Preparing for In-Person Exams

Now that we are back in person, for many students, including you, this might be the first time that you’re writing an in-person exam. For other students, you might be writing in-person exams for the first time since 2020, or even 2019. Even though they might seem more intimidating than online exams, with the right tools and proper studying, you’ll find in-person exams to be pretty similar to online exams. However, there are a few key differences that are crucial to being successful when writing in-person exams. It may be helpful to think about the exam in three stages: preparing, during and after.

Studying for an In-Person Exam

A key difference between in-person and online exams is access to class materials during the exam. Many online exams allow you to use materials for the test (open book) and most in-person exams are closed book. So when you do not have materials on hand for the exam, this means that you’ll have to be more familiar with the material, terms and definitions. A good strategy to use is the SMARTER goal sheet (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Timebound, Evaluated and Re-adjusted or Rewarded). This strategy will help you stay on track when preparing for an exam, and ensure that you’re preparing yourself well. Here’s an example of a SMARTER study goal for an exam that I had last semester:

Goal: To study for a marketing exam that will be written in two weeks.

Specific: Review all 12 chapters that will be covered in the exam and understand the type of exam you are writing, and the weight for each section of the book. 

Measurable: Completing a chapter a day, and using two days before to review by blocking two days ahead of an exam. This can help as you need to review, not learn new material just ahead of an exam. This, of course, only works if you have already scheduled your studying in advance!

Achievable: Yes, as you have prepared summary notes from lectures, the chapters and gathered homework questions. You may need to clean up some of your notes, but your notes are ready to be used!

Relevant: All of these chapters will be covered on the exam, so they are relevant. You might choose to focus on chapters you did not completely understand as it may take more time to master those concepts. You may also wish to start with material you have yet to be tested on as these could be some of the higher scoring questions. 

Timebound: To complete studying in 14 days with breaks, good sleeping habits and eating habits in place. 

Evaluated: Continue to ensure that the material is being comprehended, and you are able to understand and apply it. You can Climb Blooms with me to go beyond memorization – especially for multiple choice exams.

Rewarded: Celebrate when the exam is over! It might mean getting your head in the game for the next one, but do your best to find a way to reward yourself for the short-term or long-term, like booking a nice event after all the exams are done or having lunch with a friend in between finishing your exam and studying for the next one.

To start creating your study goals, have a look at the Academic Success Centre’s Goal Setting and Motivation worksheet

Set aside proper materials

In my first year, with an exam at 8:00 AM, I had to wake up at 6:00 AM to make the commute down to campus on time. When I arrived on campus at 7:30 AM, I realized that I forgot my calculator at home, an important tool needed to write the exam. Luckily, the one store that happened to be open across campus had one calculator left on the shelf, and I made it to my exam on time. This invoked unnecessary anxiety that could have been avoided had I planned accordingly. 

I suggest that the night before your exam, pack all the necessary materials that you might need for the test. This might include pencils, a calculator, pens, your student ID, snacks/meal and other course materials that might be useful during the exam. Packing the night before ensures that if you have an early start to your day, you won’t be missing anything you need. Don’t make the same mistake I did! 

Pro Tip: Want to make sure you bring everything you need? Consider making a list in the week leading up to the exam so you can keep track of everything and don’t have to rely on your memory the night before.  

Arrive Early

Arriving early for your exam is an extremely important aspect of being prepared for in-person exams. And here’s why: If you arrive within the first 30 minutes of the exam, you’ll be allowed to take the test, but you won’t get that extra time back. If you are over 30 minutes late, most times you won’t even be able to write the exam at all. 

Even if you live downtown or live in close proximity to campus, still budget your time so you will be at your exam door 15 minutes before it’s supposed to start. If you commute, budget even more time. TTC and GO Bus delays are quite common (and unexpected). Before you make your commute, check the TTC App, Viva App, YRT, etc., and plan to have more than enough time, even if there are delays. 

Pro Tip: To avoid any timing issues, I always try to be on campus an hour before my exam. This is the time I’ll use to practice mindful activities, such as meditation or de-stressing techniques. If I run into situations in which I require more help, I highly recommend checking out the Centre for Student Development and Counselling.

During the Exam

If you are tense and stressed during the exam, you’re more likely to forget information that you know, so it is important to find ways to keep yourself calm and relaxed when writing your exam. One strategy is to start with answering all the questions you are familiar with, and skipping questions you need more time with until later. If you happen to be running out of time, prioritize questions that are worth the most marks. If you see a question that you’re unsure of, try and pick out keywords that might help you. 

Pro Tip: Practice being present in the exam. For example, practice positive self-talk throughout the exam duration. Grounding exercises can also help! You may want to try the squeezing lemons technique, 5-4-3-2-1 technique and finger breathing. These activities can help relieve tension, release stress and put your mind at ease so you can do your best on the exam.

After the Exam 

Congrats, you made it! Regardless of the results, or how you felt you did on the exam, remind yourself that you made it through, and you were able to get it done. Take some time for yourself, and do something you enjoy. Whether it’s hanging out with some friends, grabbing your favorite meal or some Netflix, it’s important to reward yourself in some form. Once you reward yourself, you can then take some time to reflect. Asking yourself questions such as “Did I prepare myself enough?”, “What did I do well?” and “What should I do for my next exams?” are great ways to think about exams to come. 

Pro Tip: By reflecting, you can analyze how you can better prepare yourself for the future, setting you up for success. For me, this has included changing my study habits and setting up a more productive study schedule. 

If there’s anything that you should take out of this post, just remember: You got this! In-person exams can seem scary, but if you take some time to prepare ahead, arrive on time, and practice de-stressing activities before and during the exam, you will do your best. If you want extra help with either creating a study plan or managing your time, you can book an appointment with a peer coach (like me!) through the Academic Success Centre. For course-specific support, you can also book a peer tutoring session to help you ace your exams. For a full list of all our programming and resources, check out the Academic Success Centre website!  Programming ends on April 14 for the Winter 2022 academic year. If you find these tips helpful, you can work with a student throughout any of the semester to help improve your academic performance.