Exam techniques

Before the exam

  1. Focus on being practical.
  2. Make sure you know exactly where each exam will take place. Visit the room if possible.
  3. Plan to leave much earlier to get to the exam than the journey usually takes. If something makes you late, this will not be taken into consideration by examiners. You are expected to plan for transport delays.
  4. Check you have spare pens, pencils and any other permitted equipment.
  5. Take water to drink.
  6. Do not take notes or luggage with you unless you have somewhere to leave them outside the exam room.
  7. Stay positive. It is easier to revise and remember when we are in a positive state of mind. Avoid people who make you feel anxious about the exams.
  8. Get enough sleep.

Before you look at the exam paper

  1. Relax your shoulders: make sure that they are not up around your ears!
  2. Relax your tongue: it is a large muscle and will help relax your whole upper body.
  3. Breathe deeply for a few seconds: concentrate on breathing out fully.
  4. Check the obvious: are you in the right room, at the right desk?
  5. Run through in your mind the last minute facts that you need to remember.
  6. Breathe deeply again once more just before you look at the paper.

During the exam

  1. Write down the time you must move onto the next question so that you have time to answer the right number. It is easier to pass if you answer the right number of questions rather than to write a few good answers. Leave about five minutes each to check through essay answers at the end.
  2. Number each question. Leave space between each answer so that you can add in points later if necessary.
  3. Read the questions slowly. Highlight key points. Ensure you have really taken in what each question says as it is easy to misread questions or miss parts of questions when you are in an exam.
  4. Check the back of the paper to see if there are further questions – many people forget to do this.
  5. Write answers to the questions you have selected. Avoid regurgitating answers you gave for coursework. You will only get marks for material that answers the question.
  6. Structure your answers just as you would for coursework. Essays should have an clear line of reasoning, a well structured argument, an introduction and a conclusion.
  7. If you go blank, brainstorm words and ideas onto a sheet of rough paper or onto the back page. These will eventually begin to stimulate your ideas. Leave a space and go onto something you can do rather than sitting with the same problem. The information will probably come back to you later – and if it doesn’t, it may not be critical. Find a point of calm. Breathe slowly.
  8. Include references in the text. You do not need to write a list of references or to give the titles of works as your tutors will usually know the works to which you refer.
  9. Check through your answers at the end. You will find parts that do not make sense because you have missed out a key word or point. Add these in neatly in the text or at the bottom of the page.

For further information please see Chapter 14 of The Study Skills Handbook and The Exam Skills Handbook by Stella Cottrell.

You might also like this article: It's never too early to look at exam papers by Peter Lia, author of Simplify Your Study.