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Tips for Sitting Exams at McGill

Finals at McGill can be stressful enough – there’s no need to make it any worse! To help ease your minds a little we’ve compiled our top tips for sitting final exams.

Take care of your body

Finals are the time to focus your mind – but what about your body? In order to give your best performance, you need to be taking care of yourself on the inside and out. Broadly, this means drinking lots of water, eating full meals (with protein and vitamins) and getting the right amount of rest for you. Don’t pull an all-nighter before your final – the last thing you need is to be dozing off or unable to concentrate during an exam.

We would also advise that you do not chug any high-sugar energy drinks. Whilst you might be writing like a maniac for a few minutes, the sugar high will quickly run out, and the crash will come hard.

Know your exam room

Not every exam room is created equal. Some are much worse than others – here’s a quick guide to understanding each room, and how to survive them for 1-3 hours. We can’t speak for some of the more unusual exam locations (shoutout to whoever is sitting their exam in Burnside!) but here’s what we’ve experienced in the Gym:


The Fieldhouse is a monster of an exam room – it’s huge, and crammed with a ridiculous number of students. If you sat public exams in high school, this should be no challenge. Luckily, there’s a clock in the field house, meaning you can keep track of the time as it slips away from you. But don’t waste too much time looking at the clock – you have an exam to write!

Main gym

First of all, the main gym has no clock. Apparently, time is fluid to the invigilators here, or maybe just a carefully kept secret. Although they do manage to scare the crap out of you every time they announce an hour has passed. Make sure to bring a watch if you can!

Secondly, the main gym is hot. I recently sat an exam on a relatively cold day and I was still sweating all over my scantron. Or maybe those were tears. It’s hard to tell in the hazy wastefield of the main gym. Anyway, layer up if you have a long commute so you can strip off some layers once you’ve gotten inside! Also, it’s a good idea to bring water – if you’re prepared to do the awkward escorted walk to the bathroom.

Gym studios

There’s a couple different studios and they’re all a little different, but on the whole they’re small, dark and dingy. Some have mirrors on the wall, which is bizarre, (I don’t need to see the crazy state of myself during an exam, thank you) and most have clocks. Good luck finding the studios on your own though – they’re down in the labyrinth of the lower levels of the gym, you know, close to the earth’s core. Get directions – do not attempt to navigate the lower levels alone, and never follow the crowd. 

Arrive with plenty of time

Time flies when you’re having fun!

Just kidding, finals are miserable and we all know it, but there’s no reason you should add extra stress by being late. Turn up 10-15 minutes before your exam so you have time to sort out your exam materials and find a good seat – if you’re short sighted and perpetually forgetting your classes like me, you’ll want to sit at the front by the clock. Or, if you’re an escape artist like Katya, you’ll want to sit at the very back near the door.

Arriving early is also great because it gives you time to use the bathroom and find your way if you’re scheduled to go to a horrible little room in the basement. Your time is valuable, so don’t waste it!

Have the right materials

Your professor should have told you the format of the final exam, and from that you’ll be able to figure out exactly what you need. Many exams require some mathematical tools or a calculator – know exactly what you need and make sure you bring it. If you don’t have something, find someone to borrow it from well in advance.

In addition to specific tools, make sure you always have the basics, even if you think you won’t need them. These include: pens (preferably black, numbering more than 3), pencils (bring a few spare, or even a sharpener), an eraser, highlighters (these can be really helpful if you’re sitting an exam with a lot of reading, but do not use these on your answer sheets), and lastly, your student ID. You need this to sit an exam!

Don’t beat yourself up

When you’re in the exam, it can be easy to think about what other people are doing. Try to ignore them – it doesn’t matter how fast that girl over is powering through his scantron, or how confident that guy in front of you looks, leaning back and manspreading his way through the exam in an hour. You’re the only person you need to focus on – but stay positive. When you’re finished, don’t overthink your answers, and whether or not you could have done better – the exam is done, and it’s time to relax for a little bit and reward yourself for that hard work, before buckling down for the next one!

Good luck on your exams!

Lauren is the Campus Correspondent of HC McGill, in her third year of university. She is an Anthropology major with a minor in English Literature, and is passionate about her dog, her bed and archaeology.
Katya Conrad

McGill '20

Katya is a Art History and Philosophy Major at McGill University. She is a proud Libra and an ABBA superfan. She enjoys the great indoors and her dog Tally.
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