Keep Calm and Ace Your Exam

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Keep Calm & Ace Your Exam

By Aisling Sampson

You’ve studied, you’re prepared, you arrived early, and now it’s time to write. Before you dive in, take a few minutes to plan and organize your approach and reduce your stress.

Exam check and identification  

I always do this first to settle my nerves.

  • Check your name, student number, and course are correct on the envelope label.
  • Write your name and student number on every page and exam booklet you are using, and if there is a scantron sheet, fill in the bubbles for name and student number in pencil.

Plan your exam time 

look through the whole exam and plan your time – Queen’s SASS has great tips about how to allocate your time.

  • consider the number of multiple choice, short answer questions, essay questions and how much of a grade they carry to assign blocks of time accordingly.
  • If you tend to get distracted and lose track of time, write out when you need to start each section on something you can look at during the exam (envelope back?).
  • Use a calming technique to reduce stress during the exam. I use deep breathing and a friend of mine uses an interlace fingers and stretch arms overhead, then down technique.
  • If calming techniques leave you more stressed, check out these notes on coping with Test Anxiety

Brainstorm and Prep 

I always start with short answer and essay questions - check out Queen’s SASS tips on writing different types of exam questions.

  • Read through all the short answer/essay questions first.
  • Spend a few minutes brainstorming and jotting quick bullet notes for each question – this organizes your thoughts a bit and sometimes you might get part marks if you run out of time.
  • Now do your multiple choice first pass, you will return to the short answer and essay again. (I answer the mc questions on the question sheet for the first pass and leave reminders notes for myself – I have a habit of misreading questions.)
  • Circle, highlight or do anything to emphasize phrases like NOT, ALWAYS and SIMILAR.
  • If you see any notes in the multiple-choice section that relate to your short answers or essay add them to your bullet list.

Write Short Answer and Essay Responses 

  • Look through your bullet points and note your preferred order by numbering the bullet points.
  • Cross out anything you aren’t using and ta daaa - you now have your rough outline.
  • Remember your intro should touch on what you are going to talk about in order – the numbered bullet points help here.

Back to Multiple Choice, True/False, & Fill in Blank 

  • As you go through your questions a second time check that you have read the question and all the answers properly. Now check that your answer is still the best one to fit the question.
  • Fill in your scantron as you go.

Review and Submit 

  • Read through your short answer and essay questions to make sure they make sense, have full sentences, and your grammar is accurate.
  • Do one last pass of the multiple-choice questions to make sure you filled out the correct bubbles on the scantron.
  • One last quick check your name is on all your exam papers and into the envelope and to the proctor they go.
  • Celebrate and treat yourself to something nice!