Exam Success Strategies: Tips for Testing with Confidence

The end of the semester is fast approaching, and so are final exams! In any course, it’s easy to feel intimidated by exams, as they’re often heavily weighted, extensive in length, and broad in content. However, with the right approach in studying and planning, you can set yourself up for success on every exam. Here are some tips that I have found invaluable in my first year of exams as a Penn State World Campus student.

1. Take advantage of resources from your professor.

The best place to start in creating a study plan for an exam is seeing what tools your professor has already provided. These tools vary by course, but you’ll find that almost every professor offers some guidance that can focus your studying. In my experience, these resources have included sets of practice problems, study guides that specify the topics or units covered, and general advice on how to review for the exam. Your professors truly want to see you succeed, so these professor-supplied resources will be some of the most important aides in preparing effectively for exams. If you can’t find this type of information in your course, though, don’t hesitate to reach out to your professor for additional guidance. They are always happy to help and usually quick to respond!

2. Review your previous assignments.

The goal of your exams is for you to apply what you’ve learned throughout the semester, so your prior assignments will be the most thorough reference of what could be on the exam. Past quizzes can be especially helpful to review, for several reasons. First, you likely will have forgotten some early material that will be on the exam, so looking at the first few quizzes of the semester is a great way to refresh your memory on the most important content from earlier units. Additionally, exam questions often closely resemble quiz questions in their format and relevant material, which can give you some insight into what to expect on the exam. Finally, I often find it helpful to test myself on previous quiz questions as a first step in studying to get an idea of which topics I need to spend the most time reviewing. Your previous work can be a valuable study tool and is one of your most accessible resources, so be sure to take advantage of this built-in guide in your courses.

3. Plan your exam schedule carefully.

We’re fortunate as World Campus students to have flexibility in when to take our exams, but scheduling can still be difficult. As you plan exam timing, it’s important to choose a time that is early enough in the week that you are not approaching the deadline but late enough that you have plenty of time to study. This is especially challenging if you are one of the many World Campus students working full-time or balancing other significant commitments, as you might have limited time for taking a lengthy exam.

One lesson I’ve learned in scheduling my exams, however, is that it is not ideal to take an exam on the last day it is open. While this might be unavoidable depending on your schedule, any technical difficulties or other extenuating circumstances that arise could prevent you from turning in your exam on time if you wait until the day it is due. For example, on the day of one of my final exams last semester, my apartment building lost power for several hours due to a storm, and I was unsure of whether I would be able to take the exam that day. Fortunately, it was the day before my exam was due, so I was grateful that I didn’t have to worry about my exam deadline as I waited for the power to come back on.

Of course, it’s also crucial to leave yourself enough time to study, which might not be possible if you take your exam too early in the week. Ultimately, the best time to take an exam will depend on how much preparation you need, so the most important thing is to develop a study plan early so you know when you’ll be ready to take your exam.

Exam weeks are stressful points in the semester for everyone, but planning your exam schedule in advance and utilizing the many study resources available to you can give you invaluable confidence going into exams. We’ve almost made it to the end of the semester, so keep up your hard work in your exam preparations to finish the semester strong!

Other recommended resources

  • Exam Success Strategies — the tips in this infographic can help you prepare to succeed on your exams.
  • Exam Prep Checklist — follow the steps in the checklist throughout the semester to ensure you are well-prepared for exams.