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Students prepare for their exams

The Three Key Stages of Exam Success

Posted on: July 28, 2021

Exams are one of the most stressful parts of your university life. How do you revise? What are good exam techniques? How do you make sure you pass your exams? In this blog C.M. Gill, author of College Success for Adults, provides some tips and tricks for success.

Many students think successful test taking is all about what happens before the test, but in truth, it’s actually a process that includes 3 stages:  Before, During, and After the Test.


  • Attend EVERY class meeting the entire semester, and stay for the entire period.
  • Take comprehensive notes.
  • Ask questions, and participate in class.
  • Pay attention to what the professor emphasizes (it will probably be on the test!).
  • Review your notes every week—not just the week before the test.
  • Visit office hours. Ask questions, and write down the professor’s answers
  • Keep up with the assigned readings; DON’T try to complete all readings a few days before the test!
  • Create study materials that work for you (flashcards, quizzes, etc.).
  • Attend review sessions.
  • Review ALL course material—textbook readings, handouts, class notes, lectures, slides, charts, etc.
  • Study in 1 or 2-hour chunks. Don’t cram a study session into 5 hours.
  • If you like groups, form a study group.
  • Visualize yourself succeeding; say out loud, “I am going to ace this test!”



  • Get a good night’s sleep.
  • Eat a trusted, healthy meal for dinner & avoid caffeine 3 hours before bedtime.
  • Set your alarm(s).
  • Gas up the car if you drive to class.
  • Pack your bag; ensure you have all needed materials (#2 pencil, a scantron, Bluebook, student ID, etc.).
  • Visualize yourself succeeding!



  • Get up EARLY.
  • Eat a trusted, healthy meal.
  • Arrive EARLY to the testing site.
  • Use the restroom BEFORE the test.
  • Review any last-minute study notes.
  • Give yourself a pep talk; envision yourself succeeding!



  • Find a seat where you feel most comfortable.
  • Get materials (pencil, scantron, etc.) ready.
  • Take a deep breath; remember, it’s just a test! Stay calm and focused.
  • Read the instructions FIRST to ensure you know what is required.
  • If it’s a timed test, glance at the clock occasionally, but don’t obsess. Pace yourself.
  • Don’t waste too much time on any one question.
  • Scan the test and answer easiest items first to build your confidence
  • Pay close attention to question wording.
  • Answer ALL questions. If you don’t know the answer, make an educated guess.
  • Check your answers before turning in the test, but don’t change an answer unless you’re CERTAIN it’s incorrect!


  • Analyze your study methods. What worked? What didn’t? How could you improve next time?
  • REVIEW your returned test; look at both correct and incorrect answers.
  • Look up the incorrect answers to be sure you understand them.
  • Go to office hours and ask the professor any questions you have.
  • If can keep the test, KEEP IT, and study it before the next exam to remind yourself of this instructor’s testing style. 

What If You Don’t Do Well on the Test?

Most of us have failed a test or two, so don’t freak out if this happens to you, too. Instead, learn from your mistakes and keep honing your methods.  Testing can be difficult, but the more you do it, the better you’ll get, so keep practicing!