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The Exam Hurdle: 5 Tips to Prepare Students for Exam Weeks

Exams, whether they be midterms or finals, are an important reflection and assessment of what our students have learned…but man are they stressful for everyone involved!

As students across college campuses begin to buckle-down, cram, form study groups, and stress about their study preparations it’s important to consider what professors can do to help.

  1. Help Students Study Smarter

  • Flashcards – making flashcards out of index cards. It seems like a simple idea, but some have never used this method before. Encourage them to explain their answer before flipping the card over to reveal the answer, thereby testing themselves.
  • Reading out loud – their notes, flashcards, or definitions. Reading aloud uses three senses – seeing, hearing, and speaking, and is a highly effective way to retain the material.
  • Review Prior Exams – If the midterm or final is comprehensive, encourage students to review prior exams and focus on their incorrect answers.
  • Positivity, positivity, positivity – positive thinking helps the brain to accept information and recall information. Negative thinking prevents the brain from functioning at peak performance. (Clear, 2018)
  1. Office Hours / Email Responses

  • Reminders about Office Hours – by now it’s been a while since you last reviewed your syllabus with your students, particularly when you’re available for office hours. Make sure to alert students when you’re available to talk outside of class. Consider prior to midterm or exam week making your office hour by appointment to better manage your available time for 1:1 help.
  • Tutoring Sessions – If your time allows, schedule tutoring sessions. This, in particular, can work to an instructor’s advantage to maximize office hours. Try scheduling several students who might have the same questions to come for a study session at the same time prior to the exam. They’ll be able to discuss and practice prior to the exam as a group.
  • More Frequent Communication – students love emailing panicked questions in the middle of the night. While you don’t have to be available 24/7, making yourself a little more available to them is a confidence booster and will enable them to be surer of the material.
  1. Review Study Strategies and Smart Test Taking Skills

  • Night Before Prep – these three things I tell my students before every single exam: Sleep. Eat real food. Drink water.
  • Key Study Strategies to Review – prior to exam week, take some classroom time to review some key study strategies with your students. Knowing how to effectively study can make all the difference for some students. Here are a few key strategies to review:
    • Look for concepts and words in bold in the textbook. Highlight, mark with post-its or take notes of those important terms or concepts.
    • Pay attention to your professor during the lecture. If they mention a concept more than once, repeating themselves, or spend a significant amount of time on a topic or concept, make a note of it. Highlight, star, underline it in your notes.
    • Don't just memorize rote facts. Having a complete understanding of a concept is key.
    • If the instructor provides an exam review, fill in the answers of the ones you know first, then go to lecture notes or the textbook to get information for those concepts that you still need help with.
    • Try to quiz yourself, asking questions about concepts and see how you do. Try to anticipate the kinds of questions that will be on the exam.
  • Smart Test Taking Skills to Review – just as important as proper studying knowing how to take a test can be the difference between a passing or failing grade. Here are some smart test-taking skills to explain to your students:
    • Don't rush! Seriously, don’t rush.
    • Go through the exam and answer the questions you know first. Not only does that get the easier (for you) questions out of the way, it will boost your confidence by showing how much you know.
    • Star or make a note of harder questions that may need more of your attention. Return to those later.
    • Look for clues from other questions on the exam. Sometimes professors, intentionally or not, will include questions that answer other questions.
    • For more difficult questions try using the process of elimination, and if the test is multiple choice mark through the incorrect answers.
  1. Explain Your Exam Expectations

Prior to the exam, make sure your students know what they’re in for. Will your exam be primarily multiple-choice, short answer, or essay driven? Will students be expected to answer questions facts or apply concepts to new problems? Knowing what’s ahead can go a long way to easing students’ trepidations about their upcoming exam. If possible, try devoting some class-time (20 - 30 minutes) prior to exam day to do an exam review.

  1. Remember that our class is not the only class students are in

Sometimes it’s easy to forget that students are likely taking 3 – 5 exams all at the same time. Make sure to plan ahead so that students are prepared and well aware of how to succeed on your exam.

As educators, our purpose is to impart knowledge to our students and measure what they learn by examination. Let’s give them the tools for success!


James Clear, “The Science of Positive Thinking: How Positive Thoughts Build Your Skills, Boost Your Health, and Improve Your Work”, Huffington Post, September 25, 2017,, accessed September 4, 2018.

About the Author

Amy Denn Perry is a lecturer at Texas State University, teaching introductory government courses in the Department of Political Science. She is a proud alumna of Texas State University, and is a huge supporter of the athletic department, especially football. In addition to lecturing, Amy tutors student athletes, loves the outdoors, good books, and good movies. She is currently continuing research on Presidential Supreme Court nominees. Amy has served as a Digital Faculty Consultant since January of 2018 and is passionate about her students and her role in education.

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