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How You Can Pass Exams. Get Good Results and High Marks in Examinations

Updated on January 7, 2017
How to pass exams with flying colours
How to pass exams with flying colours | Source

Introduction - the importance of exams

"One in 12 A-level exams (8%) has been awarded the new A* grade as pupils scored another record-breaking year of results" .

I'm writing this article on Thursday 19th August 2010 and the above quotation is taken from BBC News web site ( Exam results are getting better every year. The pass rate rose for the 28th year in a row, with 97.6% of entries gaining an E or above, up from 97.5% in 2009 and 27% of entries gained an A or A*. There has been more competition for university places.this year than ever before according to Ucas. The A* level has been introduced this year for the first time in order to distinguish the very brightest of the bright and getting those top marks and high scores has never been more important. This article is not about how to cheat, how to get good marks easily, how to pass without effort. It is simply about good study practice and exam technique. The rest is up to you.

I thought this might cheer you up a bit though:

"Examinations are formidable even to the best prepared, for the greatest fool may ask more than the wisest man can answer". Charles Caleb Colton

Check out my qualifications below .

Study and preparation are key to passing examinations

There is no substitute for study for passing your exams (Painting by Edgar Degas Portrait of Duranty)
There is no substitute for study for passing your exams (Painting by Edgar Degas Portrait of Duranty) | Source

What you need to do

My background is in the arts and this advice is aimed at the traditional three hour, essay type exam paper set in England for 16 and 18 year olds, but the advice will also be useful for a range of other exams that rely on learning a body of knowledge and facts which are then used to write an essay answer in the form of an argument.

Do your exam research

What are the examiners looking for? If you have a teacher or tutor, they will normally have done the research and will deliver the information in the correct form and also tell you explicitly what you have to do. Look at past papers, examples of good answers, and any guidance available from the examination boards.

Find out how the marks are allocated. How many, for example, on the quality of writing, spelling, shape of the essay? Do all questions and sections of the paper carry the same marks or are some weighted more heavily than others? How many on facts and points, how many on argument? Tailor your answers to ensure that you pick up as many points as possible and that you are putting your effort into the areas where you will pick up the most marks.

Read further articles and books on exam technique (well before you sit the exam). Two books that I found very useful are How to Achieve 100% in a GCSE and How To Pass Exams: Accelerate Your Learning, Memorise Key Facts, Revise Effectively - you can buy both from Amazon - see below.

Exam preparation - prepare well before the examination


Passing exams is about technique and knowing the system. Practice does make perfect. Use past papers, sit down for the time allocated, do the exam under exam conditions, get your paper marked and get good feedback. Where could you improve?

Learn your facts

You have to list key facts and dates and sit down and learn these off by heart. Some people say that it is more effective to do this last thing at night before you go to sleep, try it - it certainly won't do any harm.

Reherse your material

You should be writing essays or doing tests on a frequent and regular basis so that you are constantly reading and analysing the body of material. Going over the information that you have been given, taking notes, working with that material by selecting helps you to learn as you progress through the course.

Start real revision well before the exam

For A levels or other major exams at 16 or 18 years old which take place in June, start revison in February.

Develop your essay-writing skills

Learn how to write a good strong essay with an introduction, body or argument and conclusion. The argument should be clearly stated, well laid out and all statements supported and illustrated by facts.

Use as few words as you can whilst retaining a fluid writing style. Practice précis - in other words cut out all unnecessary words and sentences, as this will take up valuable time. Aim for point, point, point. Ask yourself, how many points would I award that sentence.

How to make exam notes

Begin your examination preparation with exam notes.

Go through all your notes, organise them, and reduce them to key headings. Then for each key heading add up to, say, 10 points maximum. All the points should be less than one line long. Your revision notes for a history exam may look something like this:

A. Heading

  1. Point, date, fact, quotation etc
  2. Point, date, fact, quotation etc
  3. Point, date, fact, quotation etc
  4. Point, date, fact, quotation etc
  5. Point, date, fact, quotation etc
  6. Point, date, fact, quotation etc

These should jog your memory, act as prompts, and you should be able to 'fill in' the rest of the story to put flesh on these bones.

