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Exam Writing Tips

Years of exam writing has prepped me for this moment: the day I get to share all my exam writing wisdom with you! Kidding. The truth? I didn’t know I had tips. That was until my brother called me a few weeks ago, panicked, half an hour before his high-pressure exam asking for help. This is what I shared with him moments before his exam (he passed!). Note: if you haven’t started studying, first check out our Study Tips blog.

  1. Stop Panicking & Put on Some Gangsta Rap. Yes, it’s stressful, but getting yourself  “In The Zone” will serve you better than a downward spiral. Put in your headphones, turn up some Biebs (or whatever your flavour) and get into it.
  2. Put Away the Notes. You aren’t going to learn anything new in the next half an hour. Studying right up until your exam will just cloud your head. Put down the notes, I repeat, put down the notes!
  3. Don’t Talk to Anyone. Stay away from the other people panicking—not cool energy. You don’t want to be picking up wrong answers from friends or classmates and clogging your mind before going into your exam. It’s okay to be rude right now.
  4. Skip What You Don’t Know. The first time through the exam, skip the questions you don’t know. Answering what you do know will keep you feeling confident and flowing. Come back to those answers you skipped after you’ve worked your way through the exam. Now that you’ve done a first-read you may pick up clues to help you answer those pesky Q’s
  5. Cover the Answers (Multiple Choice). Multiple-choice is designed to throw you off.  Answer the question, in your head, before you look at the prompts and select the answer that best reflects your initial thought.
  6. Get to the Point (Long Answer). Graders can read through filler language. Use key words that will get you marks, bullet your answers where you can. If the passage is graded out of five, be sure to write down five points to your answer.
  7. Stay Calm. You’ve read our Study Tips blog. You’ve prepared. You got this! Stay focused. Remain calm. It will be over shortly.

This article is written by Cassandra Hammett, Project Manager at Girls E-Mentorship. Cass loves to write, loves to laugh and hates when people don’t have a plan. She keeps GEM running like a well oiled machine and always has a helping hand and a cup of tea for anyone on the team that needs it.

GEMinar #3: Stylized Study Tips

“I’m not really a math person.” Says every other person I have ever met. I happen to be one of those people who will always understand math. I can ace the test without studying for it, but chemistry really confuses me. It takes a lot of hard work for me to maintain a grade in Chem. Maybe a week ago I would’ve said, “I’m not that much of a Chemistry person.” But after the fabulous GEMinar with Devra D’Urzo, I know that’s not true.

Devra helped the GEMgirls understand that not all people will learn the same way. Each person has a unique learning style and she helped us determine ours by giving us a survey. Devra was also able to give us lots of tips, on how to study and keep moving forwards.

Devra’s Stylized Study Tips

  1. Optimism: You’re most likely going to have to take a course you don’t necessarily need or like. You might even go through a unit in a course that you absolutely loath. But the thing is, no matter how much you dislike the class, you’re still going to have to take it and get a grade at the end. You might as well make the best of it, and keep a positive attitude to keep yourself motivated.
  2. Prioritize: All of your assignments won’t always be equally important. Invest more time into the assignments that have the most reward whether it’s the portion of your final mark, or the importance of the class to your future.
  3. Get Organized: Despite what your opinion on agendas may have been in middle school, the truth is they are really helpful. Students and adults living everyday life can really benefit from having an agenda. It’s nice to jot down your to –do list on a day-to-day or week-to-week basis. This way you won’t forget that really important thing you had to do. Plus do you know how satisfying it is to cross something off of your to-do list?
  4. Get comfortable: I find myself getting very easily distracted when studying. Things as simple as the temperature in the room or the kind of clothes I’m wearing can really change my mood when studying. I study best when I have a healthy snack to eat-that won’t cause a mess, a comfortable space to sit where I can keep a good posture, a comfy sweater, and all the supplies I may need easily accessible. I also turn my phone off, and keep it out of arms reach. That way I won’t always be compelled to pick up my phone every time it bings.
  5. Expectations: Simply doing only the assigned things won’t do. Take initiative to find some practice assignments you can do on your own, or even some reading. If you work better with other people, find a focused study group who you can work with, or maybe even a tutor if you think you will need it.

It’s terrible when you’re not prepared for a test that is the next day, or you don’t have the assignment that’s due tomorrow. Don’t be one of those people who start studying at ten p.m the night before. The best thing to do to ease the work load is to study a little bit every day, even if it is just ten minutes uninterrupted. Make the best out of your education. You only realize the value of what you have when it’s gone. It may sound cheesy but you know it’s true. Not everyone gets an education, or so many opportunities in school. And even though you absolutely hate math, the best thing to do is suck it up and learn the quadratic formula. You never know, one day you might actually need to find the line of best fit, or the slope of a hill in the park.

Special thanks to Devra D’Urzo, for presenting at the GEMinar.

Here is an online self-assessment to find out the type of learner you are right now. http://www.edutopia.org/multiple-intelligences-assessment

Apps to keep you organized



For those of you looking for something simple, try a to-do list app.

Tabassum Lakhi is a Creative Writing Intern at GEM and also a GEMgirl.

Behind the Scenes at GEM’s First Workshop


Ever find yourself up late at night cramming for a test that you should have started preparing for weeks ago? How about highlighting an entire chapter of a textbook or writing pages and pages of summary notes from your textbook, only to realize that you have just re-written the entire thing?

You are not alone! The good news is that becoming a savvy student is a learned behavior and it is within reach.

Last week, Devra D’Urzo, who runs a private tutoring business and is a supply teacher at the Upper Canada College and York School, came to teach to our GEMgirls how to study smarter.

Devra opened the workshop by sharing Angela Lee Duckworth’s TED Talk on the concept of grit, which according to Duckwork means, “passion and perseverance.” She explained that the key to success is grit, not IQ, social intelligence, wealth, or good looks. (This is great news for those of us don’t have an IQ of 160).

“The ability to succeed is really about the amount of work that you put in.”

Here are some key lessons from Devra’s Workshop:

  • You are your own best teacher, get to know yourself and how you learn (tip: find out how you learn by taking a multiple intelligence test)
  • Merely listening to your teacher and completing assignments is never enough
  • Look out for better information sources and better ways to learn (tip: if your text book looks like it was written in the stone age – fine another one!)
  • Not everything you are assigned is equally important, focus on the most important tasks on your agenda
  • Prioritize and plan ahead by creating schedules and to-do lists
  • Realistically estimate the time you need to complete a task
  • Set aside a time and place to study each day
  • Plan study breaks – this simple tip really does help you study better
  • Unplug from the distractions around you (tip: turn off your cell phone, email, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter accounts while studying)
  • Failure isn’t a permanent condition (tips: that math test you did poorly on does not define you, simply learn from your mistakes and move on).

Remember learning does not end when the bell rings or when you get your diploma. It’s an ongoing process that takes practice, perseverance and GRIT.

Devra’s Must Read Resources:

Khan Academy (Website) https://www.khanacademy.org/

Crash Course (Youtube Channel) https://www.youtube.com/user/crashcourse

SQ3R Reading Method (Youtube Video) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0dhcSP_Myjg

What Smart Students Know Adam Robinson (Book)

“The Key To Success? Grit” Angela Lee Duckworth (Youtube Video)


DevraDevra D’Urzo holds a Master of Teaching from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education and has worked with students for the past ten years. She currently is a supply teacher Upper Canada College and the York School. In addition, she runs her own private tutoring business. The foundation of the work she does with her students is built upon solid study habits.  Her programs are designed to teach students the skills they need so they can experience the academic success they deserve.