In the first part of this two-part blog post, we will go into some details regarding how to figure out which exams might be difficult for you. The second part will go into more detail about how to prepare for a difficult exam.

Now, it might be tempting to just listen to students who have already taken that course (with that professor or teacher) and believe their views on which exams are difficult. This can be a good starting point, but beware that everyone has different concepts of what a “difficult exam” is. For example, for one student, a “difficult exam” might be writing three essays in 2.5 hours, while for another three essays in 2.5 hours is a breeze. It is important to not only take the words of other students about which exams are going to be difficult, but to decide whether you have ever struggled in that course/subject/topic.

A midterm or another type of evaluation/assignment can be an excellent indicator of your understanding of the material and a clue about the type of questions you will get asked and the level of detail you will need to provide. Another point is that just because you did well on a midterm/assignment does not mean that you will not need to study for the exam. A midterm or the tests you have completed for that course can also be a good starting point for which exams might be difficult for you. A word of caution with only relying on past midterms/tests: some professors have really difficult exams but very easy midterms and vice versa. Do not only consider your past performance.



Even putting in a bit of time each day, can have dramatic overall results in studying for an exam and decreasing your overall level of anxiety for that test.


The previous point will only work if you have the same teacher/professor for the whole course. Sometimes, you will have different professors for different sections (you might even get a Teaching Assistant doing some of the lectures). Therefore, it is important to figure out who will be making the exam and who has made the midterms/tests.

Some Post-Secondary Institutions have old exam repositories (either online or within their libraries) where professors can submit their previous exams for students to view. Now, there are no answers associated with them, but with enough time, you should be able to at least see the types of questions your professor likes to give. This does not mean that you should try to memorize each question and answer combination the professor has ever assigned, but rather, you should try to become familiar with their favourite types of questions. Sometimes, you might even be surprised if they reuse questions!

Asking your professor about the types of questions that will be on the exam can also be a good starting point. If, you struggle with long-answer questions, and your professor says the whole exam will be long-answer, it might be best for you to focus on that exam. 

Lastly, a point (which is a double-edged sword) is your general gut feeling about a particular course. If you feel confident in one course, but not so much in another, it is probably best to study the one you are not comfortable with more. As mentioned, this can be a mixed bag, and should not be the only basis for your decision on what to study. Again, this can be a good starting point.

All of that being said, in the end, the only one who can figure out which exams are going to be difficult for you is you. No one else can make that distinction for you. Here, we’ve given a starting point, but it will be up to you to decide how best to spend your study time. Next week, we will go over how to study for a difficult exam.



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