The art of writing exams

So you’ve done your revision, you’re feeling relaxed and it’s time to write your exams… Do you feel in control, or do your palms get all sweaty the minute you walk through the exam room doors?

If the thought of writing the exam makes you nervous, don’t panic. A reasonable amount of nerves is a good thing. It shows that you’re taking the exams seriously, and gives you enough of an adrenaline burst to keep you on form and alert when you need to be.

However, don’t let your nerves get the better of you to the point that you forget everything you’ve spent so much time and effort revising!

You should approach your exams with a cool head and a plan of attack. Here are some tips to help you ensure that you’re doing the best you can:

  1. Prepare for the exam the night before you write it

By this time you should not be studying any new sections. Spend a few hours the day before the exam revising what you need to know, and then close your books and try to relax. Set out your uniform, pack your bag and double-check your exam timetable so that when you wake up the next morning, everything is ready to go (including you!).

  1. Eating and drinking before the exam

Be sure to eat a good breakfast but don’t overdo it. Eat something that will keep you fuller for longer, for example a bowl of oats with some milk and peanut butter stirred through. Add a piece of fruit and you’re good to go!

It’s important to drink lots of water throughout the day but try not to drink too much water, tea or coffee before your exam. This will prevent you from being horribly uncomfortable and unable to go to the toilet in the middle of the exam session.

  1. Pack the right stationery (and some extras)

Find out exactly what you need to bring to the exam and make sure that you’ve packed it. Do this the night before the exam so that you’re not running around looking for something essential two minutes before you need to be out the door.

Always bring spare pens and, if possible and necessary, a spare calculator. Just in case. Also, don’t forget your pencil sharpener and eraser. A watch or small clock is also a good idea (you won’t be allowed to use your cell phone, and you may be too far from the clock on the wall to see it clearly).

  1. Study the exam timetable

It sounds obvious but you’d be surprised at how many people don’t take the time to read their exam timetable carefully. If you don’t read the timetable carefully, you could miss your exam or prepare for the wrong one. Make sure you know:

  • what time your exam starts
  • where you’ll be writing it (and how to get there)
  • which exam it is (for some subjects, you will write more than one exam and each exam will test different sections of the syllabus)
  • what you need for the exam (for example, a calculator)
  1. Be early

Arrive at the exam venue with plenty of time to spare. Don’t spend this extra time discussing the exam or trying to cram though – spend it chatting about other stuff, or simply sit quietly by yourself.

  1. Use your time wisely

You will get some time at the start of the exam to read through the paper. Make sure that you use this time to plan your approach to the exam. It’s important that you know exactly what is in the exam before you start writing it so that you can make decisions about what to answer, what to leave, what to come back to and how long to spend on each question or section.

Make sure that you read the instructions carefully so that you don’t answer questions you don’t need to. For example, you may write an exam that requires you to choose between two questions. In this case, answering both questions would be a waste of time (and the examiner would not be able to mark both of them anyway).

Make a mental note of the questions that you are sure you know how to answer. Estimate how long you have to spend on each section of the paper and don’t go over this time. You can always come back to any unfinished questions if you have spare time at the end.

Plan to finish the exam at least 10 to 15 minutes before the official finish time. If it is normal for you to run out of time when you are writing exams, then try to first answer the questions that you know the answers to and leave the others. That way you are guaranteed marks. You can then use any leftover time to go back and try to answer the questions that you are unsure about.

  1. Answer the question

Make sure that you understand exactly what the question is asking of you. If the question asks you for a list, don’t spend time on detailed descriptions. If the question asks you to discuss something, don’t provide a list. If you are asked to compare things, you are being asked to explain how things are alike or different to one another.

The best way to ensure that you are answering questions properly is to highlight, underline or circle the most important points in a question. Refer back to this often as you are answering the question so that you stay on the right track.

Another important tip is to make sure that if a question asks for FIVE things that you only provide five things. In a case like this, the examiners are instructed to only accept the first five options given – they will not sift through your list of 20 things to find the five correct ones.

  1. Let it go+

When the exam is over, it’s over. Don’t dwell on it, don’t think about it, don’t stress about it: it is done. You can deal with the results when you get them. In the meantime, there’s no point fretting over something you can no longer control. Move on and think about your next exam.

Remember that the Ace it! study guides have plenty of practice exam questions for you to use as practice. These will give an idea of what to expect in the exam, as well as guidance on how to answer the questions for the maximum number of marks.