Exam preparation: Previous and practice Exams

Analyzing or answering questions on previous or practice exams for a course is generally an effective, active method of exam preparation.

Tips for finding previous or practice exams

Here are some steps that you can take to help you find previous or practice exams:

  • Ask the professor or TA for the course. Some professors distribute practice questions.
  • Check your Department's website.
  • Check the website of the relevant Student Union. The Simon Fraser Student Society has a list of departmental student unions.

If you have information about other ways to access previous or practice exams, please email Ruth Silverman, Coordinator, Learning Services, at rsilverm@sfu.ca for possible inclusion on this page.

Warning! Never use exams that haven't been approved by your instructor or department. Fake exams are quite common. Never buy an exam. Buying an exam would be an indication that you may be slipping into academic dishonesty.

How to use old exams or practice exams

It may be useful to use previous or practice exams in the following ways:

  • Become familiar with the format of past exams, the type of questions asked, and the style in which they are phrased. Be aware of possible variation, as the format of an exam may change from year-to-year. Pay close attention to instructions given on the syllabus or in class, and ask the instructor to learn what changes can be expected.
  • Practice answering questions in order to identify gaps in knowledge and areas needing further study. Compare questions with course outline, lecture notes, and readings to identify the range of topics that may come up in an exam.
  • Practice past exams under exam-like conditions in order to assess proficiency under time pressure and without aid, and gain confidence answering questions and solving problems quickly.
  • Assess what level of detail is possible within the allotted time, and evaluate if more or less information is needed. Consider how much time can realistically be devoted to each question.
  • With a study group or a friend, mark each other’s practice exams in order to gain an understanding of how course markers may read an answer, potential mistakes, and other possible ways of answering a question correctly.
  • Receive feedback on your answers to previous or practice exam questions and then reflect on frequent errors you made and the types of questions you found difficult. Consider if you studied the wrong information, made careless errors, need to improve your test writing skills or experienced test anxiety.
  • Use past exams as a template to generate further practice questions by substituting topics, adapting and rephrasing questions, and changing key terms. Review lecture notes and readings to assess what has been emphasized and what possible questions may be asked.
  • In some cases, particularly when the instructor is the same, previous or practice exams may be used to predict which questions or topics are likely to appear on the next exam. However, please be aware that there are no guarantees and that relying too heavily on this approach is not recommended.

Find additional information on exam preparation, types of exams, and exam anxiety.