Planning your time for an exam

Planning and managing your time when you're sitting an exam is very important. It's not difficult, and can definitely make a difference to your results.

If you know the format of your exam - the number and types of questions you will be asked - you will be able plan how you will allocate your time before you go to the exam. Then when you arrive, you can check it against the questions and make any changes that are needed.

You will get 10 minutes reading time at the start of your exam where you are not allowed to write. Use this time to:

  • Read through all of the questions.
  • Check which questions are compulsory, and if there are options decide which questions to answer.
  • Decide which to answer.
  • Allocate time for each question based on the number of marks each is worth.

How to allocate your time

Most exams are three hours long (180 minutes), with 10 minutes before the exam starts.

  • As you're not allowed to write during the first 10 minutes, allow an extra 5 minutes when the exam starts to tick off the questions you're going to answer (if there's a choice), and underline the key words (180 - 5 = 175 minutes).
  • Allow 15 minutes at the end for checking (175 - 15 = 160 minutes).
  • This leaves 160 minutes to answer the questions.

From here there are two different methods you can use to plan your time.

Option 1

If the exam is worth, say, 100 marks, you have just over 1½ minutes per mark. So, for example, a 20-mark question should take about 30 minutes.

Write the time available for a question next to each question.

Option 2

Essay questions are worth, say, 50% of the marks, so allocate 50% of the time to them, that is 80 minutes. If there are two essay questions worth 25 marks each you should spend 40 minutes on each essay.

Count the number of short questions, and divide the remaining time by the number of questions. Say there are 50, that would give you just over 1½ minutes per question.

Write the time available for a question next each question.

Stick to your allocated time

During the exam remember:

  • Don't go over your allotted time, especially for essay questions.
  • Use any time you have left over to fill in any gaps and to check your work.

What to do if you get stuck or run out of time

If you come across a question that you can't answer leave it and move on to the next question. You can always come back to it at the end.

If you run out of time or return to a question that you are still unsure of, jot down your main ideas and key words so that the examiner knows where you were going with the essay. You may get a few additional marks in this way.

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