Tips for during your exam

As well as studying and knowing your topic well, it’s important to be prepared for what to do once you’re in the exam room. This will help you to stay focused and reduce your chances of getting stressed.  


Before the exam starts, and during the exam, make sure you read the instructions and questions carefully, and re-read them so that you are clear on what you need to do and what you are being asked.

All students are given 10 minutes reading time before the exam starts. You can’t write anything during this time, but you can use this to read through the whole paper slowly and carefully. Use this time to check how many questions you have to answer, and if there are any questions where you have to decide which ones to answer.

Make a plan

When the exam starts the first thing to do is plan how you will approach it. This means deciding:

  • What questions you are going to answer (if there are options). Choose topics that you know best even if the questions seem hard. Remember to make sure that you complete the compulsory questions.
  • How long you will spend on each question.
  • What order you will answer the questions in. Start with questions that you feel the most confident about, as you may be able to answer them faster than you plan for. This will give you extra time for other questions or to revise your answers.

Write down your order and how long you will spend on each question so that you have a plan to follow. As you go through the exam check to make sure you have answered all the questions, and that you are sticking to your time plan.

Brainstorm your answers

For each question you need to answer write down all the information you can remember about that topic to use as a reference. You could try using mind maps to help you get the information down

(Note: this technique doesn’t work well with multi-choice questions).

You can use an exam book for this, but remember to cross our your rough notes when you have finished answering the question so the marker knows they are not part of your answers.

When you get stuck

If you get stuck on a question move on before you get stressed. Note down how much time you have spent on the question, leave a gap in your answer book and return to it later. This will help ease your stress about the question and ensure you don’t use up valuable time.

If you really don't know how to answer a question or what to say, you can try to do a brainstorm or mind map. You will soon start remember more details. You could also:

  • Write down what you are writing about (your topic) using your own words.
  • Explain what you mean.
  • Give an example (or more than one).
  • Discuss the implications.
  • Summarise what you have written and say what you think about it.

You may be surprised to discover just how much you do know about the topic once you get started.

Check your answers

If you have time left at the end of the exam use the time to check your work. Check that you have:

  • Written the number of the questions you answered on the front cover of your exam book in the table in the bottom right-hand corner in in the ‘candidate question’ column. Leave the other columns blank.
  • Filled the information on the front cover correctly.
  • Written your name and student number on any extra paper you used.
  • Answered all of the questions. Try not to leave an answer blank. If you have time write something even if it is a guess. (Unless marks will be deducted for incorrect answers – check the instructions.)
  • Drawn a line through everything you don't want the examiner to mark, i.e. your rough work.

You also need to check your answers. Start with those that will give you the highest marks to see if you can improve on them. Then if you still have time, check the rest of the questions.

Checking an essay answer

For essay-type answers, re-read them to make sure they make sense. Listen to yourself as you read and ask yourself:

  • Have I answered the question?
  • Have I answered all the parts of the question(s)?
  • Have I covered all the main points?
  • Have I supported my claims with examples, reasons and results?

If you have time left check your spelling, grammar, etc. And if you still have time, go back and check your work again. Start at the end and work through to the beginning this time - you may just notice something that needs changed.

Out of time

If you realise you are going to run out of time and have not answered all of the questions, 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.

Related information

Planning your time for an exam