Write these very clearly and neatly or type them. Perhaps use one side of paper only. Use colour if this helps and anything else that will enable you to picture your notes, pictures, cartoons, symbols. Number your points so that you know how many there are and this will help you to know if you have missed any important points out.

Remember, the aim is to be able to visualise your notes.

Writing these notes and points out is not a waste of time. As you work with the material you will learn it. Sorting and organising it helps you to think about it and digest it.

Start to learn these notes by heart nearer to the time of your exams. Take one subject and start a couple of months ahead. See how long it will take you to learn them. Then make a timetable and stick to it.

Physical preparation for exams

I overlooked this aspect of exam preparation totally in my exam-taking youth, but now that I'm older and wiser I see how important this aspect is to examination success and we are all now so much more aware of the inter-relationship between the mind and body.

Eat well

Firstly make sure that you are well-nourished and that you don't take too many stimulants such as coffee or depressants such as alcohol. This goes for all manner of other toxins and drugs, legal and illegal. Try to eat fresh foods: fruit, vegetables, dairy products and a little meat. Avoid processed and 'fast' foods and try to eat regularly, allowing sufficient time for calm meals. A healthy body goes will a healthy mind. Your mind needs to be as fit as possible!

Take exercise

Endless studies have shown that mental ability increases if the body has good, aerobic exercise. If nothing else, walk. Half an hour fast walking every day is very good for you. I'd go further and say swim, join an aerobics class or play football, tennis etc.

Rest and Sleep

Make sure that you sleep well, sufficiently and regularly.

Just before the exam

Immediately before the examination, make sure you get a good night's sleep and eat a good, nourishing breakfast. Again many studies have shown that children who skip breakfast have poorer concentration than children who eat a good breakfast.

Sugar and concentration

Perhaps it would be a good idea to take a piece of fruit to eat just before the examination to keep the blood sugars up.

I would have said avoid sugar rushes though in the form of refined sugar in cakes, sweets and the like, but I recently watched a TV programme where two brothers, identical twins) followed different diets and they were then monitored to see what effect the diets had on their bodies and brains. One brother was given a high fat diet and the other a high sugar diet.

One trial involved the brothers trading for a day on the stock market. Huge concentration was needed together with mental agility and stamina - exactly what you need to perform well in examinations. The brother on the fat diet did very badly, but the sugar diet was much more conducive to the task.

I would still be wary of taking in large quantities of refined sugars because of the downside after the rush. You might like to do a bit more research in this area.

Young man reading by candlelight Matthias Storm 1600-1650 (Public Domain image - Copyright expired)
Young man reading by candlelight Matthias Storm 1600-1650 (Public Domain image - Copyright expired) | Source

Mental preparation for examinations

Exam nerves

How do you deal with exam nerves? This is a very difficult aspect and the answer depends very much on how badly you are affected. If your nerves are so bad that it prevents you taking examinations at all perhaps a visit to the doctor to see if they can prescribe something to calm the nerves for you, or refer you to another practitioner such as a herbalist, homeopath, hypnotherapist or similar.

Don't self medicate, take drugs or alcohol, these are all harmful to your health and mental well-being

You could try yoga or meditation or learn breathing techniques. How about joining a choir or take up a similar leisure activity where you are socialising, but also letting out a bit of tension?

Optimum working time

At University I shared a flat with a Psychology student. She had learned that the optimum study block was 45 minutes, so all the students studying for finals in our flat would work for 45 minutes and then come out of their rooms for 10 or 15 minutes break. This system worked well for us.

One other thought; we were told that you remember things better if you read through them just before you go to sleep. Take your notes to bed - it won't do any harm so long as it doesn't keep you awake too long.

No cramming at the last minute

Rest the night before the exam. Go to bed early, get a good night's sleep and arrive at the exam calm. If you don't know the material by now, the next best thing is to have a clear mind so that you can improvise!

