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Learning Skills and Strategies

Learning strategies are ways to understand, remember, and apply the knowledge you learn.

Exam Preparation

There are several different types of exams. Talk to your instructor prior to your exam, so you can be well-prepared.

This information will help you prepare for your exams by offering helpful ideas for preparation and some general tips for writing different types of exams (multiple-choice, true/false, short answer). If you require exam accommodations, contact Accessibility Services.

10 Exam Preparation Study Tips

1. Give Yourself Enough Time to Study

Don't leave studying until the last minute.  Ensure that you know the format, location, date, time, focus, and weighting of each test to help determine your emphasis for each course.  Some exams need more study time than others so budget your time wisely.

2. Organize your Study Space

Choose good surroundings.  Make sure you have enough space to spread out your textbooks and notes out.  Do you have enough light?  Is your chair comfortable?  Make sure you get rid of any distractions (i.e. cell phones, computers, T.V., etc.) that may cause you to procrastinate getting started or may sabotage your time.  This may necessitate leaving your house and finding an alternative study space. 

3. Take Regular Breaks but Avoid Procrastination

Studies have shown that taking regular breaks really help for long-term retention of knowledge.  Everyone is different, so develop a study routine that works for you.  If you have trouble bringing yourself to study, chunk your work into 20-25 minute blocks, taking 5-10 minute breaks at the end of every block.  You can vary this time to your comfort (i.e., 40-45 minute blocks with 15-20 minute breaks).  Just keep a ratio of more work over break time.  Also, take into consideration what time of day you study best.  If you study best in the morning, start early and plan accordingly.  If you’re more productive in the evening, get other chores done before you settle down to study.  Remember to get a good night’s sleep.

4. Rewrite your Notes to Aid Memory

Use flow charts and diagrams.  Visual aids are helpful when revising course material.  At the start of a topic, challenge yourself to write down everything you know about the topic.  Closer to your exam, condense your revision notes into one page diagrams or study sheets.

5. Pratice, Practice, Practice!

Practice old exams or use review questions from textbooks.  Remember different subjects call for different studying.  If it is math you’re studying for, work on problems.  Don’t just read over it like you would for a history class. Practice retrieving information in a way the instructor expects (i.e. multiple choice, short answer, essay, problems, etc.)  Practice recalling information without referring to your notes.

6. Explain your Answer to Others

Friends, roommates, parents, and other family members can help you around exam time!  Try to explain a concept or an answer to a question to them in your own words.

7. Don't be Afraid to Ask for Help

Organize study groups with classmates.  Get together for a study session to review any questions you may need to clarify. 

8. Plan your Exam Day

Don’t leave things to the last minute before the exam to suddenly realize you don’t know where the exam room is, you don’t know the way, or what you are supposed to bring to the exam.  Check all the rules and requirements and plan your route and journey time.  void any last-minute conversations with classmates about exam material as this may add to any exam anxiety.  Give yourself at least 5 to 10 minutes to gather your thoughts and relax before starting the exam. 

9. Healthy Food, Healthy Brain

Keep away from junk-food.  Keep your body and brain well fuelled by choosing nutritious foods.  You may feel like you deserve a treat or that you don’t have time to cook, but what you eat can impact your concentration and energy level.  This also applies on exam day(s).  Some food may seem appealing, but they won’t help when your energy levels crash an hour or so later (i.e. sugar, caffeine).  Some foods that have been
proven to aid concentration and memory are fish, nuts, seeds, yogurt and blueberries.

10. Drink Plenty of Water

Remember that being hydrated is essential for your brain to work at its best.  Make sure to drink plenty of water throughout your studying and on exam day.


"Exam Preparation: Ten Study Tips." Top Universities: Worldwide University Rankings, Guides & Events. N.p., 19 Feb 2008. Web. 2 Apr 2014.

"How to Study For Exams." wikiHow: to do anything. N.p.. Web. 2 Apr 2014. <>.


Exam Writing

Exam Writing Tips: Strategies for Success

Before the Exam

  • Regular review: do a daily review of what you have learned and then a weekly review.
  • When you study don’t focus only on memorizing – use active study strategies that promote understanding and application of concepts, e.g. graphic organizers, talking it through with others in study groups, coming up with real world examples of what you are learning.
  • Answer practice questions, do practice tests under test conditions.
  • Be physically and mentally well by eating properly, sleeping well, and exercising.

During the Exam

  • Read directions carefully.
  • Quickly review the exam and begin with questions that you feel most confident about.
  • Read every question and answer option carefully and underline key words:
    • Read the stem carefully and underline key words;
    • Read all the choices thoroughly before choosing – pay attention for words like “not” or “except;”
    • Narrow down the choices – eliminate the answers you are sure are wrong;
    • Beware of absolute terms like “never,” “always,” “everyone,” “only,” “must."
  • Cover up the answers while you read the question to avoid making errors Manage your time by jumping over questions that you are not sure about and come back to them later – you may uncover information further along in the exam that will help with these questions.
  • Keep general track of time but don’t let clock-watching increase your anxiety as you write the exam.

