First aid for exam stress: professors share their study tips

19 December 2022 |

The end of the year does not only ring in the holidays, but also days full of learning ahead of the January exams. Whether it's your very first university exams ever or not, it's always nerve-wracking. We asked some professors what study tips they would like to share with you ahead of the examination period.


Professor Nicolas Dirix, Department of Experimental Psychology, provides an overview of a number of important findings from scientific psychology in the introductory course General Psychology. He also likes to make the concrete translation from his course material to how you yourself can use your memory processes in a positive way.

"You can actually divide our memory processes into three parts: the acquisition of information (learning), the storage of information (remembering) and retrieval, recalling the information. To study and take exams successfully, you need to be actively engaged in these three stages of your memory processes."

Make a summary

"Try to engage with your study materials as much as possible in an active and structured way. Meta-analyses show that making your own summary is a very good technique for efficient information acquisition. By summarising learning material, you provide structure and establish links and connections that will also help you in the other phases of your memory processes."

Add an extra layer

"Information is better remembered when it is processed at different levels. When you start adding another layer on top of your text, you create multiple accesses in your thinking process to the material you need to remember. This can be done, for example, through a mind map or a timeline."

Make sure you get enough sleep

"Information is stored in your memory in two successive steps. What you study is first stored in your memory in a kind of temporary network, the hippocampus. After that, that information is distributed from the hippocampus to the rest of the brain. For that intermediate step, from the temporary to the permanent network, sleep is very important. Sufficient sleep therefore remains one of the golden study tips: surely always sleep at least a few hours, it's going to help you anyway."


Professor Evelien Opdecam worked as an assistant to Professor Patricia Everaert for many years and is now the coordinator of the educational master's programme. Within this master, she teaches all courses of the Faculty of Economics and Business Administration. Within the faculty, Professor Opdecam is also responsible for the study coaches.

"The study coach project started during the corona period. We pair a student from the educational master who has already completed the programme with a first bachelor student from the same programme. Among other things, the study coaches also give exam tips and tips on study planning."

Make a good schedule

"Take into account your ideal hours during the day for studying and build in enough rest. Do no not only plan active hours for studying, but also for relaxing. At the start of the day, set yourself a number of objectives and evaluate at the end of the day whether you achieved them or not. Also make your objectives SMART: Specific, Measurable, Acceptable, Realistic and Time-bound. Finally, put buffers for unforeseen circumstances in your planning. That way, you avoid being behind schedule all the time."

Studying is orienting, understanding, anchoring and repeating

"Start at the beginning and that is not the first page of the first chapter. The beginning is the table of contents. The table of contents brings structure to your study material, it creates anchor pointes. Once you have a sufficient overview of your material, you can get started."

"Don't just focus on the textbook or slides but also look at your sure lesson notes when you study. That way, you won't forget the link between the actual lecture material and what the lecturer told you. Do not study from another student's notes. You will lose too much time deciphering someone else's thought process."

"Make your exercises blind. Make sure you don't recognise the exercises, make them blind and avoid getting a distorted view of what you actually know. Also, do things one after the other. Study the chapter first, then make your exercises, ask yourself critical questions about the chapter and only then pass on to the next chapter."

"Try to trigger yourself to know that you have completely mastered what you just studied. To do so, try to explain the course material in your own words."


Prof John Lievens of the Faculty of Political and Social Sciences has been teaching Statistics for more than 20 years.

"I am made aware on a daily basis that a lot of students think my course is difficult. I also come across former students fairly regularly who tell me about how scared they were of my course. That is why I mention more than once during the semester that we are aware that some students experience anxiety about statistics. I deliberately mention this, we want to help students overcome their fear as much as possible."

Don't have too much fear

"There's been hundreds, thousands of students who have managed to graduate successfully. So it is not impossible at all. There is also a lot of support on offer. Take advantage of it. If you have questions, go to the Monitoraat, the assistants or the lecturer."

The arrival of the Tour de France

"Don't be afraid to get tired of working hard. The arrival of the Tour de France is in Paris on the Champs-Élysées. You should not be afraid to put in an intense effort to get a result. Even when you think you're not going to succeed. But, don't overdo it and make sure you come to your exam with a fresh mind."


Are you suffering from stress before exams? Don't know what to do with the course? Is your planning not working out? Are you unsure about your study choice or considering changing courses? At Ghent University you are not alone. The university offers extensive study guidance and advice.

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