Exam Skills: Tips for good Exam skills

The most common mistake in any exam is for a student to misunderstand an essay question or even an entire set of instructions. The sense of uncertainty, that we can’t truly predict what is going to happen in the exam, can be partially overcome through good technique.


Know your exam paper

  • How many questions are there?
  • How many questions are you required to answer?
  • How much time do you have to answer the questions?


Decide how you are going to plan your time during the exam. Include time for:

  • Reading the paper
  • Deciding which questions you are going to answer
  • Checking your answers.


What type of questions are there?

  • Short answers
  • Multiple choice
  • Structured questions
  • Essays


Also consider:

  • Is the paper divided into sections?
  • Are some questions compulsory?
  • Do you have to answer questions from each section?


For each question you may like to:

  • Read the question carefully 2 or 3 times
  • Highlight the key words indicating the required approach
  • Brainstorm the question – what do you know?
  • Ask how does this information relate to the question?
  • Arrange your points accordingly
  • Write your answer
  • Reach your conclusion, summarize what you have written
  • Review your work


Further reading

Read through the study advice sheet: What Does the Question Mean? This will help you to analyze and interpret questions so that your answer does not include superfluous and unrelated information.


Before the exam

Try and reduce any uncertainties you may have by preparing in advance:

  • When is the exam?
  • Where is the exam?
  • What time does it start?
  • What will you need to take into the exam hall?
  • What are you allowed to take into the exam hall?


During the exam

  • Write clearly and legibly
  • Listen to the instructions given
  • Read the instructions on the paper
  • Read through the paper carefully
  • Decide which questions you are going to answer and in what order. You might feel better starting with the question you feel most confident about.
  • Don’t just write everything you know about a topic
  • Be selective from the information that you know:

o   Analyse the question

o   Underline or highlight key words and phrases

o   Ask yourself what the question is asking

  • Plan and structure your answer. Does it have an introduction and a conclusion? Does it answer the question?
  • Look carefully at the mark allocation for each section. This will help you to apportion your time correctly.
  • Answer the required number of questions. Keep to time.
  • Remember, you don’t get marks for questions you have not attempted.
  • Allow five minutes at the end of each question to read through your work.


After the exam


Avoid a prolonged post-mortem outside of the exam hall. It is too easy to convince yourself that, from the evidence of others, you have done badly. Remember that there is always more than one way to answer each question! You should, however, review your exam technique. Use each exam to learn about how you performed and to identify what preparation you may need to do for future exams, for example:

  • Had you revised efficiently?
  • Did you learn the key topics in such a way that they were easy to recall?
  • Were you clear about the exam procedure?
  • Did you run out of time?
  • Did you fulfill all of the exam’s requirements?


If there are any aspects of the exam that you were unhappy with, discuss these with others who weren’t in the same exam. Try and find ways of quickly and simply rectifying any problems for your next exam.