How to study, survive and thrive during final exams

Exam season is here, but don't panic

As a student, you dedicate hours, days and weeks to classes and soaking up every word of wisdom your instructors have to offer. The only thing standing between you and your well-earned summer break? Final exams.

NAIT learning strategists Lisa Cole and Maral Sahaguian routinely help student create winning study strategies. A good starting point is understanding how your knowledge will be tested.

“It’s important to plan for the different types of tests,” Sahaguian explains. “You study differently for multiple choice, which is content recognition and you have to know your stuff really well, whereas an essay or short answer it’s being able to formulate and develop your ideas.”

With that, Cole and Sahaguian offer this handy guide to help you focus your energy and avoid feeling overwhelmed by exam season.

1. Create a study schedule and get an early start

calendar on a screen

At least one week before your exam, get organized. Know your where you can find study material such as old exams, your lab notes, flash cards and start prioritizing. Cole and Sahaguian encourage students to work backwards from the exam date so they know they have enough time to get all the content covered before the exam.

2. Sometimes it helps to study in groups

You build memories on top of the actual content and if you’re stuck for an answer during an exam, it can be helpful to recall a conversation you had in that study group. Creating tests for yourself or a friend and then practicing  in a quiet place with your exam time limit will help you prepare.

3. You can never be too prepared

Prepared to study with books and laptop

“It might seem simple but have your supplies ready the night before – pencils, pens, calculator, water bottle – even your car keys so you’re not panicking and scrambling before leaving the house,” says Cole.

 You have enough to worry about without causing unnecessary stress.

4. Know what you know, and know what you don’t

Focus most of your time on the topics you’re not confident about. It’s easy to review notes you already know but it doesn’t lead to effective studying.

5. Take a break

study break at NAIT

You don’t want to overwhelm your brain, so limit your study sessions to 20 to 40 minutes and then take a break.

“It also helps to know if you’re more of a morning, afternoon or evening person. Every student has an optimal time to study,” says Sahaguian.

6. Cramming doesn’t work

Last-minute cramming might be helpful as a refresher but it isn’t good for long-term memory recall. Cole says we learn more in five to 10-minute blocks rather than sitting down for an hour straight trying to learn something.

7. Limit your distractions

Your study environment is critical. If you know home is too distracting, study at NAIT or a library. And take advantage of technology like distraction-blocker apps.

8. Get out of your own head

Sahaguian says an effective study tactic for some students is explaining the content to another person to help get it clear in their own head. It also helps to highlight the areas in which you may need more work.

9. Only worry about you


Cole says sleep and proper hydration are essential for your brain to work to its full potential. Drink plenty of water and get lots of rest leading up to your exams. When it comes time to writing, don’t compare yourself to others, she adds. You have no idea how others are doing so focus on yourself.

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