Exam time can be stressful, so it’s important that you’re as prepared as possible. If you have access to past exam papers, try to ‘sit’ one under exam conditions to get an idea of the types of questions asked and then correct it if an answer sheet is provided. If you can track down an examiner’s report, have a look to see which questions students have typically struggled with to ensure that you’re ready if a similar question comes up in your exam.
Use ‘reading time’ wisely
In most exam situations, you are given time to read through the paper before writing time commences. While you won’t be able to jot down notes or begin writing, you can use this time to make mental notes and plan out your answers. Just make sure you don’t spend this time planning your answer to just one question; try to distribute your time evenly so that you can read through the full paper before picking up your pen. This will give you a chance to plan the order in which you complete the exam, consider how you will approach certain sections (such as essay topics) and ensure you’re not faced with any nasty surprises in the last ten minutes of the exam.
Read questions carefully
It’s easy to skip over specific instructions when you’re under pressure, so make sure you’ve read each question twice before you proceed. Once you begin writing time, it might be useful to highlight or underline key instructions (look out for terms like ‘analyse’, ‘define’ and ‘distinguish’ and ensure that you are answering the question with these instructions in mind). You might also find that a question asks for a certain number of examples or gives a context in which you are required to answer. In multiple choice questions look out for situations where you are asked to select the answer that is ‘incorrect’, as opposed to the answer that is correct.
Make sure you answer each question
Even if you don’t know the answer (or think you might be wrong), it’s better to write something down than nothing at all.You might find that part of your answer is correct and that you’re awarded a portion of the marks, which is preferable to zero marks. You should also keep in mind that you don’t have to answer the questions in the order that they’re presented. If you’re struggling with the first question but immediately know the answer to the fifth, don’t be afraid to write your answers out or order (just don’t forget to revisit the questions you skipped).
Consider the marks allocated to each question
Even if you have the perfect essay up your sleeve, make sure that you allocate your time and structure your answers appropriately according to the marks set for each question. For example, two-mark questions will require less time and a shorter answer (typically a small paragraph) than a more analytic ten-mark question. You should also consider the spread of marks in a question. If a question is worth three marks and asks for a definition plus two examples, it’s likely that each part is worth one mark.
Don’t leave the room early, even if you think you’ve answered everything
Before you stride out of the exam room, try to consider the bigger picture. Reading through your completed exam or making last-minute adjustments is worth it in the long run… even if it means an extra ten minutes cooped up inside. You might find that you answered a question incorrectly, made a few spelling mistakes, skipped a question or that you’ve forgotten to write your name on the exam paper. Using that extra time to proofread your work can be a lifesaver.