After the Exam

  • If you can, take time when you get the marked exam back to review it. Checking the answers you got right will confirm the content you know well, and those you got wrong will help you identify what you need to work on.
  • If you review the exam and there are questions you feel you should have gotten right, take time to determine if the issue was:
    • Misreading the question or options;
    • Not understanding because you were feeling anxious;
    • Not understanding the material enough to work out the right answer.

Multiple Choice Exams

Multiple choice exams are objective tests, since there is only one correct answer. To answer these types of questions, one needs to have accurate recall.

How to Prepare for Multiple Choice

  • Focus on details (terms, definitions, etc.) when you're studying; put the details in your own words and create examples.
  • Create a study sheet.
  • Use the material to create your own multiple choice questions.

Reading a Multiple Choice Exam

  • Read the directions carefully.
  • Scan the exam quickly and note how it is organized.
  • Begin with those questions you feel confident you can answer.
  • Read every question carefully so you don't miss important information.
  • Use the cover-up strategy:
    • Cover up the answers so you see only the question; read the question, re-stating it to yourself.
    • Try to answer the question without looking at the options.
    • Uncover each option one-by-one and read each carefully.
    • If you still have difficulty determining the correct option, read the question with each option and look for any clues that might make it the correct choice.
  • Underline key words and qualifiers which may make a difference to the meaning.
  • If you're not sure what the question is asking, try rewording it.
  • If you come upon a question that you find difficult, make a mark by it and move on, then return to it later.
  • Ensure you take note of negatives and absolute terms, such as always, must, never, etc., that may make a difference in the answer.

Answering Multiple Choice Questions

  • Choose the best answer, then move on.
  • If you can't make a choice, make a mark by the question and move on (don't worry). When you've done all you can, come back to any marked questions; you will often discover that you've picked up information from other questions that will help you answer the questions you found difficult.
  • Unless you have a good reason, don't change your answer! Wrong reasons for changing answers are second guessing, losing confidence, and doubting yourself. Change your answer only when you uncover more information, or if you realize you missed a key word or that a calculation was wrong.

True / False Questions

  • In true/false statements, every part of the statement must be true for it to be a true answer.  If even one part is false, then the whole statement is false
  • Be aware of how the meaning of a statement or sentence is impacted by absolute terms (always, must, never) compared with qualifiers (sometimes, should, rarely).
  • If you're not sure of an answer, it's better to guess than to not answer at all. You have a 50% chance of being correct!

Short Answer Questions

  • Short answer questions often ask for descriptions and definitions (make sure you study accordingly).
  • Concentrate on key words and facts.
  • Read the question carefully and make sure you answer what is being asked.
  • Put as much detail as you feel is relevant, but be concise.

Exam Anxiety

Many students feel anxious about writing exams. The good news is that help is available! 

In addition to the tips and strategies listed below, there are also a variety of test anxiety workshops offered throughout the year, so watch for that. All workshops can be found on the workshops page.

If you feel you need more help, you may wish to connect with Counselling Services.

Signs and Symptoms of Test Anxiety

Physical: headaches, nausea, rapid heartbeat

Behavioral: fidgeting, pacing, avoidance, substance use, or abuse

Cognitive: going "blank", feelings of dread, difficulties concentrating

Emotional: fear of failure, disappointment, anger

How to Reduce Test Anxiety

1. Manage your time

  • Give yourself enough time to study. Don't leave studying to the last minute.
  • Create a schedule for studying, preferably over a number of days.
  • Budget your time wisely to ensure you have learned and understood all of the test material.
  • Remember to maintain a balance between studying and other commitments.

2. Prepare

  • Develop good study habits. You may benefit from reviewing the information on the Study Skills page.
  • Read the course outline, noting learning objectives.
  • Attend classes regularly.
  • Complete and review all of your course readings, assignments, and past tests.
  • Create a study sheet, focusing on concepts that need the most attention, that you still need to learn, or that you find difficult.
  • Get enough rest.

3. Maintain a Positive Attitude

  • Develop reasonable expectations.
  • Avoid the situation where your final grade depends on the outcome of one test.
  • Avoid negative/irrational thoughts about catastrophic results.
  • Reward yourself for dedicated studying and good test performance.
  • Encourage yourself.

4. During the Exam

  • If anxiety increases during the test:
    • STOP: Stop, Take a breath, Observe, Plan.
    • Don't think about the fear.
    • Pause and think about the next step. Focusing on one step at a time will keep you on task.
    • Acknowledge that you have done, and are doing, your best.

5. After the Exam

  • Review how you did.
  • List what worked, and hold onto these strategies (It does not matter how small the items are; they are building blocks to success).
  • List what didn't work, so you can improve.

Resources to Print

Tools & Apps

There are a variety of tools and apps that can assist you with exam preparation.  We have tried and used some of them and others have come to our attention from faculty and students who have found them helpful. 

Red Deer Polytechnic does not endorse the apps and sites listed here, and is not responsible for any technological problems that may arise from their use.