Eight things that could go wrong in an exam and how to fix them

students taking an exam

Worried about being late to your exam, needing the loo halfway through or having all your pens run out? Here are some of the most common exam hall anxieties, and how to sort them out if they happen to you

Exams can get your adrenaline rushing for plenty of different reasons. You might be feeling pressure to get certain grades, for example, or brooding on how you’re possibly going to remember everything.

You might also be feeling anxious about the unknown and all the little things that could trip you up on the big day, especially if you’ve never taken a formal exam before.

We’ve picked out some scenarios that are common concerns for many students and explained the best ways to deal with them. All the information in this article is based on official guidance from the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ), an organisation made up of the main exam boards. 

More like this: what to expect from an exam

Note: students taking most GCSEs and A-levels in 2022 can now access details of the topics that will be covered in their exams. 

This article explains what you need to know about advance information, with links to the exam board specifications for 2022.
empty exam hall

What will happen if I’m late to the exam?

You’ve set 10 different alarms and planned your route to the exam with military precision – but somehow, fate still conspires to make you late. So what happens next?

It all depends on how late you are!

If you arrive less than an hour late to an exam that lasts for an hour more, or after the published finishing time for an exam that lasts less than an hour, it’s completely up to your school or college whether or not to let you take the exam.

If they do let you into the exam, you’ll be given the full amount of time to sit it – so you’ll still be in the exam room after most people have left.

If you arrive more than an hour late or after the published finishing time, you’ll be considered ‘very late’. Your school or college might still let you sit the exam, but they’ll also have to send in paperwork to let the exam board know that you were very late and the reason for your lateness. The exam board will then choose whether or not to accept your paper.

If you miss the exam completely you won’t get any marks for it and you’ll have to wait to retake it the following year.

More like this: seven things to do the night before and morning of an exam

What should I do if I think there’s a mistake in the exam paper?

If you think there’s a mistake in the exam paper, you should raise your hand to get the invigilator’s attention right away and let them know.

The invigilator won’t be able to give an opinion on whether or not they think there’s a mistake but they will let the exams officer know about it immediately.

What should I do if I need to go to the toilet during the exam?

Put your hand up to let the invigilator know, and you’ll be accompanied out to the bathroom. 

Your school or college might even decide to let you have a bit of extra time at the end to make up for your time away from your desk, although this isn’t something they have to do.

What happens if I finish the exam early?

If you’re in an exam that lasts an hour or more, you’ll have to stay under your school or college’s supervision until 10am for a morning exam and until 2.30pm for an afternoon exam.

If the exam lasts less than an hour, you’ll have to stay under your school or college’s supervision until the time the exam is scheduled to finish.

students in exam hall

What if I need extra paper to do rough workings out?

The invigilator should go through this before the exam – they will explain that you won’t be given any extra paper for workings out. Instead, you should use your answer books to make rough notes, and then neatly cross them out with a single line when you’re done. 

If it’s a multiple choice question, you’ll need to do any rough work on the question booklet.

More like this: can you predict exam questions?

How will I know what time it is if I can’t take in my phone or watch?

There will definitely be a clock somewhere in your eyeline – it’s in the official exam guidance by JCQ that everyone sitting the exam has to be able to see one.

So you’ll be able to keep track of exactly how many minutes you can spend on each answer.

What if I forget to bring enough pens, or other equipment like a calculator?

Double and triple-check your equipment before you go into the hall. If you’re missing anything at that point, you can speak to your teacher before the exam starts and hopefully they should be able to help you out.

If something happens during the exam – all your pens suddenly run out of ink, for example, raise your hand to get the invigilator’s attention so you can explain the problem.

More like this: five ways you can get disqualified from an exam without actually cheating

What if I accidentally take something banned into the exam, such as a smartphone?

It could be all too easy to make an honest mistake and forget that you’ve shoved your phone into a jacket pocket – which you’ve now taken into the exam hall with you. 

If this happens, you don’t need to spend the exam sweating over the possibility of getting caught with contraband, as you will be given a final chance to hand in any banned items.

After everyone is seated but before the exam starts, the invigilator will ask anyone to hand in their mobile phone who hasn’t already done so – you won’t face any penalties if you hand your phone over at this point, but hanging on to it after this final warning could earn you a disqualification.

Feeling prepared for any eventuality can help you feel more calm and collected on the day, but with any luck your exams will go smoothly and you won’t need to use any of this information. Best of luck – you’re in the final stretch now and it will all be over soon!

Get involved with The Student Room's unofficial mark schemes

You can find a whole range of dedicated exam threads for specific exams on The Student Room. Here's the link to the list of A-level exam discussions and here's the link to the list of GCSE exam discussions

As well as using them to talk about the exam before it happens, once an exam finishes students get back on the threads to chat about how it went and to create unofficial mark schemes by sharing the exam's questions and working together to figure out the answers.

When this is done, students can look at the threads to get an idea for roughly how well they've done in an exam. 

You can find out more about unofficial mark schemes on this thread

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