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13 strategies for exam success

December 8, 2021
Author: Preet Parmar

Effective tips to reduce stress and increase your grade point average

Final exams and big semester-end papers are among the most challenging aspects of the university experience. There is so much to learn, keep organized and remember as you head into finals. Following effective study tips can help reduce stress and increase your grade point average. Not every studying technique works for every student, so experiment with a few of these strategies to find out which ones work best for you.

Get organized.

Stick to a study schedule that is manageable to help you stay on track and avoid procrastination. Ensuring your study space is clutter-free and designed to mimic what you will experience when you take the exam will help you get into test mode.

Study smarter not harder.

Make sure you know what will be covered on the exam. Go to your professor’s office hours and ask questions. Review the syllabus and use the course learning objectives as a guide to what might be tested. Go to review sessions. Find a productive study space on campus. Form a study group with classmates. Learn by teaching others.

Visualize the material.

Focus on the most important parts of your class notes by condensing the material and underlining or highlighting key words and concepts. Not a fan of traditional written notes? Try reformatting them into charts, diagrams, mind maps or outlines to create visuals that can help you make sense of complex concepts. 

Create flashcards.

Rewrite important facts, concepts and definitions on flashcards. Flashcards also let you quiz yourself without the help of others. Digital flashcards and study apps are another way to organize and review the material. There are plenty of free versions online; find the one that works best for you and start using it.

Take frequent breaks.

For every hour of studying, take a 15-minute break. Avoid surfing the web or checking social media as a break since your eyes need a break from close focusing, too.

Set rewards.

Small rewards after completing a task, such as your favourite latte or a walk with a friend, can help you stay motivated.

Prepare for the day of the exam the night before.

Plan out what you are going to have for breakfast, make your lunch, get out what you are going to wear and make sure you have the supplies you need ready to go.

Get adequate sleep.

Adequate rest is key to ensuring your brain can function at its best during the exam. You may be tempted to stay up late cramming the night before but resist the urge! 

Get up 30 minutes earlier in the morning.

Inevitable morning mishaps will be less stressful if you leave some extra wiggle room to get to your exam on time. Plus, you can leave yourself some time for last-minute reviewing.

Take care of your body.

Eating well and exercising daily will help eliminate lethargy and keep you energized, ready to tackle those final exams.

Say “no.”

Visiting friends before winter break can be tempting but try to limit your social activities before finals. While social connection is vital for decreasing stress, studying at the last minute is very stressful. Don’t let outside forces limit your study time schedule.


Take a few minutes to relax before the exam. Tell yourself, “I have studied all that I can and I’m ready for this test.”

Celebrate when it’s all over.

Schedule small rewards in between your exams, but most importantly, after finals are over, make sure to reward yourself and enjoy winter break!  

Female student at a desk taking notes and looking at a laptop screen


Preet Parmar is a second-generation Canadian with hometown roots in Vancouver, BC. She is currently a Bachelor of Arts, major in Psychology student at VIU and her long-term goal is to enter the legal profession.

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