger a memory that helps you get the correct answer.
  • Write on the exam: Research supports the fact that writing on tests improves academic performance. Students who highlight key terms, draw figures or diagrams, and mark questions score higher than those who do not engage with the questions in an active way. Once an exam begins, you can also write down important information such as formulas, mnemonics, and other key ideas.
  • Change your answer if you have a good reason: If you misunderstood a question the first time you saw it, be sure to change your response accordingly.  If you understood the question, but are waffling back and forth go with your first instinct and move on.
Tips for Essay Tests

Read the question carefully  

  • Make sure you understand what the question is asking.  Underline key terms as you read.  Otherwise, you may miss a component of the question and lose valuable points. 

Plan effectively  

  • Take a few minutes before you begin to write the essay to make a plan.  
    • Note how much time you have. For example, if you have to answer two essay questions, spend half of the class on each.  
  • Jot down main ideas and supporting details in a brief outline.  
    • For example, if your essay requires three main points, quickly write down the three topics you will use and some subpoints and examples. 
    • This will help you organize your thoughts and make the essay more coherent. Knowing how each paragraph relates to the next makes it easier to choose supporting examples. 

Begin with a strong introduction  

  • Your introduction should include an argument, or thesis statement, that directly responds to the essay prompt.  This offers the reader a clear signpost for the topic of the essay and where the author stands on the issue. 

Structure your paragraphs  

  • After the introduction, each paragraph should have an opening sentence, or topic sentence, that explains what the paragraph is about.  Next, expand on the topic with supporting details and examples. 

End with a solid conclusion 

  • This gives you an opportunity to emphasize your essay's main points. 

Check the question prompt  

  • Once you finish writing the essay, reread the prompt to make sure you have answered all aspects of the question. 

Proofread  

  • Reread your essay and look for spelling or grammar mistakes. Also, make sure you support your arguments with evidence. 
Tips for managing test anxiety

Before the exam

  • Get a good night's sleep.  Sleep helps the brain process information more effectively. If you stay up all night studying, it becomes harder to problem solve.
  • Eat a good breakfast or lunch.  This may help calm the nervousness in your stomach and give you energy. Don't overeat, though; it will make you sluggish.  Avoid greasy and acidic foods!
  • Allow yourself enough time to get to the test without hurrying. If your heart is already pounding, you are more easily susceptible to test panic.
  • Don't swap questions at the door.  Hearing anything you don't already know may weaken your confidence.
  • Leave your books at home.  Flipping pages at the last minute can only upset you. If you must take something, take a brief outline that you know well.
  • Don't let the exam define you.  Remember that your self-worth is not dictated by the score you earn on an exam.

During the exam

  • Answer the easy questions first. This will relax you, help build your confidence, and give you some assured points.
  • Sit apart from your classmates, if possible.  You will not be distracted by others' movements.
  • Don't compare yourself to others. Focus on your own process and the question you are answering in the moment.
    • Don't panic if others are busily writing and you are not.  You taking the time to think through an idea may be more helpful than their writing.
    • Don't be upset if other students are finishing their test before you do.  Use as much time as you are allowed and feel that you need. Students who leave early are not always the best students.
  • If you feel nervous during the test, inhale deeply, close your eyes, hold, then exhale slowly. Do this several times throughout the test if you need to.
  • Avoid thoughts about the future or past.  For example, avoid thinking "I need an A on this test or I'm in trouble."
  • Practice positive self-talk throughout the exam to maintain confidence, especially when you're not sure about a question. "I may not know this one, but I can do this."
After the exam

Whether you aced an exam or came up short on your goal, it is important to reflect on what went well and where you can improve moving forward.

  • Think about how you studied for the exam, what questions you missed and why, and how you can better prepare yourself moving forward.
  • Implement those ideas for the next exam.
Check out the following videos for tips on test preparation!

Works Consulted: 

Harrington, Christine (2019). Student Success in College: Research-Based Strategies for Your Academic and Career Success. Boston: Cengage Learning Inc.  

“Test Anxiety.” University of North Carolina Learning Center. Retrieved from https://learningcenter.unc.edu/tips-and-tools/tackling-test-anxiety/ 

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