Exams: Time Management, Preparation & Stress Reduction

This week’s post is written by Maria Beauts (she/her; 5th year Business Technology Management student) and Anisa Sayani (she/her; 3rd year Business Management student majoring in Marketing Management), both of whom are returning Peer Academic Coaches at the Ted Rogers School’s Academic Success Centre (ASC). This Blog Post is part of the ASC’s “Teach Yourself How to Learn” weekly blog series based on Dr. Saundra Yancy McGuire’s book.

In chapter 9 of Teach Yourself How to Learn, Dr. Saundra Yancy McGuire shares some key tips and strategies for time management, test taking and stress reduction. As a student, it is often very easy to fall behind due to the fast-paced nature of higher education. There’s nothing to fear, because this problem can easily be solved with the use of effective time management strategies.

Time Management Strategies

Let’s take a look at some time management strategies students can use for academic success

1. Keep a semester calendar for major events

A semester calendar can help you generate an overview of all important course dates and deadlines. By knowing the bigger picture, you will be able to effectively plan your study sessions ahead of time. Be sure to note lower priority obligations as well, as those will have an impact on how you manage your time.

Refer to the 4-month calendar available on the Academic Success Centre’s Time & Task Management web page. A new calendar template is uploaded every semester for students to use.

2. Keep a weekly calendar with all scheduled activities

A weekly calendar will help you identify and execute short-term goals as you move through the semester. When building your calendar, include time for class, work, extracurricular activities, shopping, social time, personal hygiene, cooking, laundry, sleep and other activities you need to do on a weekly basis. Having a weekly calendar will help you identify time that can be used for intense study and review sessions throughout the week. Check out this fillable 7 day planner template you can use today.

3. Learn to say you have an appointment

Use the unfilled gaps of your weekly calendar to have “appointments” with yourself. This might look like taking part in enjoyable activities (e.g. going on a walk) or catching up on important tasks. Although you may be tempted to use your unfilled time gaps to hang out with friends, it is important that you dedicate this time to yourself. This means learning to say that you have an appointment and scheduling an appropriate amount of social time into your weekly calendar, as mentioned above.

4. Start homework assignments as soon as they are given

Given all of the responsibilities and priorities that you face in university, you may be tempted to leave homework assignments until the last minute. However, it is imperative that you start working on them as soon as they are assigned. This will give you enough time to meaningfully engage with the material and complete assignments in a timely manner.

5. Prioritize according to your needs and wants

Prioritization is key to managing your time. As university students, we’re often faced with juggling multiple tasks and responsibilities at the same time. To manage this, we need to prioritize what can be done now and what can be postponed. This step isn’t always the easiest, so it’s important to gauge your individual strengths and capabilities. It’s perfectly normal if you don’t complete all the tasks you set out to accomplish. Keep in mind that time management is a lifelong process and you’re learning what works best for you along the way.

The TRSM Academic Success Centre has a tip sheet to help you in managing your time. This tip sheet is an interactive exercise to help outline and identify your priorities for the semester. Try it out for yourself or bring it with you to a peer academic coaching session to fill out with a fellow Peer Coach or Learning Strategist!

Super Exam Preparations Tips

Open book

Preparing for exams doesn’t only mean reviewing material covered in class. To begin with, you need to figure out what will be on the final, determine how well you know that material, and prioritize your time. Other important tips to ace your exam prep include:

1. Create a test-preparation schedule

A test-preparation schedule will allow you to plot the days that you will need to study for each exam. Create your schedule based on the number of days you have until the exam, and assign a maximum of two chapters per day. This will allow you to retain enough information without feeling overwhelmed.

2. Use effective learning strategies from day one

Identify your strengths and use what works for you. Although preparing for exams is no quick or simple task, you can use effective learning strategies to boost your productivity. If you have not yet identified what works for you, feel free to try new strategies and be open to experimentation. Don’t hesitate to book an appointment with a Learning Strategist to learn more about effective learning strategies! Or, check out the ASC’s Test and Exam Prep resources and tip sheets.

3. Understand and master test topics

Determine what topics will be covered on the tests by looking at course outlines, lecture notes and textbook chapters. After that, master the topic by teaching the material to a real or imaginary audience. Repeat this process until you can successfully explain the course concepts.

4. Organize test topics

Feel free to organize test topics by creating course-specific outlines, charts and study guides. Take a look at the exam planning inventory as you start preparing for your exam(s) – we encourage you to create one for each course for which you have a final exam.

