The Road to Exams Begins on the First Day of Class

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Exam Preparation and Writing

  • The Road to Exams
  • Organizing Study Time
  • Study Techniques
  • Writing the Exam
  • Dealing with Exam Anxiety

The Road to Exams Begins on the First Day of Class

  • I. Learning from Readings
  • II. Learning from Lectures
  • III. Learning from seminars


  • Find a compromise between a system that is useful to you and one that is time effective:
    • You can highlight main points and write comments in the margins
    • Take notes in bullet form on one side of the page and make reactions on the other
    • Highlight as you read and then write down a list of 5-10 key words and 1-3 central questions or ideas.
    • For content heavy courses, create flashcards.
    • Be selective of what you write down!

Learning from Lectures and Seminars

  • Read the syllabus before each class to get a sense of what to expect. Do course readings before you come to class.
  • Take notes on lectures in bullet or outline form. Review them after lecture and highlight key terms and themes.
  • During seminar, keep your focus on participation. Jot down brief notes after class.

Study Strategies

  • Setting Yourself Up for Success
  • Seeing the Forest and the Trees
  • Study Guides
  • Activities to Promote Synthesis
  • Memorization Techniques

Setting Yourself Up for Success in Exams

  • Get as much information as you can from your Professor or your TA about the format, length, and requirements of the exam.
  • Attend the last day of classes and seminars!
  • Organize all of your course materials. Use this as an opportunity to make an inventory of all of the materials that you need to look at while you study.

Create a Study Schedule

  • Break your days into sections and set goals for each section
  • Where do you study best?
  • Study BOTH alone and with others. Think about the most effective use of study groups.
  • Be realistic and honest with yourself
  • Remember to be well-rested and well-fed!

Seeing the Forest and the Trees

  • Your goal in studying is to understand the larger goals and themes of the course (the forest) as well as the facts, events, and details of the topic (the trees).
  • The first way to survey the forest is to READ THE SYLLABUS:
    • Look for themes and connections.
    • How is the course organized?

Creating a Study Guide

  • Step I: Read through lecture notes, reading notes and list the main themes/divisions of the class. This is not a list of facts, dates, events, authors, but themes or ideals.
    • For example, if you are making a study guide for English 1000, your list would NOT be a list of authors that you have read. Instead, it would a list of themes that are common to them: literary techniques, self and society, etc.
    • Similarly, Hist 1500 would NOT be a list of events or dates. It would be themes: terror and the state, religion and terror, the “other”
    • BIO 105: consider connections: system – tissue – cells
  • Step II: Now go back and read through notes again.
    • This time, you are looking for details – key terms, definitions, events. Use the details to flesh out your study guide – to show how the details build your understanding of the themes..

Study Chart

  • Psychology
  • Concept/Theory
  • Key Theorist
  • Historical Context
  • Main Idea
  • Application
  • English
  • Author
  • Title
  • Major Characters
  • Key Events
  • Important Themes
  • Business Admin
  • Concept/Skills
  • Main Theorist
  • Historical Context
  • Main Ideas
  • Application for Workplace
  • History
  • Module
  • Time Period/Region
  • Major Events
  • Key Vocabulary

Activities that Promote Synthesis

  • Try to guess the questions. What have been the most important themes? What topics could be combined into a question?
  • Pretend that you are organizing a conference or a museum exhibit on the topic. What displays/panels would you have? What order would you put them in? What would be the title?

Activities That Promote Thorough Understanding

  • Exams will often demand that you recognize a fact/event/idea when it is worded/presenting in a form other than the one in which you originally learned it. So, you need a very thorough understanding of the topic.
  • Try pretending to explain a concept to your 10-year old brother.

Memorization Techniques

  • Flashcards
  • Re-copying text
  • Timelines
  • Charts
  • Picture/Symbol associations
  • Mnemonic devices

Managing Exam Anxiety

      • Eat, sleep, and exercise
      • Don’t let yourself get drawn into a stress feeding frenzy.
      • Explore relaxation techniques for anxiety such as deep breathing and progressive muscle relaxation.
      • Develop positive rituals such as music or visualization.

Writing Exams

  • Take Care of the Basics
  • Thinking Strategically
  • Deciphering and Writing Multiple Choice Questions
  • Deciphering and Writing Essay Questions

Take Care of the Basics

  • Know where and when your exams are being held. Get there early!
  • Come prepared with extra pens, pencils, and calculators. Do not bring notes and books as you will likely be required to leave them at the door of the exam room.
  • Know the name of your tutorial leader so that your exam goes to him or her.

Don’t Just Dive into an Exam – Strategize!

