Exams and How to Cope
The Days before the exams

Make sure to attend the final few classes. The teacher will probably stress the material, which is most important. Tips may be given about what to study.

Find out what will be covered in the exam

Find out what format will be used (essay type questions, short answer, multiple choice, true-false, problems or a combination).

Try to get a good night's sleep. Avoid last minute cramming the night before: it's usually ineffective, adds to your nervousness, and will result in you waking up feeling tired.

Arrive in plenty of time, but not too early, so as to avoid the usual pre-exam conversation along the lines of what certain people think will or will not be on the paper. (Other people's apparent self-confidence is not helpful to your nerves).

Make sure that you have everything you need for the exam: spare pen, pencil, etc., a fresh battery in your calculator, any materials for a seen/open book exam, a watch.


Organize the material into sections in your school file under topics covered in the course.

Try to see the main points of each topic as a whole first before delving into the detail. Details are easier to remember if you understand how they fit into the larger framework.

Review the material by reciting, from memory, orally, mentally or by writing your answers.

If possible do discuss the main points in one topic with a friend.

Obtain the copies of previous exams, which may be available in the library.

Identify topics/themes or types of questions consistently asked by your teacher in past exams. Try to predict which questions might come up next time.

Do practice questions of the type that you will be writing - within the time limit of the actual exam.

For essay exams, practice organizing answers into a quick, short outline of the main points.

For multiple choice exams learn the overall structure of the material to be covered. This framework will hold together the many details to be learned.

Make cue cards, using small index cards with one topic on each card

Condense the material into a very brief summary of the main points.

Writing the actual exam

Look through the whole exam first. Be sure that you understand the instructions and questions.

Once the exam has started, the most important thing is to try to remain calm. If you suffer badly from nerves, try some deep breathing or loosen your shoulders before you start the paper.

Avoid looking around at other people. This is a real distraction, and can break your chain of thought.

Manage your time. How long can you spend on each question? Where will you need to spend more time, especially if some sections are worth more marks?

Reduce anxiety by answering easiest questions first.

Essay questions

With short answer or essay questions, work through the questions in order, but if you cannot answer one, mark the question, pass on and come back to it later.

Underline key words in essay questions. Use these key words to develop a quick, short outline for essay-type questions.

Make a short essay plan, writing down your main points before you forget them.

When writing the answer, remember to include a strong introductory statement, demonstrating that you have understood the question. Finish with a concluding paragraph, which is not a repeat of the essay title, but which shows how your answer has taken the argument forward, and identified any implications arising from it.

Don't be misled into thinking that marks will be given purely for the amount that you write: they won't. Teachers are looking to see that you have answered the question, and not merely written down everything that you know about the subject.

Keep an eye on the time. If you are answering a question on one of your better subjects, make sure that you do not run on too long, as this will give you less time to answer the others.

If you do find yourself running out of time, then it is better to try to write something on each question than leave one out completely. You may receive more marks from two half answers (which probably contain the major points about each subject), than from getting a good score for one and zero for a question you did not answer at all.

Write legibly. There is no point in making some excellent points about your subject if the teacher cannot read it.

Use diagrams when appropriate, as they can often explain something more clearly than words.

Try to allow yourself 10 minutes at the end of the exam to read through your script. Check for mistakes or omissions.

Multiple choice Questions

On multiple choice tests, if there is no penalty, guess. At least you have a chance of guessing the correct answer, but if you put nothing, you will definitely get no marks!

For tests, which subtract marks for incorrect answers, only answer the questions, which you know the correct answer to.

5 Minutes to end

Towards the end, look through your paper. Have you answered all of the questions? Is your name and roll number on all booklets and papers?