In the second part of a two-part series to better cover which subjects, and therefore which exams, are more likely to be difficult for you, we’re covering how to study for exams that you decided are going to be difficult for you. Take a look at the post which covers how to figure out which exams might be difficult for you here.

There is no one size fits all answer when it comes to which subjects/exams are going to be difficult. It will depend on the student’s comfort levels. Some subjects have a reputation for being hard to pass (math, physics, chemistry, history, etc.), but for some students, these subjects are a breeze.

1. Start early. Do not think that you will be able to cram all of the information in one night. It is important to give yourself time to internalize and truly understand the material to be able to do well on an exam. This way you will still have time to ask your teacher/professor/TA for more information or clarification if you are unsure. Keep in mind that some educators will not answer questions pertaining to material covered in the class with a certain amount of time before an exam (generally 24 hours). So, be sure to prepare your questions well in advance.

2. Decide whether studying alone or in a group is better for you. We’ve covered this topic in its own post here.

3. A midterm or assignments might give you a good idea of how much detail is required or how difficult the exam might be. Most professors have a similar standard for exams and midterms when it comes to the amount of details they would like and the types of questions they ask. For example, if a professor’s midterm had questions that went into the smallest details about a topic, it is a good indicator that their exam will also require a lot of facts. Be careful if this is your only indicator of how much you need to study. Just because you did well on a midterm or assignment is not a guarantee that you will do well on the exam.

Helpful Hint

If you find that asking questions of your professor/teaching assistant/teacher is not working, consider asking your peers for help. Oftentimes, other students can explain concepts more clearly than an educator.

4. Read the comments your teacher/TA/professor has provided and work on their suggestions. This is a very neglected aspect of studying and learning. Their comments are designed to give you a better understanding of what they expect to see. Their clarifications might be specific to their lesson, though not always. Chances are that if you receive a comment from multiple TAs/professors, it is something you should work on improving.

5. Check whether your post-secondary institution has an exam repository/past test library. Here you can find old exams for a specific course (if available). While answers are not included, you might see similar questions on your exam.

6. It is never too late to start studying. Even just a little bit of studying can make a difference. Do not be discouraged if you think you do not have enough time. Just do a bit of work and try your best.

6. Put in the time. Do not just think that because you have identified a potentially difficult exam that you are done. Take the time to go over your notes and study for it.

Though not an exhaustive list of tips, we hope this provides a bit of a framework for how to start studying for a difficult exam. Sometimes, students think they are going into a difficult exam only to walk out knowing they aced it. Now, it could just be that the professor decided to give an easy exam. Or, more likely, the amount of effort the student put in to study for the exam made it seem like an easy one.


Need more help with studying for a difficult exam?