Tactics for tackling exam papers

Secrets of exam successBoost your chances of success and make a real difference to your final grades with these tried and tested exam hall tips.

Be prepared

During your revision period, ask your teacher for some past exam papers and practise answering questions in a timed setting. This helps you get used to exam formats and develops your exam skills.

Make sure you have any materials or equipment you need for each exam, such as calculators or rulers. Check with your school or college what you can and can’t bring with you.

Keep calm and ignore everyone else

Once you’re in the exam hall, try and remain calm. Take deep breaths to help steady your nerves.

Focus on what you’re doing. Try not to get distracted by someone’s annoying sniffling or let your mind wander. And remember – just because the person next to you is scribbling away it doesn’t mean they are answering questions correctly. Minutes spent understanding instructions, choosing questions and planning your time (more below), make a real difference to your marks.

Don’t dive straight in

Read the exam instructions carefully and note how many questions you need to answer. The format may have changed from previous years so don’t assume it will be the same as any past papers you’ve seen –  make sure you are following the instructions on the paper in front of you.

Jot down how long to spend on each section. Try and divide your time according to the mark scheme (so in a two-hour exam, if section one is worth 50 per cent, and section two and three are worth 25 per cent each, then try to spend an hour on section one, and 30 minutes on each remaining section).

If you have a choice of questions, tick the ones you intend to answer.

Answer the question

Sounds obvious, but it’s surprisingly easy to start writing without really answering the question on the exam paper. Remember to consider the exact wording of each question.

For essay questions, it can help to make a brief outline plan of your answer, perhaps using bullet points to remind you of the areas you want to cover. This can help structure your argument.

Be a good timekeeper

Keep an eye on the clock and try and pace yourself.

Don’t waste time dwelling on a question you are struggling to answer. Instead, focus on answering (and getting marks for) something else – you can always come back to blank areas later in the exam.

You may want to start with the question you think will be easiest, as getting going can boost your confidence and help you settle into the exam.

Review your answers

Finally, try and allow some time towards the end of your exam to review what you’ve written and correct any mistakes.

Image courtesy of Flickr.

More on surviving exam season

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How to make a revision plan in five simple steps

Top tips for effective revision