Exam techniques

Exam techniques

Follow the four steps below for a successful exam experience. If you're someone that experiences exam nerves or anxiety, take a look at the resources on the university's counselling website.

Step 1: read the instructions/guidance notes

  • Read the instructions/guidance on your exam paper very carefully, highlighting key actions, if necessary rewrite the instructions in your own words to ensure that you understand them
  • Read through all the questions first so you can choose the best questions for you to answer
  • Tick any possible choices, then go back to these choices and read them again and make your final selection

Step 2: analyse the question

To ensure you understand what the question is asking you to do:


  • Read the question carefully two or three times
  • Analyse each question, focusing on identifying and highlighting any keywords (Tip: the study skills advice sheet “What does the question mean?” contains a list of common key words and their suggested meanings)
  • Allocate your time according to the time available and in proportion to the marks awarded to each question. For example: If you have an exam where you have to answer 4 questions in 2 hours but where one question is awarded 50% of the total marks make sure you allocate 1 hour to answering that question and leave yourself 1 hour for answering the remaining 3 questions.

Step 3: plan your answers

Because time is so precious, it is tempting to ignore the importance of planning your answers, however, remember that a few minutes spent planning your answer is time well spent:

  • Remember you can choose to answer the questions in any order that you wish, so start with the easiest question first. This will boost your confidence and get your thoughts flowing
  • Brainstorm the question - what do you know that's relevant?
  • Make a note of your ideas at an early stage to help you remember your key points
  • Make a plan of your answer using the method that you have practised in your revision, put your points/information into an order that is logical and coherent, make sure you include an introduction and conclusion
  • Write your answer, adhering strictly to the time you have allocated
  • Leave a few minutes at the end of each question to check your work through for any obvious errors

Step 4: stick to your time-plan

  • Make a note of the time you have allocated to each question and stick to it, even if you have to finish mid-answer, you may have time at the end to go back and finish an incomplete answer
  • Remember you must make an attempt to answer all of the questions required. If you write nothing for one answer, you will get zero marks for that question. Four incomplete answers are better than three complete answers with one missing
  • If you do run out of time, lecturers will often award some marks to an essay plan so if the worst happens, write a coherent plan of the essay you would have written, if you’d had time - just bullet points will do



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