By: Cristina Kerluke, Learning Commons Academic Support Program Specialist 

Final exam week is almost here. Before sharing tips for succeeding on exams, let’s acknowledge that it’s normal to experience some fatigue or a dip in motivation this time of year. Thoughts drift towards the holidays, Winter Break, and some well-earned time off. It’s time to dig deep, making sure your weeks of hard work throughout the semester are not diminished by a lackluster finish. Think of a gymnastics floor routine: the gymnast can master every leap, twist, and flip, but unless he or she “sticks the landing,” full points will not be earned. Let’s review how you can “stick the landing” academically this semester in terms of final exams!

Before the Exam:
  • Strategize on how and when you will prepare up until each exam. Refer to last week’s article “Final Exams – What’s Your Plan” for preparation tips.
  • Set clear study goals for what remains this week and next. Write things down and stick to your plan.
  • Say no to distractions. Manage your learning environment by studying in a space with minimal distractions. Bring only the materials you need for that particular study session.
  • Eat and sleep well to fuel your mind and body.
  • Use all senses in learning. Read it, say it, hear it, do it, and think about it. Develop study guides, flashcards, and example problems. Write and recite exercises to master vocabulary, concepts, and key information.
  • Practice, practice, practice daily until exams. Spend time on your courses each day leading up to the final to maximize your retention.

    Day of Exam:
  • Be awake. Get a good night’s sleep, shower, chew gum…caffeine if needed (but don’t overdo it).
  • Eat well. It can be more difficult to concentrate if you’re hungry. Don’t eat anything that may upset your stomach.
  • Bring all essential test materials. Calculator, notes (if allowed), USM card, etc. Also bring extra writing utensils (as you never know when your pencil is going to break or your pen is going to run out of ink).
  • Wear comfortable clothes and bring personal necessities. You’ll want to be comfortable taking the test. Wear layers to adjust to room temperature. Bring a water bottle, tissues, cough drops, etc.
  • Arrive early. Arrive early to get enough time to settle in before the exam starts.

    During the Exam:
  • Read the instructions thoroughly and make a plan. Before you answer anything, take the time to carefully survey the exam. How many questions are you being asked to answer? How much is each section worth? Be mindful of the exam time allotted and make a plan of how to attack.
  • If you can’t recall something, mark the question and return to it later. You may find a clue elsewhere in the test. If you don’t know the answer, make the most educated guess you can. Try to remember what the instructor emphasized and felt was important.
  • Don’t panic too soon. When confronted with a number of questions of varying degrees of difficulty, there are bound to be ups and downs…times you’re feeling better, and worse, about how the test is going. Try to ignore such instantaneous feedback. Take deep breaths, stay calm and focus your energy.

Stay until the end. It’s amazing to see, but many students leave before the exam period is over. Be sure to review your exam! There are always problems to be checked over or essays to proofread or add to. Even making a single correction to a problem, or adding a single point to an essay can make a difference.

After the semester ends, be sure to take time for YOU. Take time to relax, recharge and reflect on the past semester. For some, you may also be gearing up to take a USM Winter Session course. This December 23-January 17, nearly 50 courses will be offered in a 4-week online format. Winter Session is a fantastic opportunity to further your academic goals in an accelerated online environment. However, know that Winter Session courses are intensive. You will need to be prepared to spend time on your course EACH day. Plan ahead for success by keeping the following Winter Session tips in mind:

  • Make sure you have the necessary course materials before the first day of class. Visit the USM bookstore at before you head home for winter break.
  • Explore Blackboard before your course begins to review the course layout and posted information. If your course does not use Blackboard, check your email for communication from your professor.
  • Read your course syllabus carefully to know what is expected of you. This includes due dates for assignments, how and when you will participate, and the software programs you will be using. Make a game plan day one!
  • Access Blackboard daily once the course begins, paying special attention to all announcements your instructor posts on the course homepage. (Often times announcements may offer further explanation of the week’s work or even contain important changes to the course content or due dates.)
  • Don’t procrastinate, as time management is crucial in Winter Session. Set a schedule for when you will complete the course work EACH day and stick to it. Choose the where as well as when ideally a place where there is a reliable internet connection and technical support if you need it.
  • Contact your professor as soon as you have questions. Since winter courses move so quickly, it is very important to ask questions as they arise so you don’t get behind.
    For additional tips on how to succeed in online courses, visit If still interested in adding a winter session course, visit for more info.

    Wishing you the best of luck ”Sticking the Landing” and a Happy Winter Break!


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