When exams require pants: Tips for on-campus exams from NAIT’s Learning Strategists

by | Mar 14, 2023 | Arts & Life

Taking exams in person can be an anxiety-inducing, stressful event we all have to go through. It’s especially nerve-wracking for students who may be used to taking exams from the comfort of their homes after the shift to online classes. NAIT Learning Strategists Kyle Kirzinger and Mandie Zhang offered these tips for taking exams on campus – from the day before to the day of.

The day before:

Don’t cram for the exam. This doesn’t mean you don’t study;  it means don’t wait until 11 p.m. the night before to try and cram new information into your head. Do practice exams and problems, read the textbook and do everything instructors tell you – but leave an ample amount of time to absorb all the content you’re learning. 

The morning of:

About an hour before, we want students to take that hour to prepare for the exam. Show up early, be prepared for it, make sure they eat well, have all the materials needed with them and do some calming techniques,” Zhang said.

Kirzinger explained a calming technique known as the five-finger breathing method that can be used in tests. Hold out your hand, starting at your wrist, and slowly slide your finger along your hand. Every time your finger goes up, breathe in, and when it goes down, breathe out.

Another technique Kirzinger mentioned is a five senses grounding method. Think of five things you can see, four things you can hear, three things you can touch, two things you can see and one thing you can taste. List those things with some descriptions to help calm yourself. For example, I listed five things I saw while writing this article: “I see my gaming chair, a dragon skull, garden gnomes, a golden mickey and the planet express ship.”

During the exam:

Time management is a crucial thing when doing an exam. Zhang explained one of the most important tips she had for time management. “So many times students will waste time trying to understand a multiple choice question or they will invest a lot of time in being stuck on lighter weight questions and not leave enough time for the written,” she said.

Spend two minutes at the start of the exam to preview it, then figure out how much time you will spend on each question. Budget your time and keep on track.

Zhang offered a unique tip she recalled from a past instructor – wear silly pants. Although it might sound odd at first, this tip could help students who experience test anxiety when writing exams on campus. “No one is looking at you, and you should all be looking at your exams, but if you look down and see your pants, it will make you smile and relax you a little bit.” Zhang took this tip and built on it. Bring a comfort item with you, something small and allowed, or wear a ring, something you can fidget with to reduce your anxiety.

The final tip Zhang and Kirzinger offered is to double check your answers, but don’t second guess yourself. Many students will change an answer with no reasoning, sometimes changing a correct answer to a wrong answer. Double-checking means going back to ensure you answered all the questions and left no blanks. “The worst thing you can do is leave a question blank,” Zhang said.

Although unpredictable situations can arise in the middle of exams (like the Alberta Emergency Alert going off seven times in a row…) being prepared for what you can predict eases some tension. Hopefully, these tips will help students get back into the swing of writing exams on campus. For more personalized tips on taking exams, drop by the Learning Strategies office in A130 on Tuesdays or Thursdays between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m.  NAIT students can also book virtual or in-person appointments with Learning Services by visiting their website.

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