Nov. 1, 2022

How can scrap paper help during an exam?

Exams (especially finals) are the culmination of a semester of hard work. Often, exams are worth a large part of your grade, or you need to achieve a certain grade on the final to pass the course.
Filling out an exam

This can be a real recipe for test anxiety, which can impact your stress level while you are writing your exam. Scrap paper strategies can help with focus and executive function during an exam. Moreover, practicing scrap paper strategies while you study can also help to reduce some anxiety leading up to the exam. If your instructor allows scrap paper use in your exams, consider how you might use the following strategies:

  • Brain dump 
    • Take the first couple minutes of your exam to write down everything you can remember about the topic. Think of this like downloading information onto a hard drive. Examples might include mnemonics, a list of source texts, key themes for topics, important dates, etc... 
  • Formula sheet
    • If your exam requires formulas for calculations, jot down key equations and instructions on when to use them.
  • Steps and processes
    • Note down the steps to include in a calculation (ie. “first, isolate the variable, second...”), or things to include in each type of response (ie. Topic statement, evidence, explication...) 
  • Cover up answers
    • Use the scrap sheet itself to cover answer choices for multiple-choice questions. Carefully read the question and then make a guess before looking at the provided answers. By covering the offered answers, you can draw from your own knowledge without the influence of the offered answers.
  • Re-word
    • Write down key words to help you focus on the most important areas of a question. You can also use scrap paper to re-word a question in a way that makes more sense to you.
  • Diagram
    • Sometimes it helps to draw a small sketch (ie. Dimensions of a shape) or to reorganize information into a table or web.
  • Key Information
    • Some questions use the same set of data or information for a series of questions. Jot down key information to carry forward into upcoming questions, especially if that saves you from having to flip back and forth through pages of an exam.
  • Organize your thoughts
    • Note the key details of a word problem, or plan the structure of an essay response.
  • Noting down questions to come back to (either skipped or wanting to double check)
    • Consider making a list of questions you plan on returning to on your second pass through the exam.
  • Calculations
    • It can be helpful to work through your calculations on scrap paper. While it is important to show all your work on the actual exam, scrap paper can be handy if you want to redo or double check any of your calculations.

Scrap paper is an excellent resource to help you organize your thoughts and plan your approach for an exam. For more support using scrap paper strategies during the preparation and completion of an exam, meet with our academic support staff!