Ace Your Computer Science Exams: 6 Tips for Success

May 8, 2023

A young woman with glasses sits between stacks of books, head between her hands with her mouth open in frustration.
Noah Gardner
Noah Gardner is a third year computer science student at UCLA. Working as a brand ambassador for Edlyft, he mainly writes articles to provide new and prospective students with advice based on his experiences. Outside of school and work, he spends a lot of time playing guitar and watching sports (go 49ers!).

End of the day, this is only one exam in one course. You’re probably going to do great because you listened to all of these tips and are fully prepared! But if you still don’t feel great, try to take some deep breaths. You’ve got this.

Looking for more resources to hComputer science exams can feel daunting. Many courses weigh exams very heavily, which can lead to a lot of stress. Luckily, a little bit of preparation can go a long way. Here are 6 tips to help you boost your confidence and ace your CS exams.

1. Understand the format of the test.

Computer science exams can be very different across classes. Some courses are more conceptual or theoretical, whereas others will have you writing code down by hand. The first thing you should always do is figure out what you’ll actually be looking at once you’re in the exam room (or Zoom room). 

You can figure this out from a variety of sources: you can get study guides or practice exams (more on these soon!) from your professor, previous exams from a test bank or online, or talk to peers who’ve taken the course before you. This will help you better understand what exactly you’ll be asked to do, which can be very helpful, as time will be limited during your exam. 

Next, figure out what resources you’ll have available to you during the test. Is it open-internet? Open-book? Open-note? Can you use a calculator? Knowing all of this information ahead of time will make preparation easier, as you’ll be able to visualize what you’re going to be doing on the test when it’s time.

2. Do practice exams.

Once you have an idea of what to expect, one of the most beneficial ways you can study is to do practice exams and do them legitimately. I highly recommend using only the resources that will be available to you when you take the real test. Try to finish the exam in the amount of time you’ll have for the test. 

If you take your practice problems seriously—and don’t cheat—they’ll reveal to you which areas you may need to improve in. As many people say, practice makes perfect, and you should always practice like you play.

3. Use all of your available resources.

Make sure to take advantage of every resource at your disposal when preparing for your test. You can reach out to your TAs or other mentors, attend office hours and review sessions, form a study group with your classmates, read the textbook, and/or look online for helpful articles. 

Many CS courses, especially undergrad ones, are taught in similar variations at colleges across the world. There are plenty of resources from other schools you can take advantage of on the internet. This should give you plenty of options so you can study the material via whatever medium you learn best from.

Are you someone who needs a little extra help to hold you accountable? Online tools like Edlyft on Track can help you plan ahead and stay on top of important deadlines. Edlyft On Track allows you to view exam dates, project due dates, internship deadlines, and more in one convenient place. Plus, set personal study goals, and sync all this important information to your Google calendar.

4. Get started early.

It is very important to manage your study time properly. Starting as early as you can is beneficial for many reasons. It allows more time for the information you’ve studied to sink into your brain. You’ll also have more time to review tougher concepts if you start on them early, and will be able to come back around to them later. You’ll discover what you don’t understand sooner, too, and have more time to ask questions or use your resources to clarify before the exam. 

Starting sooner will also allow you to take adequate breaks and rest up before your exam. Last-minute studying for two days straight will be much tougher and more stressful on you than starting a week before and just doing a couple of hours a day.

5. Review what you didn’t previously understand.

Another great tip is to look back at your previous course material and see what you didn’t quite nail. If you’re studying for a final exam, see what you missed on the midterm. Review what you may have missed on previous homework assignments or quizzes. 

For the more hands-on exams, you can read through the documentation, look back at your labs, and make sure you understand what every line of code means, as well as all of the syntax. For theoretical exams, you can go back through all of the tough concepts and make sure you fully understand the intricacies of each one. 

BONUS TIP: A useful way to make sure you truly get a concept is to see if you can explain it to someone else (and answer their questions!). 

If you discover anything through your reviewing that you still can’t figure out, again make sure to utilize your resources. Ask your TAs to clarify what you don’t get, or to walk you through a problem you can’t quite solve on your own.

6. Relax and recharge before your exam.

Finally, take a deep breath and relax. While this may sound easier said than done, it's important to remember that one of the best things you can do is take care of your body. Get a good night’s sleep the night before, and eat a good breakfast the morning of. You want to be at your best for the exam, not sleep-deprived and hungry. This will eliminate distractions and let you be fully ready and focused on the task at hand. 

To help calm your nerves, remind yourself that at theelp you crush your exams? Access Edlyft On Track to start planning your study schedule.

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