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All students in Canadian universities must eventually face the reality of exams.

There’s no denying that exam periods can be stressful, but with proper time management and preparation, you can help yourself get through it – and maybe even enjoy it. So, for an extensive guide on Canada study exam tips, keep reading!

It can be easy to forget why you’re studying in the first place: the degree at the end is only part of the journey. Post-secondary education should be a chance for you to really dig into a subject you’re passionate about. Preparing well for exam periods is key to being able to stay excited about your courses and your work.

Canadian universities and colleges assess academic success through a wide variety of methods. You may have classes where your grade rides entirely on a multiple-choice exam, or you may have several essays to write throughout the semester. Some courses base a percentage of the grade on attendance and participation. Assignments can include group projects, journals, quizzes, presentations, online assignments, take-home exams, field work, lab work, and much more.

Choosing the right courses

You may not want to think about the far-off threat of exams in the first exciting days of the semester, but it’s important to consider how your work is assessed when you’re choosing your courses. You may have a selection of courses to choose from, and course assignments may influence your choice. For example, if you know you have a good short-term memory and perform well under pressure, you may not mind the course with multiple-choice tests. If you know you hate the pressure of exams and you excel in writing and research, you may want to go for the course with an essay submission. If the idea of public speaking makes you want to crawl under a rock, maybe avoid the class that requires an oral presentation.

Choosing a course based on the assessment criteria is completely acceptable, if it fits with your Canada study program and your goals. You want to do well in your courses and get good grades – and you also want to stay healthy and avoid stress and anxiety. If you’re confident in your work and you feel comfortable with the assessment methods of the course, you may enjoy the course material more. Being passionate about your subject can be the best way to remain motivated through assignments and exams.

If your Canada study program requires you to take a course and you know you will have trouble with the assessment methods, talk to your professor or lecturer about it as soon as you can. They want their students to do well and enjoy the course, and they may be able to offer advice or alternative testing methods. Learning support services at your university or college may also be able to help, for example by arranging for extensions for deadlines, or for more time during exams, if you have different learning abilities or struggle with standard testing methods. If you’re starting to struggle, don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for help.

Learn more about staying healthy during your Canada study schedule, and where to go for support, with the Moving2Canada guide on mental health and well-being resources.

During the semester

Good habits for exam success begin during the semester. Absorbing material over time is often more effective than trying to cram last-minute before a test, so if you stay on top of your readings and assignments, you’ll be much better prepared for your final exams. Take notes in your classes from day one: writing out class material can help it stick in your mind much better than just listening to a lecture, and you’ll probably retain more information than you realise.

Everyone has their own best methods for studying effectively, and it’s important to find yours. Study groups can be effective for sharing ideas with others, getting fresh perspectives on course material, and sharing the assigned reading. If you work better alone, find a spot at the library or local cafe that you can treat as your personal study zone. Having a dedicated space for studying can help your mind stay focused, and can help you switch off and relax when you leave – this is why people recommend you don’t study in bed, however tempting it may be during the Canadian winter.

Play around with Canada study aids to find a tool that works for you. There are plenty of websites and apps out there to help you create and share flashcards, quizzes, and more.

Professors, lecturers, and teaching assistants are great resources: use them. Most professors and lecturers will have “office hours”: set times during the week when they are available to students. Use this time to ask any questions you may have about the material, or concerns you have about the exams or assessments. Your course leaders want you to do well, and they’ll likely be able to help you with the material. Large classes with many students often also have Teaching Assistants (TAs) assigned to them. TAs are usually students too (either senior undergraduate students, or post-graduates) so they know what you’re going through, and they know the class material better than anyone, so don’t hesitate to ask them questions too.

Exam period

Exam periods are usually scheduled in the middle of the semester (“midterms” in October and February), and after the end of classes (“finals” in December and April). Canada study schedules are generally quite consistent across universities in Canada but make sure to keep a close eye on yours.

All undergraduate exams may be scheduled by the university across the same period, so depending on your courses you may find you have all your exams together, or they may be spread out across one or two weeks. The exam schedule should be issued around the middle of the semester (universities in particular often try to publish the schedule early, to help their international students and others who need to travel during the holidays).

You may be in a class that doesn’t have an exam at the end – you may instead be asked to write a “term paper”: a longer-form essay based on the class material. Another common assessment method is the “take-home exam”: closer to a classic exam in format (for example, multiple-choice questions, short essays, or a mixture of the two), but which you can do at home in a set time frame.

It’s a good idea to take a moment to plan your time as soon as you get your schedule. Drafting a study timetable is a crucial part of preparing for exam period, and can help you stay on track. Stick to your Canada study schedule, and try not to get distracted. Make sure to schedule plenty of time for resting, eating, sleeping, exercising, and seeing friends. The human mind can only stay focused for short bursts of time, and you won’t help your exam performance by studying solidly for 12 hours a day.

If you are part of a club, society or team that meets or trains once or twice a week, avoid the temptation to not attend coming up to and during exam period. Maybe you play for a local soccer team or have taken up improv; not only do your teammates need you, you might also need them to get you through these days and weeks.

Above all, remember that you are not alone during exams. Your fellow students are all in the same situation as you. Your course leaders want you to do well and enjoy the material. If you’re worried about anything, reach out and talk with others.

If it’s all getting too intense, leave campus and go do something completely different. Be kind to yourself: people are their own worst critics, but remember that if you have been accepted into a Canadian university or college, it is because you are an exceptionally good student. The best tip for exam success may seem obvious, but it’s true: be prepared throughout the semester, and you’ll be in a good position to excel in your final assignments and exams.

About the author

Rachel Dancel video content at Moving2Canada

Rachel Dancel

Newcomers Influencer & Video Content Creator
Originally from the Philippines, her immigration journey began as an international student, leading to permanent residency in 2021. Passionate about sharing her immigration experience, she created a YouTube channel during a pivotal time. A visual storyteller, Rachel adds unique perspective to the team as our Video Content Creator. She crafts engaging and informative content to help fellow immigrants navigate their journey to Canada.
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