In the examination room stay calm and don't panic. See below for more exam-room techniques

Strategies in the exam room

You have to beat those nerves. When you look at the paper you will probably panic (I used to!) and think you can't answer the questions.

Stay Calm

  • Take a few deep breaths and calm right down. Use several of your valuable minutes to do this.
  • Then take ten good minutes to read the questions and choose those that you feel you can get the most points for.

Choose wisely

  • Remember, don't choose your best subject if it is teamed with something you don't know about. For example you know 'A' really well, but don't touch it if the question is Compare and contrast A with B - unless you also know 'B'.

Read the question

  • Read the question, and read it again - and again. Teachers always say this and people always make the mistake of not doing it. To help you to really read it, underline and or ring the various sections of your chosen question.
  • Answer the question. Answer it exactly. Answer the question, the whole question and nothing but the question.
  • Take time to plan your answer. You can make notes before you begin and put a neat, diagonal line through this so that it will not be marked.

Timing strategy in exams

You will have found out how points are allocated when you researched for this exam. If you are to answer 4 questions in 3 hours and each question carries the same number of marks, then give each question the same time. Subtract your first ten minutes reading and thinking time, then divide the rest into 4. Start with your worst question and try to squeeze every point possible out of it. Make sure that you complete each question in time. Don't over-run. If you answer only one out of four questions you can only gain 25% at most - no matter how brilliant this answer is. Finish with your best question. Get as many points out of this also. If you are running out of time but you still have lots more things to say, resort to note form to squeeze out every last mark.

On the other hand, if you have extra time, go back to your other answers and try to dredge up an extra point or two.


Write your answer as quickly as you can. Remember you are trying to get points. For every valid statement, fact, date that you use and each valid step of your argument you will gain points. Keep your introduction very short and succinct. Keep your summary very short and concentrate on putting down information that the examiner can award points for.

Try marking your own work. Go through an answer and tick every point made. Ask your tutor to work with the class to produce a model 'perfect' answer.

Quick resume of this examination advice

Physical Preparation
Mental Preparation
Exam Techniques
Eat well
Make revision timetables
Reserch your examinations
Cut down on toxins, stimulants and depressants
Deal with panic
Make revision notes
Make sure you know what is expected of you
Take exercise
Learn your material thouroughly
Make sure you know how marks are allocated
Take enough sleep (normally 8 hours)
Practice on past exam papers
Work out timing strategies for the exam itself
Practice effective examination answers

Conclusion - organisation and hard work lead to success in examinations

To conclude, there are no shortcuts to exam success. You must know your material, know what the examiners are looking for and develop a good exam style. Then you must make good revision notes that you can learn by heart. You must learn key dates, quotations and facts by heart. In the exam itself you must stay calm, choose your questions wisely, answer the question exactly and gain as many points as possible.

What to do next

I was about to write a checklist of what you should do next based on this article, but then I thought that this is exactly what you should do. Get onto your computer or pick up a pen and paper, then neatly, with good headings and short, memorable, numbered points create a checklist of things to do.

... And I wish you all the success in the world!

My examination qualifications

  • 9 'O' Levels
  • 3 A grade A levels and one 'D' grade A level (General studies and my Maths is almost non-existent!!)
  • 2i Degree in Art History at Edinburgh University
  • 3 years working as a teacher of Art History to Advanced level at Notting Hill and Ealing High School and in Adult Education in London, UK
  • MLD Landscape Design Manchester University
  • I now run painting holidays and courses at Les Trois Chenes Bed and Breakfast and holiday cottage in Limousin, France

For more information about our B&B, holiday cottage or painting holidays have a look at our web site or contact me on

Work methodically and thoroughly for best results

The young student by Ozias Leduc. 1894 (Public domain image, copyright expired)
The young student by Ozias Leduc. 1894 (Public domain image, copyright expired) | Source

Have you found this article useful?

Will this advice help you with your exams?

