5 steps to feel confident about your next exam

Good performance on a test or exam is a combination of knowing the material you’ll be tested on and using your study time well. To help you prepare for upcoming tests and exams, here are five steps to take!


1) Build flexibility into your schedule. 

One of the most common mistakes students make when preparing for tests and exams is following the same schedule as any other time of the term. When you have exams and tests, you must manage your time differently because you still have lectures to attend and other assignments to complete. Build flexibility into your schedule around tests and exams to make sure that you have enough time to study. 

2) Prioritize your time. 

When you have multiple tests and exams in the same week, it’s important to prioritize certain tests and exams over others. For example, you might be able to spend less time studying for one test because you already know the material well. Consider the following:

  • What content/course do you find the most challenging to understand and remember? 

  • What content/course do you feel most confident in? 

  • Which tests/exams are weighted highest? 

  • How are you doing in the course so far? Is there a score you must achieve to maintain that? Use the Portal Grade Calculator to help

3) List main ideas covered in your courses (so far).

Some instructors share a list of topics/chapters/units to focus on before tests and exams. If your instructor doesn’t, you’ll need to make your own list. Look for main ideas across all components of the course. For example, one of your courses might have a lecture, lab, textbook readings and online multiple-choice quizzes. Find the over-arching concepts and focus on terminology, theories and connections. Did your instructor emphasize certain ideas during lecture? You can bet those will be on the test or exam so include these topics in your list.

4) Try a variety of study strategies.

Reading and re-reading your notes is part of the review process. But it’s a passive way of learning and on its own, not the most effective. Combine different strategies to reinforce and assess what you know. Try Bloom’s Taxonomy framework:

Remember: Use strategies like colour-coding, creating flash cards and drawing visuals to help you remember the content you’re reviewing.

Understand: Read and revisit explanations of the concepts you are studying. Identify what you don’t understand and ask your TA or instructor for clarification.

Apply: Search for connections between different terms and main concepts from the course.

Analyze: Think about the significance of a term or theory to understand how it informs a main concept in the course.

Evaluate: Complete practice questions or exams. Make corrections and investigate errors you’ve made to make sure you improve your understanding.

Create: Make a practice exam to test your speed and accuracy in answering questions that you think will be on your exam.

5) Understand the format.

Typically, instructors tell you the format of the exam (multiple choice, short answer, long answer, etc.). This can help you plan how to study the course material and how long you’ll be able to spend on each question during the exam. You can also think of what your answers need to demonstrate to show the marker you understood the question. If the format isn’t provided in the syllabus, reach out to your TA or instructor. 


Studying before any test or exam can be stressful. But if you give yourself enough time to study strategically, you can feel more confident. Find more tips in note-taking, time management and studying in Quick Tips and Tools.