  • Take time to read through all of the directions carefully. How many questions do you need to answer?
  • Jot down key terms for the essays and short answer questions.
  • Make a strategy: which questions will you answer?; how much time will be each get?
  • Answer the easiest questions first and try to leave yourself time at the end to double check your work

Multiple Choice Questions

  • Cover the answers and read the questions first. Try to answer the question without looking at the answers.
  • Read each response one at a time. Mark answers that you know are wrong or think are right.
  • Remember to choose the best possible answer.
  • If you’re really not sure, mark it and leave it until later . . . You can always guess

Structure & Strategy

  • 3 parts of MCQ – 1. stem 2. statement to complete the stem 3. misleading statements that appear to complete the stem but do not.
  • Approaches:
    • Try elimination
    • Feed possible answers back into
    • the question.
    • Watch for qualifiers
    • – absolutes (never, only, always)
    • Watch for incomplete items
    • Of two opposites, one is
    • probably correct
    • More words tend to be right
  • In what Canadian province would you find the country’s capital city?
  • Quebec
  • Ottawa
  • Ontario
  • British Columbia

Conceptual M.C. Question

  • You lie awake all night trying to make sense of your schedule for the following day, planning things methodically. Your behaviour is an example of a(n):
  • a) obsession
  • b) delusion
  • c) phobia
  • d) compulsion

Be Careful of Absolute Terms

  • In determining whether a patient has a cold or a flu, nurses should keep in mind that:
  • a) Colds always come on more gradually than does the flu.
  • b) Colds never include a fever.
  • c) The flu often involves high fever.
  • d) The flu can lead to complications in the young and the elderly.

Essay and Short Answer Exam Steps

  • 1. Understand and Underline key words in question
  • 2. Do a mind dump
  • 3. Plan your answer
  • 4. Write your answer
  • 5. Review your work

Understanding Short Answer and Essay Questions

  • Identify questions: Provide a detailed description of an event, process, or idea.
    • (Identify, Define, Describe, Enumerate, List, Summarize)
  • Explain questions: Analyze why, how, or in what order a set of events occur.
    • (Explain, Account for, Analyze, Discuss, Trace, or Outline)
  • Compare questions: Analyze the similarities and differences; answer with an investigation of a relationship
  • (Compare, Contrast, Distinguish , Relate)
  • Argue questions: answer with a defence of a position that considers potential detractors
  • (Argue, Agree, Disagree, Debate, Defend, Justify, Prove)
  • Assess Questions: answer with an evaluation
  • (Assess, Criticize, Evaluate, Interpret, Propose, Review)

Underline Key Words in Question

  • Do women experience terror, both as victims and perpetrators, in the same way and to the same extent men do? Discuss with relation to at least two (2) modules.
  • Do women experience terror, both as victims and perpetrators, in the same way and to the same extent men do? Discuss with relation to at least two (2) modules.


  • Scribble notes on the top of the page. Blorp it out ! You do not have to keep it in your head.
  • DIFFERENT—Crimes against women: rape, “honour” etc. /
  • different epochs = different roles & reactions
  • SAME—transhistorical? Be careful… psychology of fear
  • and terror, panic / violence
  • VicitmsBosnia, witches (Salem / Europe)
  • Perpetrators—Chechnyans, Ulrike Meinhof
  • Condy Rice, Elizabeth Bathory

Plan Your Answer

  • Write a scratch outline or T-chart with main points and examples.
  • This will help keep you focused and help to ensure that you don’t forget points that you want to make.

In Your Response, Make Sure To:

  • Answer all parts of the question directly and completely
  • Don’t lose marks because you left something out
  • Focus on demonstrating your knowledge of the course – not lots of outside info. Content!!
    • GIVE EXAMPLES!!!!!
  • Be as clear as possible given time constraints. Begin paragraphs with clear topic sentences.

Prof Pet Peeve…

  • Avoid generalizations. Be specific.
  • Not “people” but….workers. Aristocrats.
  • NAME political parties, factions.

Prof Pet Peeve…

  • Know facts. But AVOID facts if you are not sure.
  • Being wrong is a big error
  • “Hitler came into power in 1903”
  • sinks it.

Best: “Hitler came to power in 1933, and

  • Best: “Hitler came to power in 1933, and
  • he…”
  • Bad: “Hitler came to power in 1903, and
  • he…”
  • Go around it if unsure: “When Hitler
  • came to power…”

“Facts” alone are of limited value…you need to interpret them and explain what concepts or themes they illustrate.

  • “Facts” alone are of limited value…you need to interpret them and explain what concepts or themes they illustrate.

For An Essay Question

  • Write a thesis first - this is where you declare your concise answer to the question.
  • Write a brief outline or chart to keep you on track
  • Use a clear structure and write topic sentences that keep your reader on track

Good Luck! And Remember,

  • Exams are opportunities to demonstrate what you have learned!
  • Leave it all on the floor, its almost half-time!

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