Exam Survival Guide for Students

The exam survival guide for university students

It’s that time of year again: sweatpants become the dominant fashion trend, coffee shops fill with the glare of laptops, and chocolate and candy purchases soar at local convenience stores… Finals have arrived.

To help students in the midst of paper-writing and exam prep, this little “survival guide” can help manage stress and studying in a way that fits with different learning styles.

Take a look through these 10 tips before you get out your highlighters and crack open your textbooks:

  1. Start eating rabbit food. Does studying give you a case of the munchies? Carry around a container of healthy, munchable snack food like baby carrots, celery sticks, raisins, or apple slices with you to your study spots. If your chocolate cravings flare up, buy a bar with a high percentage of cocoa to get your maximum amount of polyphenol antioxidants (i.e. the healthy part of chocolate)!
  2. Take a dancing break: It’s easy to get sucked into staring at a glowing computer screen for hours upon hours. Make sure you are taking time to decompress and incorporate exercise – even 10 minutes – into your study schedule. Exercise reduces the levels of the body’s stress hormones, and it stimulates the production of endorphins, or natural mood elevators. Hit the gym during a study break, try the seven-minute workout app, or turn on a few of your favourite songs and dance around your house. Just make time to move around.
  3. Rewrite your notes: As tedious as it sounds, rewriting your notes is a great way to reinforce what you’ve learned. It provides both a tactile and verbal learning experience to help embed concepts into memory – in this case key themes, facts and ideas that you will need for the exam. There are lots of creative ways to rewrite your notes as well. I used to write key course ideas on colourful post-it notes and cover my walls, bathroom mirror, door, and bedside table with them. At other times I would find a giant bristol board and start covering it in an organized mess of course notes. Find what works for you!
  4. Find a study buddy: Reviewing material with a friend or study group is a great way to ensure you didn’t miss any of the course materials or concepts discussed in a lecture. Organize a study group and assign a set of questions and themes to review ahead of time. Go through key themes, concepts, and ideas within the course, and discuss together what questions might pop up on the exam based on the themes.
  5. Get into the zone: When I was in university, exam time was ironically also the time my living space was the cleanest. Dishes that had piled in the sink got done, my room was immaculate and the bathroom maintained a strong lemony-fresh scent. Messes around my house were my “procrastination trigger,” igniting a strong, never-before-seen urge to clean ALL THE THINGS! My best “study zone” was at a coffee shop, where I was free from cleaning distractions. Many university libraries offer extended hours for study space during exam time. Whether it’s at a library, coffee shop, at home or somewhere else, find a space where you’re free from “procrastination triggers” and can get into your own study zone.
  6. Turn off your phone: I know – we’re all a bit addicted. My phone alerts me when I have a Facebook message, tweet, email, text, Instagram like, Voxer… the list goes on. All of these distractions are a million times more exciting when they become my alternative to studying Medieval History. Try to turn off your phone for small chunks of time that you’ve devoted specifically to preparing for your finals. Set a goal of studying for one hour or writing three pages of an essay, then turn on your phone as a reward at the end. You’ll be more productive in between, and keep your thought process focused on the task at hand.
  7. Channel your inner Beyoncé: How many of us remember singing songs in elementary school to learn our ABCs? Or went to piano lessons, and learned that “Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge” (the lines in the Treble clef of piano sheet music)? Mnemonic devices like songs, rhymes, or acronyms are great ways to remember key points, phrases, etc., made during lectures. So channel your inner Beyoncé and make some songs and mnemonic devices to remember your notes.
  8. Have a games night: Albert Einstein is quoted as saying that “play is the highest form of research.” So let’s make studying fun! Organize a trivia party with a few of your classmates, create your own Jeopardy challenge, or make your own Taboo keywords related to themes in your study notes.
  9. Become an artist: There are tons of ways to visualize your study notes, and this is a particularly effective study technique for visual learners! Have a class on Canadian history from the 18th-century to present? Make a giant timeline on bristol board with emoticon-like visuals to represent major events. Have an English exam comparing metafiction in postmodern and Shakespearean texts? Pull out a nifty Venn diagram and get those creative juices flowing. Draw out diagrams for your biology class or draw doodles next to key themes in your study notes, whatever helps your brain retain the information in a picture format.
  10. Treat Yo’Self: Make sure you take time out of your studying to go on a break and relax. Studies suggest that breaks actually improve the retention of your material and enhance your focus during the time spent studying. Try listening to music, going for a walk, or grabbing coffee with a friend. Many universities also host stress-relief days during exams, where you can attend yoga classes, get a massage or have adorable puppies smother you with kisses and snuggles in a puppy room! Take a break and treat yo’self.

Best wishes for a successful exam season, students!