A woman sits at a desk in a library with a laptop open surrounded by books

Surviving exam season

December 4, 2023
Author: Samantha Allan

When the situation feels dire, a survival guide goes a long way

Exam season is so easy – said no university student, ever. With multiple deadlines, it can be hard to stay motivated and focused on the task at hand. But with planning, positive thinking and careful time management, you can make it through the exam season relatively unscathed! Here are our top tips to help you survive exam season.

Get organized

This seems to speak for itself, but don’t let it fool you, there is a way to get organized. Scribbled to-do lists of all the exams and assignments you have coming up and a simple calendar of your upcoming due dates is not it.

Taking the time to plan ahead and structure your study periods will help relieve stress down the line. It’s also important to break large tasks into smaller chunks so they don’t seem overwhelming.

Create and prioritize a schedule

List all your exams and final deliverables, and note their dates, times and formats. Allocate study time for each subject, consider the complexity of the material and your current level of understanding. Identify the most important topics or concepts in each course, focusing on areas where you may need more practice or review. Ensure you include breaks and leisure time in your schedule to prevent burnout. Try these exam study planner templates from Student Edge for inspiration.

Perfect your study space

Choose a comfortable, well-lit and distraction-free study space. This will help you stay focused and establish a productive routine. Collect all relevant course materials, including lecture notes, textbooks, articles and past exams. Organize these resources by subject and topic for easy access during your study sessions. Consider how you study best. Do you prefer a clean, empty desk with warm bright lighting and complete silence? Or a snuggly blanket and lofi study beats in the background?

Break down tasks

Once you get to work, divide your study sessions into manageable chunks. Focus on specific topics or concepts during each session. Some great study tools include reciting or rewriting study sheets, taking self-tests, practicing writing formulas, doing practice problems, replicating concept maps and making flashcards. In one study session, plan to complete three different study tools on the same topic. Or you can cover three topics using the same type of study tool. This will help you retain information more effectively and prevent you from feeling overwhelmed.

Take care of yourself

With all the studying and late nights, it’s easy to forget to practice self-care. Make sure you are eating healthy meals, taking regular breaks, exercising and getting enough sleep. We’ve all heard it before, but it really does increase your focus and energy levels when you’re studying.

Get sufficient sleep and balanced nutrition

Skipping sleep or meals might seem like a student’s tried and true strategy for getting more work done, but it isn’t. Aim for seven to nine hours of sleep each night to ensure your brain has time to consolidate information and recover from the day’s activities. Avoid all-nighters, as they lead to reduced focus and memory retention. Fuel your body and mind with nutritious meals and snacks. Choose whole grains, lean proteins, fruits and vegetables to maintain energy levels and support cognitive function. Avoid excessive caffeine and sugary foods, as they can cause energy crashes and disrupt your concentration.

Stay hydrated and exercise regularly

Drink plenty of water throughout the day to keep your body and mind functioning optimally. Dehydration can lead to fatigue, headaches and difficulty concentrating. Incorporate physical activity into your daily routine, as exercise can boost mood, improve cognitive function and relieve stress. Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise most days, such as walking, swimming or yoga.

Manage stress and reach out for support

Practice relaxation techniques like deep breathing, meditation or progressive muscle relaxation to help calm your mind and reduce anxiety. Make time for hobbies or activities that bring you joy and provide a break from studying. Don’t hesitate to seek help from friends, family or campus resources if you’re feeling overwhelmed. Vancouver Island University offers various support services, including academic advising, counselling and peer tutoring, to help you navigate the challenges of exam season.

Be unique and true to yourself

Embrace your individuality and stay true to yourself. It can make a significant difference in your exam survival journey. Every student has unique strengths, weaknesses and learning styles. Develop personalized strategies that maximize your potential. Here are some suggestions to help you embrace your uniqueness during exam season:

  • Maximize your learning: Identify your learning style. Are you a visual, auditory, kinesthetic or reading/writing learner? Tailor your study techniques accordingly. For example, if you’re a visual learner, try creating mind maps or diagrams to represent information. Auditory learners may benefit from recording and listening to lectures or discussions.

  • Customize your study plan: Rather than following generic study plans or imitating your peers, design a study schedule that works best for you. Consider factors such as your attention span, optimal study times and preferred study environments when crafting your plan.

  • Leverage your strengths: Use your strengths to your advantage during exam preparation. For example, if you're a natural problem-solver, try tackling complex practice questions or creating your own sample problems to test your understanding.

  • Acknowledge your limitations: Recognize areas where you may need extra support and seek help when necessary. Don't hesitate to ask questions, join study groups or use campus resources like Peer Supported Learning to overcome challenges.


Samantha Allan is a first-generation learner of Indigenous and British ancestry with home roots across the province of BC. She graduated from VIU in June with a Bachelor of Business Administration, major in Management. She is currently in the Joint Degree Program in Canadian Common Law and Indigenous Legal Orders at the University of Victoria. Her long-term goal is to work in law and economic development.

Related Posts

Got an article idea for the blog? Email students@viu.ca.

Sign up for our blog