When Woody Allen said “80 percent of success in life is just showing up,” he was not referring to exams. Yes, showing up is critically important?think of the alternative?but what’s going to make the biggest impact on your exam success is your preparation.
Studying, although of paramount importance, is only part of preparation. There is more you can do to ensure exam success:
Check the course manual. Perhaps you read the course manual (also called “student manual” or “course information”) when you started the course, but do you remember what it said about exams? Depending on the course, you’ll find details about exam length, structure, and marking scheme, as well as study tips. Some manuals offer explicit information while others do little more than acknowledge the existence of an exam.
Ask your tutor. Even if you haven’t contacted your tutor during the course, contact them when you begin preparing for the exam. Tutors can sometimes provide additional insight and tips for the exam that are not in the course manual. My first tutor provided me with a practice exam which I found beneficial. I’ve learned to always ask, even if the answer turns out to be identical to the course manual information.
Ask other students. Although no student is permitted to share exam questions or answers with other students, often you can get valuable insight into an exam that will relieve anxiety and boost your confidence. Try posting a question on the unofficial Athabasca University Facebook page which is a forum for AU students, tutors, and faculty. Give specific info about the course and exam (eg. ENGL 255, final exam) and other students will share their experiences and study suggestions. You can also post a question on AUSU’s Discussion Forums seeking students? advice. The added benefit of the discussion forums is you can perform a search to find all previous discussions on the topic (search for course name as well as by course code for best results.) Another benefit is that the AUSU forums are open to students only?your tutor won’t be able to take offense if You’re asking other students for information that should have come from your tutor.
Utilize AU’s resources. Athabasca University has developed several resources to assist students at exam time. AU’s Learner Support Services (LSS) has tips on Mastering Exam Anxiety. Additionally, LSS offers a 21-page pdf document on Exams, as part of their Study Skill Series, which includes a pre-exam checklist and exam-day tips.
Reduce stressors. Schedule your exam well in advance. If You’re using an invigilator, contact them before scheduling with AU, then confirm with the invigilator closer to the exam date. Read the exam confirmation letter you received from AU (by e-mail or mail, depending on your stated preference) to find exam-day details. Create a list of items to take with you on exam day (ID, pens, watch, scrap paper, reading glasses, and, if applicable, payment for the invigilator, etc.) I created a basic list which I modify for each course, so that I won’t forget something obvious.
Permitted materials. Find out what materials, if any, you are allowed to bring with you. In many cases, you can’t use any study aids during an exam. However, if you are permitted to bring a calculator, a dictionary, or any other aid, bring it even if you think you won’t need it. I didn’t open the permitted dictionary during one exam, but in a later exam, having a dictionary saved me from making critical errors.
Studying is the unavoidable best method for exam success. To keep your studying focused, and to approach your exam with confidence and minimal stress, expand your preparation to include investigation. Find out everything you can about the exam from every possible source. By using all available resources, you’ll keep exam day stress to a minimum.
Preparation is the key to exam success. After all, even if Woody Allen himself is marking your exam, you won’t get a single mark for just showing up.
Barbara Lehtiniemi is a writer, photographer, and AU student. She lives on a windswept rural road in Eastern Ontario