How to do better in your exams without knowing more

Student in exam

Four simple ways to make the most of what you already know

You may have been revising solidly for months and know everything that can possibly be known, you may be relying on last-minute cramming or you may just be winging it on the day of the exam.

Whatever your preparation style, here are four tips to help you nail your exam technique and avoid throwing unnecessary marks away:

Answer the question, the whole question and nothing but the question.

Don't answer the question you wish was there.It sounds obvious, but any examiner will tell you that this is the biggest mark loser. It’s just so tempting to see a keyword or phrase and just spew out everything you can remember about a topic. 

Remember to:

  • Plan essay questions carefully with an introduction and a conclusion that refers back to the question
  • Keep checking back at the question to keep yourself on track, using words from the question regularly
  • Explain the points you make and support them with evidence and examples

Be positive

A certain amount of stress and nerves in the build-up to exams is understandable and healthy n most cases. But if you go into the exam certain that you’re going to fail, there’s a real danger of panic. Don't worry!

Remember to:

  • Familiarise yourself with the exam room, the journey to and from school or college, waiting for the exam to start and so on. This will help you deal with the real situation when it comes around
  • See the exam as an opportunity to show what you know – and try to enjoy it

Good timing is everything

You can’t really complain if you do badly because you haven't revised much or don't understand things, but running out of time is an agonising way to lose marks.

You may know everything there is to know, understand every question and possess all the skills needed for an A* but if you mistime the exam these abilities mean little.

Remember to:

  • Check how long the exam is (with start and finish times), how questions are structured and how marks are allocated. Knowing these things lets you work out exactly where you should be in the paper at any point during the exam.
  • Practise the different types of questions in the time allocated as part of your revision, and try whole papers under timed conditions to get a feel for your time management
  • Keep an eye on your timings as the exam progresses. If you are in danger of overrunning on one question consider leaving it, moving on and coming back to it later.

Show the examiner how clever you are

It's not just about getting the right answer; marks are often available for showing how you think a problem through. But if the examiner doesn’t know how you arrived at an answer, they can’t give you credit.

Remember to:

  • Let the examiner see your working; put it on the actual exam script, not on a corner of the question paper
  • Provide the main definitions and explanations that got you to your answer
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