Defeating the Exam Monster

Sarah NantaisBlogs

About the Author
Sarah Nantais

Sarah Nantais

Sarah Nantais is a Virtual Help Desk Navigator at Campus Manitoba. She contributes to "The Navigator," our monthly blog focused on student life.

It’s that time of year again. You’ve probably already suffered through midterms and final exams are rearing their ugly, giant heads. It’s no secret that final exams in university and college are unlike any beast you’ve ever seen before. Instead of panicking and wondering how you’re going to survive this battle you should take a deep breath, gather all  your course outlines and continue reading. Today we’re talking about some studying skills and hopefully get you to relax a bit.

Okay, did you grab those outlines? Oh don’t worry. We can wait. You good? Great! All course outlines should tell you whether or not your course even has a final exam. There are times when a course will opt out of an exam and instead have a final project or two midterm tests. Before you start pulling out your hair because you think you have five final exams, check your outline to see if that’s even the case. If you’ve misplaced your outline (gasp!) make a point of asking your professor or instructor the next time you have class for a copy. Now that you’re aware of what’s ahead of you, let’s get all zen up in here.

Preparing for Exams

Hopefully you’re using that agenda that you were given, for free, at the beginning of the year. If you didn’t get one because you skipped orientation (for shame!) you should look at getting some sort of notebook or other agenda to use. Trust us, being organized in a time like this is going to save your life.

Three students sitting at desks in a classroom while writing and thinking

Wait, what did we learn again?

Sometimes your course outlines will even tell you what the date of your final exam is already. If it doesn’t give you this tantalizing piece of information, fret not. You should get that information from your instructor shortly. Your school might also post when your final exams are. Here are some handy links to schools that have this information available:

While this list doesn’t have every school on it, you can still get this information from your instructor(s). There’s nothing wrong with communicating with your instructor or professor on a regular basis. It’s usually a good thing if they know who you are.

Once you know when your exams are it’s time to start managing your time for studying and reviewing your notes. This is crucial if you want to pass because, trust us, exams can make or break your grade. It might seem nerdy but flashcards are a simple way to help you remember information and you can get others involved. Creating or joining study groups is another good way to get prepared. Each person may have a different note taking style so they could catch stuff you missed and vice-versa.

Also, don’t be afraid to take a trip to your school’s academic skills centre. If you require additional supports for your exams, like extra time, a scribe etc., ensure that they’re ready and in place at least a week before the actual exam. You don’t want to be running around trying to make arrangements the day before. Some schools may even  have rules about this so make sure you know what they are.

The Day of Your Exam

Okay, it’s exam day. What do you need to do in order to make sure things go smoothly? Hopefully you’ve reviewed your notes as much as you can. Being prepared for exams is another battle you’ll need to face. Are your alarms set? Being late for an exam is only going to hurt you so plan to be outside your exam location at least 15 minutes before it starts.


The clock is ticking!

Get your supplies ready the night before. Any exam with multiple choice will use a scantron card and they just love Number 2 pencils. Make sure your pencils are sharpened and ready to go. Bring extras. if you use mechanical pencils bring extra lead. You also want to bring a good eraser and a pocket sharpener if necessary. If there is a written essay or short answer portion your instructor may request that you bring pens with blue ink only. Bring at least two so you’re not stranded if one runs out of ink. You also want to bring in some whiteout.

What other supplies are allowed? Can you bring a calculator? Does your instructor allow the fabled ‘cheat-sheet’ where you can bring one sheet crammed with information? If you aren’t sure, ask!

Another important factor to consider is how you’re feeling exam day. Do you have a runny nose or a cough? Bring some tissues and cough drops. Exam rooms are generally dead silent and you don’t want to irritate the people around you with your sniffles. Wear layers as the exam room could be hot or cold. Hoodies are awesome. Also, no one will judge you if you show up in pyjamas.

Finally, here’s a handy list of don’ts for exam day:

  • Don’t bring any musical devices or headphones. Not allowed!
  • Don’t have your phone on. Not even vibrate! Turn that distraction off.
  • If you chew gum, don’t you dare crack it. Also, don’t stick it under the desk. Ew.
  • Try not to make irritating sounds like cracking your knuckles or clicking your pen repeatedly.
  • Don’t talk. Even to yourself!


Exams can make a lot of people nervous and those with text-anxiety may feel even worse. Try to make an appointment with your school’s counsellor or academic skills centre and talk about breathing techniques and testing mindfulness. These people are supports for you and don’t be afraid to use them. They want you to be successful in your exams and will work with you to establish good testing techniques and skills.

While the exam room can be overwhelming, remember that you are a warrior and you are going to own that exam! You got this!

About “The Navigator”

“The Navigator” is a monthly blog about student life by the Campus Manitoba Virtual Help Desk. Check back monthly to find more tidbits of wisdom with “The Navigator”. You’ll be sure to find all kinds of information that will help you be successful in your educational journey. Don’t forget to follow us on Facebook and Twitter for more news and information!