20. Exam advice – what to do in the exam room

Dear Isaac,

Before the exam be sure you know:

  • which exam is when and where
  • what topics are in each exam
  • how long each exam is and how much time you have for each question. For example is it a mark for every minute?
  • know well which question you should be starting after a quarter, a half and three-quarters of the overall time  
  • how each is structured and the marking system
  • and move onto the next question at the right time

Have everything you need for the exam (eg several of your favourite pens, ruler, rubber) ready to go for the morning.

Have a good night’s sleep the night before – stop revising by 9.00. Keep to your normal routine. And wake up in good time to have a shower and breakfast. 

Take some water with you for the exam room as being hydrated helps your brain work. And some brain food (eg nuts, bananas) in case you feel peckish before the exam.

Say really positive things in your head (eg “I’ll be fine”, “I’ll do my best”). 

Be there early as you don’t want any last minute worries. And it gives you time to go to the toilet so you don’t waste time in the exam. Glancing over some flash cards about the exam this might help settle your nerves.

Being nervous and thinking that you can’t remember anything is natural and increases the level of essential chemicals that help you focus and think quickly.

Putting pen to paper is pretty important in the exam room!

During the exam

When you first sit down, take a couple of deep, full, controlled breaths to settle yourself.

Check the instructions on the exam paper and be totally sure you answer the right number of questions. Especially make sure you know if there are any compulsory questions. And be sure you answer them. Misreading instructions will close you marks.

Read every question carefully. Difficult to believe but it’s best to read through all the questions and, if you have a choice to make, make a decision which ones you are going to answer. It might be worth marking these in some way.

I, like most people, prefer to answer the questions in order of the paper but you might prefer to answer those you find easiest first. If you answer the easiest questions first it gives you confidence and allows your subconscious mind to work on those harder question. It’s your call.

Remember to show your planning if it’s an essay type answer and show your working even if you can’t finish the question. You might gain some marks for this. 

If there is any question you cannot answer then leave it and move to the next one. Your brain will subconsciously be working on the ones you can’t do whilst you’re answering the others.

If your mind goes completely blank all you have to do is breathe two long, controlled breathes. Then get back to it. 

If you start to run out of time and have some long, maybe essay-style, questions left tackle them all as the easiest marks can be got at the start of the question. And write in bullet points.

Never leave an exam early. If you have time at the end go through your exam paper and check what you have written. 

Never focus or even concern yourself with other people in the room. Just do what you do. 

Give yourself 5-10 minutes of checking time and go through the paper. Make any alteration to your answers that are needed.

After the exam try hard not to think about it. It’s gone. Move your focus onto the next one.