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Tips From an Examiner for Passing Written Exams

Updated on November 21, 2016

No one likes exams, but it's pretty hard to get anywhere these days without passing at least some of them (even if it's just your driving theory test). The good news is that exams, like anything else, involve skills that you can learn. Here are eight solid exam technique tips I've picked up over many years of both taking and marking exams.


In other words "Read the full (hem hem) question!". You're answers might be true. They might be brilliant. But if they are not about the question I can't give you marks. There is a marking schedule for most exams. If your point is not on the schedule it won't score a mark (unless you came up with something indisputably brilliant and original, but don't kid yourself, you won't manage many of those).

Don't waste your time in the exam. Read the question. Twice if you have to. Make sure you understand what sort of answer it is looking for. Then give it. That's it. Because...

2. Writing Too Much? That's a Waste.

If there are easy points to make, make them and move on. Don't waste time and extra words saying the same thing over and over again.

In some exams there are points for style. In others you don't even need to write in complete sentences. Make sure you know what it is expected from you - so you don't waste effort on flowery sentences when you could be writing bullet points. Or you don't lose style points because you didn't use proper punctuation.

Also don't waste time writing a very long answer when there are only a few marks available. The examiner won't give you more points than the maximum for the question, so there is no point spending the extra time and effort.

Sometimes Risks Pay Off

Not all answers can be this brilliant.
Not all answers can be this brilliant. | Source

3. But Make Sure you Write Enough

If there are lots of marks for a question the examiners are looking for a long answer. Make sure you make enough points in that question for the number of marks available.

4. Be Clear

It's tough when you are tired and under pressure, but there is no point in being vague. You want to make sure that tired busy examiner can tell you have understood and answered the question.

Funny - But Not Great Exam Technique


5. Try All the Questions

(Or as many as you are meant to try if you have a choice). There will be easy marks on most questions. It would be a shame not to pick them up because you spent too long on the nearly impossible parts of another question. The hard parts may not be worth more points so you are only making the exam tougher for yourself.

It's worth being disciplined with your time. Work out how long you have per mark. (E.g. in a two hour exam with 100 marks you have 120/100 = 1.2 minutes per question). This will give you a time budget for each question. When you've used it up move on. You can always come back later if you get through some of the other questions quicker.

6. Be Concise

This will help in so many ways. It will help your time management. It will help you score points because the examiner can find them easily. It will help you make sure you understand what you mean. Woolly writing can mean woolly thinking and that won't impress anyone in an exam.

7. State the Obvious

Most exam questions have a few easy marks to get you started. These will often be for the basic ideas that the question is testing. And writing down these basic ideas can be a really quick easy way to score. So make sure that you get the easy marks before moving on to prove how clever you are on the rest of the question.

8. And to State the Obvious: Study

Because all the tips in the world won't save you if you don't know what you are talking about. Prepare well and the exam will be, not fun exactly, but less painful. If you hate studying now, think how much worse it would be to have to take it again!

9. Relax

Exams are stressful. But most people give their best performances when they relax and focus. Top athletes have sports pyshologists to help them do just that. But the rest of us can be our own "exam coaches". So breathe deep, get enough sleep and remember "it's just an exam". Then go in there and give it all you have got.

Anything I missed? Why not add your best tips on passing exams as painlessly as possible in the comments.

Good luck!


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