5. Create and complete practice tests

The best way to prepare for an exam is to practice responding to questions that will likely be on it. This can be achieved through the creation and completion of practice tests. First, determine what types of questions will be asked on the exam. Is it a multiple choice or short answer exam? Will there be an essay component? After that, use examples from the professor’s lectures and the textbook to build your questions. Answer the practice questions and review how you did. If you did not get a question right, go back and review the topic further. Repeat this process for each of your courses.

Anisa’s Thoughts

I can definitely say that as a third-year university student, figuring out how to prepare for my exams has been a tremendous learning experience in itself. In the first semester of my first year, I prepared by devoting most of my study time to the exams that would occur first. By focusing all of my energy into one course, my exam preparation for other courses unfortunately suffered. In my first semester, I also neglected to create a comprehensive test-preparation schedule, which meant that a lot of my studying happened at the last minute.

To combat these pitfalls, I committed to implementing new strategies in my second semester. In contrast to my first semester, I created test-preparation schedules two to three weeks ahead of my midterms and my finals. I also implemented effective learning strategies within my exam preparation. I harnessed the knowledge from Bloom’s Taxonomy to constantly elevate my level of understanding with course materials. In addition, I made and completed practice tests to evaluate the true effectiveness of my strategies. As a result of the newly acquired strategies, I was able to devote enough study time to each course and prepare for finals much more productively.


Test-Taking Strategies

Tests are a major part of post-secondary education. Once we’ve prepared ourselves, we need to tackle any nerves or stress we may encounter to best write the test. Here are some tips to take the test/ exam:

  • Write down formulas you may need on the exam before you begin.
  • Read the directions very carefully, listen for additional directions and ask for clarification.
  • Survey the exam and budget your time accordingly. How much time will you spend on each question? Each section?
  • Begin with the easiest questions and work your way up to the harder ones. This will build confidence and bring more information to the surface of your mind. If your test/ exam is on D2L and you aren’t able to move between pages, use this strategy on each page.
  • You may encounter memory blocks. Take a moment to perform deep-breathing exercises to relax; use positive self-talk. Remind yourself that you prepared well.

Always remember to rest well and have a nutritious meal/ snacks while you prepare for a test because these two pieces are often neglected. They contribute to your long term wellbeing and help reduce stress. You’re much better able to focus when your neurons are firing quickly—and when you’re not distracted by a gurgling stomach!

Post-Test-Taking Strategies

Self-reflection after tests is a valuable tool, but often missed step of students. You may want to forget about your test right after writing it, but taking a moment to reflect on your areas of strength and areas of weakness will help you identify what and how you can improve. To do this, reach out to your professor and schedule a time to go over your exam.

After reviewing your exam, get a blank sheet of paper and form a chart with three columns. In each column, write:

  1. How you prepared for the exam
  2. What kind of mistakes you made and why
  3. How you will prepare differently for the next exam

Or, use the ASC’s post-midterm reflection activity sheet to help guide you through the reflection process. Remember, this is to be done immediately after the test, and again after you receive your grade (to determine if what you identified as an area of strength or weakness is reflected in your grade). Try it out for yourself and use it as a guide to learn from your tests and exams.


Maria’s Thoughts
Maria Beauts

I find that this is the area that students feel most uncomfortable with. Looking back at tests or assignments can be challenging and the value of doing so is not visible right away. I definitely know that for many years of my undergraduate career I felt this way. I still sometimes feel uncomfortable with the idea of looking at my own mistakes because no one wants to look at things they aren’t proud of. But working on your mistakes can bring huge benefits to learners; it paid off for me despite taking extra time I didn’t want to invest.

When you treat your grades like your money and want to know what you did to lose a point on a question you become more inquisitive about your own thinking.  If you review your work with professors you might learn not just material you missed and should review for next time, but also smaller strategic mistakes to avoid in future tests and assignments.

It is this type of reflection, where I ask myself exactly what I did that resulted in losing points, that pushes me out of my comfort zone of settling for a grade and makes me change my habits. It is a powerful thing to reflect on yourself. Give it a try!

Take Advantage of Your Campus Learning Centre

If you are struggling with finding time management, test taking and stress reduction strategies that work for you, take advantage of your university’s learning center. Learning centres like the TRSM Academic Success Centre serve as transformative partners in the learning process, and are there to help you every step of the way!

References

Academic Success Centre (n.d.). How to Study Effectively. https://www.ryerson.ca/tedrogersschool/success/learning/how-to-study/

Academic Success Centre (n.d.). Test and Exam Preparation. https://www.ryerson.ca/tedrogersschool/success/learning/test-exam-preparation/

McGuire S., & McGuire, S.Y. (2018). Teach Yourself How to Learn: Strategies You Can Use to Ace Any Course at Any Level, Chapter 9. Stylus Publishing, LLC.