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© 2010 DaisyChain

Do leave a comment if you have anything to add to this

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    • profile image

      deee 5 years ago


    • profile image

      Nick 5 years ago

      Thanks It was vey useful . I will surely try these techniques in my exams

    • Les Trois Chenes profile image

      Les Trois Chenes 5 years ago from Videix, Limousin, South West France

      Many thanks, Nick, for leaving a comment. I wish you luck (and hard work) for your exams.

    • profile image

      Ong li xuan 5 years ago


    • profile image

      Brijendra 5 years ago

      Thnaks a tell us these procedures!


    • profile image

      Sihini 5 years ago

      tnx a lot

    • DaisyChain profile image

      DaisyChain 5 years ago from France

      Thanks for leaving these kind words, deee, ong li xuan, Brijendra and Shhini. I hope they help. Exams are so stressful and so very important, more than ever now.

    • DaisyChain profile image

      DaisyChain 5 years ago from France

      Thank you, Sihini, for taking the touble to leave a message.

    • profile image

      shailesh 4 years ago

      it vill very useful to get more score

    • DaisyChain profile image

      DaisyChain 4 years ago from France

      I do hope it helps, shailesh. Thanks for leaving a comment. Come back and tell me how you did.

    • profile image

      preethi 4 years ago

      it was really very nice and gd

    • profile image

      vannilaa 4 years ago

      it was really nice expect you more

    • DaisyChain profile image

      DaisyChain 4 years ago from France

      Thank you so much for leaving a message. I do hope it was of some use with your examinations.

    • DaisyChain profile image

      DaisyChain 4 years ago from France

      I still remember how awful my exams were and still dream that I have an exam and haven't done my revision. I do believe that technique and preparation is 75% of success.

    • profile image

      zainab 4 years ago


      i'm good at studies. mi o/l results insha allah 9A but now i'm facing difficulties in writing exam, i mean scared about exam. i don't know how will i face my examination this year (a/l)

    • profile image

      Nihal Patnaik 4 years ago

      Oh because this i have gotten good marks in all the subjects

    • profile image

      mohamed 4 years ago

      is it first easy in getting A in all subjects

    • Les Trois Chenes profile image

      Les Trois Chenes 4 years ago from Videix, Limousin, South West France

      Zainab, Nihal, Mohamed, many thanks for your comments. It's hard work to do well in exams but keeping calm is so very important. The more you plan well in advance, the more you practice from past exam papers, the more you do timed answers and the better you learn your material the less likely you are to panic. I think I'll add a section about mental preparation. I didn't have real problems with exam nerves - except for the moment you turn over the paper and think that you can't answer any of them. I learned to sit quietly, take a few deep breaths, take time to read through the questions VERY CAREFULLY and then to plan my answers carefully. By that time I had calmed down a bit. I hope this helps. The very best for your exams - you all deserve to do well!

    • profile image

      Sasa 3 years ago

      Great Thing

    • profile image

      Leesha 3 years ago

      It would be agreat heip for me

    • DaisyChain profile image

      DaisyChain 3 years ago from France

      Thanks Sasa and Leesha for leaving this feedback. Would love to think that this has been of some help to you.

    • profile image

      ustadh luka kiguru 3 years ago

      this is great. it is a real help especially to those taking the final laps in their classes.the main thing is to relax and revise the main points taken earlier to help u achieve.

    • DaisyChain profile image

      DaisyChain 3 years ago from France

      I totally agree. Good preparation plus a clear head. If you haven't prepared, a clear head is essential so that you can try to improvise and at least glean a few points through creative thinking. Many thanks for taking the time to leave a message and good luck!

    • profile image

      kirthi 3 years ago

      ya!!!hope it is usefull!!!!

    • Les Trois Chenes profile image

      Les Trois Chenes 3 years ago from Videix, Limousin, South West France

      Thanks for posting a message, kirthi. I do hope this helps with your exams and that you pass with 'flying colours'.

    • profile image

      disha 3 years ago


    • profile image

      harry 3 years ago

      hello n thanks a lot i will do my best to full all the tasks

    • profile image

      arwa 3 years ago

      gud job!!! :D

    • profile image

      ROCKY 3 years ago

      i love it make more important messages for us keep going best of luck for your exam

    • DaisyChain profile image

      DaisyChain 3 years ago from France

      Thanks so much for these choice words.

