You’re sitting at a table in a room full of students, hunched over your exam paper, with your pen in hand. Your brain feels fried, and your hand is starting to cramp. You look at the clock, and you realise that you have only ten minutes left to answer Question 5b — which counts for 50 marks.
Exams can be a stressful experience. To help reduce the stress and anxiety surrounding exams, and to help you achieve the best possible marks, we’ve compiled a list of exam-writing tips for you.
Here are 15 things you can do to improve your results in your next exam:
1 – Check that you have received the correct exam paper.
You don’t want to waste precious time (and energy) by starting with the wrong paper.
2 – Read the instructions.
You don’t want to answer all the questions, only to realise halfway through the last essay that you were supposed to choose only one out of the three topics for Question 3.
3 – Read through the whole question paper before you start writing, and work out how much time you will have to answer each question.
As you read through the paper, highlight key words and phrases, so that you know what to focus on in each of your answers.
4 – Read the questions carefully, to make sure that you understand what is being asked of you.
You won’t get marks for providing information that, despite being correct, is irrelevant to the question.
5 – Remember that you don’t have to answer the questions in numerical order.
Just make sure that you number your answers clearly.
6 – If you get stuck on a particular question, leave it and move on.
You can always go back to it later if you have time left over at the end of the exam.
7 – Be clear and concise in your answers.
Look at the mark allocation to gauge how detailed your answer should be. Make sure that you focus on answering the question, instead of simply writing down everything that you know about the topic.
8 – Write neatly.
The person marking your paper won’t have time to sit and decipher untidy handwriting.
9 – Use correct grammar and spelling.
This will contribute to the clarity of your answers, and will prevent the person marking your paper from having to guess what you mean.
10 – For longer questions and essay-style questions: plan your answers before you start writing.
This will help you to formulate logical arguments, as well as to structure your answers clearly. In essay questions, you will get marks for using the correct format, which includes making sure that you have an introduction, sub-headings and paragraphs, and a conclusion.
11 – Where relevant, give examples.
This will help to demonstrate that you understand the topic.
12 – If you are writing an open-book exam, keep in mind that you won’t have enough time to look up all the answers.
Make sure that you know your work, and that you know where to look for key information. These types of exams are more focused on testing your understanding than on testing your knowledge, which means you need to have a thorough grasp of the work.
13 – If you have to answer multiple-choice questions, make sure you read the questions very carefully.
Try to think of the correct answer before you read through the options, as you are less likely to become confused. When in doubt, go with your first instinct. If there is more than one correct answer, go with the answer that appears most correct.
14 – If you start running out of time towards the end of the exam, write short notes as answers to each of the remaining questions, instead of trying to answer each question perfectly.
This way, you should still earn some marks for writing down the most important points.
15 – If you have time left at the end of the exam, go back and read through your answers to make sure you are happy with them.
If you have any exam tips of your own, feel free to share them with us in the comments section below!
Look out for the next part of the series, in which we’ll be showing you how to write a cover letter when applying for a job.