Before, during and after exams

The exam structure, content and organisation are outside of your control. However you can find out as much as you can about the structure of each paper, e.g. how many questions you have to answer and how many marks they are worth, so that you can plan how much time to allocate to each one. Your course tutors should tell you this beforehand and may also give you sample papers so that you know what to expect.

It can help you calm your nerves and stay focused if you devise a strategy for how to prepare, what you will do in the exam hall and how to put the exam into perspective once you have finished. Watch our video on how to do this or read the information below:

As well as revising effectively – it is important to prepare by considering the following:

Well-being – keep physically fit by doing physical activities, particularly those with a rhythmic element.  This will have a positive effect on your psychological fitness.  Exams require sustained attention and stamina. 

Sleep and relaxation – get a good night’s sleep the night before an exam.  Drinking alcohol or taking substances to help you sleep can affect your potential and your memory the next morning. 

Stop revision – last minute cramming can lead to increased anxiety and clogs up your mind.  It may benefit you to plan to stop revising at least 24 hours before the exam and use that day as an enjoyable break for you. 

Location – make sure you know when and where the exam is being held ahead of time.  If you are unfamiliar with the room, locate it.  If you suffer with exam panic, you may wish to sit in the exam room and engage in a neutral or pleasant activity, i.e. reading newspaper to calm your fears. 

Allow time – avoid rushing to the exam, but avoid arriving too early and engaging in conversations about the exam with friends, this is likely to wind you up and affect your performance. 

Here is a step-by-step guide to what to do in the exam hall:

  1. If you feel panicky when first looking at the exam paper, try and relax and do breathing exercises.
  2. Read the exam paper all the way through once.
  3. Select the questions you will answer.  Avoid looking round at others and speculating about how they are doing.
  4. Decide in which order you will answer questions and proportion your time accordingly. Research shows that it is better to attempt your strongest question first; this enables you to get into the rhythm of the exam.
  5. For essays, make a plan or at least write key words or ideas.  You may want to think about the meaning of the question by writing it in your own words.Read through your plan.  Have you provided a logical argument?  Are you answering the question?
  6. Stay focused on answering the question that is set.  Common mistakes are answering only part of the question, having a good answer but to the wrong question or misinterpretation of question. Try and stick to your time limits for each question.  If you run out of time on a question, seriously consider leaving it unfinished and go onto the next.  If you get a chance go back and finish it, even if it is in note form.

Try and put each exam behind you once it is completed and avoid post-mortems of the exam until you have finished all of them. Even if you have revised well, the exam may not necessarily feel easy. Remember that if you have had to really think in the exam, this could be just what the examiner is looking for.

However, if you do think you might have failed, remember that this is just one exam for one module in your degree and there may be alternative options such as retaking the exam, repeating the module or for finding credits elsewhere.

If you think it would put your mind at rest, contact your tutor for advice.