    • DaisyChain profile image

      DaisyChain 3 years ago from France

      Thanks for leaving a comment here Rocky - and good luck to all readers - my fingers are crossed for you.

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      piumi 3 years ago

      Thanks a lot,Nice advice for the success of my exam

    • DaisyChain profile image

      DaisyChain 3 years ago from France

      Many thanks for your message - good luck.

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      riemi 3 years ago

      is optimum study time really 45 mins? is it slightly harmful to go 5hrs at a stretch or so? does it make a student more lethargic and bored? im giving my med school admission exams.

    • DaisyChain profile image

      DaisyChain 3 years ago from France

      Apparently 45 minutes is best and concentration wanes after that. When I was studying for my final University exams my flatmates and I would study 45 minutes then have 15 minute break - everyone got very good results. I doubt that it's harmful to study for 5 hours but it would certainly make me bored. Can you really concentrate for 5 hours? I expect each person is different and you need to find the best method for you.

    • profile image

      riemi 3 years ago

      Thank you so much DaisyChain.

    • profile image

      riemi 3 years ago

      And its true my concentration wanes after a couple of hours, but I never knew before, that taking breaks helps one study optimally in the long run, so i never tried it your way. Thanks again, your theory explains a lot.

    • DaisyChain profile image

      DaisyChain 3 years ago from France

      Come back riemi and let me know if it works.

    • profile image

      riemi 3 years ago

      One hour and forty five minutes seem to work the best for me, with a fifteen minutes break after that. Apparently I need the first hour to get completely into the subject. The next forty five minutes is for intense studying. The break keeps me motivated if i do something worthwhile, or keeps me recharged if I just rest. Breaking the study time in parts keeps me content, for then everything is balanced. Thank you so much DaisyChain for your inputs.

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      priyanka tunna 3 years ago

      it is good and freshening

    • DaisyChain profile image

      DaisyChain 3 years ago from France

      Whatever works for you, riemi. Organising your work and giving yourself time is the really essential thing. Good luck!

    • DaisyChain profile image

      DaisyChain 3 years ago from France

      Thank you priyanka tunna. I do hope all goes well in your exams.

    • profile image

      mannu 3 years ago


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      Dasharath 2 years ago

      thanks for advise but now a day the the competitive exam is going on very hard a boy study 14 to 16 hours in a day but he is not success

      I know what r u thinking u r thinking the he was not study properly but that is wrong because every govt exam paper out before exam

    • DaisyChain profile image

      DaisyChain 2 years ago from France

      Times are getting harder for young people and I can only hope that if you study hard you'll be successful but I can't see how anyone can be expected to study for 16 hours a day for very long. This might be OK for a few days or a week or so before the exam but do take care of your physical and mental health too, Desharath. Thank you for taking the time to leave a comment.

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      Mazhar 2 years ago

      Your work is very real and good to follow success advice. But in my case, I am unable to concentrate more than an hour and breaks get me carried away even more, coz once I take short break, again I've to take new start and 30 minutes to get back and resume the study. I just want to know that what could be the best use of quick short breaks we allow yourself during the preparation so that I don't get carried away. Best of Luck for B&B too :)

    • DaisyChain profile image

      DaisyChain 2 years ago from France

      When I was a student my flatmates and I used to come into the kitchen, have a cup of coffee and a chat for 15 minutes and then head off back to our rooms to study. It isn't easy to concentrate and to keep up the work, Mazhar. If you can find supportive, hardworking friends that might help. Best of luck!

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      Aronpaul 22 months ago

      Wawo I like good ideas like dat but thanks

    • DaisyChain profile image

      DaisyChain 22 months ago from France

      Hi Aronpaul, so pleased you found this useful. Good luck with your exams.

    • profile image

      ASMIYA 19 months ago


    • Les Trois Chenes profile image

      Les Trois Chenes 19 months ago from Videix, Limousin, South West France

      Thanks for leaving this message, ASMIYA - much appreciated.

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