Study Skills – Reviewing for Exams

Preparing for and writing exams are a major part of attending university. Many students experience heightened levels of stress and anxiety before and during exams. In addition to numerous stress-management strategies you can use throughout the year to cope more easily with exam pressures, the tips and tools in this study guide will help you prepare for a successful, and less stressful, exam period.


  1. Organizing review sessions
  2. Preparing questions
  3. Preparing the day before your exam
  4. Conducting an emergency review

1. Organizing review sessions

Whenever possible, start reviewing the course material that will be covered in the exam one to three weeks before the exam date. Allowing yourself this time to read, understand, and integrate the material will go a long way to making sure you feel well prepared and confident come exam time.

Here are some additional tips to follow when organizing review sessions:

  • Plan and organize your review sessions: 
    • Organize group review sessions to complete your notes, discuss possible exam questions, and recite definitions and formulas.
    • Organize your days by dividing your time between various subjects  (two hours per subject).
    • Write down your exam dates.
  • Go to all the review sessions organized by your T.A. or professor.
  • Review a little everyday. For example, review one or two chapters a day. Take a look at the Taking Notes Study Guide to find out what strategies exist to make note taking a breeze.
  • Always start with a 15-minute read-through of what you studied the night before.
  • Review as much relevant material as possible: course notes and readings, case studies done in class or on your own, old exams...

In addition, it’s important to set up a physical space that will enable you to concentrate. Take a look at the Concentration Study Guide to find out about easy and useful strategies for creating a study space that will encourage your concentration.

2. Preparing questions

A great way to prepare for an upcoming exam is to know some of the exam’s details and to formulate mock exam questions. Here are some easy tips to follow:

Throughout the semester, pay attention to any information your professor gives about the final exam, such as:

  • Length (# of pages, # of questions)
  • Types of questions (multiple choice, essay, case study, etc.)
  • Number of questions relating to required reading materials
  • Number of questions relating to course lectures and notes
  • Chapters to review (the whole session, those covered since the mid-term exam)
  • Authorized tools (books, memory aids, calculators, etc...)

Prepare questions that could be asked on the exam (make plans, write out certain parts, and find concrete examples). Think about the kinds of questions your professor would include on the exam—for example, is there a particular section of the course that the professor seemed particularly interested in or focused on? Did she/he repeat certain facts, names, or examples on more than one occasion? These can sometimes be clues to the likelihood of a particular question being on an exam.

3. Preparing the day before your exam

  • When possible, review all of the course content. If time does not permit a review of all the content, take a few minutes to prioritize the different sections or chapters. Identify sections or chapters that you are already very familiar with and those that you have looked over only once or twice. If you know the material in one section very well, it’s probably a good idea to skim over it and move on to less familiar sections.
  • Be choosy when deciding to learn something completely new and unfamiliar to you the day before an exam. Sometimes, it’s better to focus on the material you are even slightly familiar with instead of big, new concepts, which can lead to confusion and a loss of confidence.
  • Double-check the time and location of the exam.
  • Find out what you are and are not allowed to bring. Bring everything that is permitted: snacks, books, notes, case studies, group work, authorized tools, dictionary, etc.
  • Locate your STUDENT CARD.
  • Don’t forget to set your alarm before you go to bed, especially if you have an early morning exam or if you plan on taking a nap before your test.

4. Conducting emergency review

When your study time is limited, review the essential information since you won’t have time to review all of the class content:

  • Re-read your mid-term exams to know what to expect for the final
  • Know the course outline
  • Understand the link between the course sections and concepts
  • Reformulate, in your own words, the ideas and main concepts
  • Memorize the essential formulas and definitions

During the exam, use common sense and keep things in perspective so as to avoid panicking.

We hope you’ll do well!

Back to Study Skills to find other helpful guides.

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