How to Ace Written Exams


It’s exam season and you’ve done all the prep work. You’ve made and reviewed your notes, participated in study groups, and completed countless practice tests. You have all the information securely stored in your head just waiting to be written out on your exam paper. You’re ready – you’ve got this!

While it is extremely essential to be prepared for your exams, it is also important to be able to relay the information gathered and answer questions in a clear and concise way. Minor errors due to carelessness can be the difference between an amazing result and a not-so-great one.

There are many things you can do to avoid making minor mistakes on your exams. Here are some simple guidelines that will help you knock those test questions out of the park!

Read all questions carefully

When you open up an exam for the first time, it’s common to feel anxious. It is also common to quickly scan through questions and evaluate how many you think you can answer. A lot of students just want to get an exam over with, and approach it like a race as to who can finish first. However, such practices can negatively affect the outcome of your exam. Quickly racing through a test can result in you misreading a question and answering it incorrectly.

It’s really important to take the time to read questions carefully to ensure that you understand them. It’s also important to ask for help or clarification from an examiner if a concept is unclear. Don’t worry about looking silly – chances are if you’re having trouble understanding a certain question, other students are too. And even if this isn’t be the case, examiners are there to help you. Don’t let fear prevent you from asking for assistance and acing that exam!

Assign a time limit to each question

It can be overwhelming knowing that you only have two or three hours to complete an exam. Whether it’s multiple choice, true or false, essay style, or a combination of all three, one of the first things you should do when taking an exam is assign a time limit to each section and question.

For example, you might want to allot more time to a section that is worth more marks as opposed to one that is worth less. You might also want to take into account the exam type. For instance, if there is an essay writing section, this might require more focus and time compared to a multiple choice section where less writing is required.

Regardless of how you structure your time, the most important thing is that you do it. Planning out and assigning blocks of time to each portion of the exam can help you to stay on track and allow you to finish within the overall timeframe given by the examiner.

Answer what you know first

Once you’ve had the chance to read your questions carefully and establish blocks of time for each section, answer what you know first. When you come across questions you can easily and correctly answer without having to think twice about them, do so. Getting easy questions out of the way can save you lots of extra time, allowing you to spend the majority of your time on questions that are a bit more challenging and require more of your attention and focus.

Review, review, and review some more

Finishing up your last exam question can certainly be exhilarating. It’s a huge relief to know that you’re no longer pressured to remember all that complicated information.

As mentioned before, many students just want to get an exam over with and hurry to hand it in as soon as they answer that final question. However, skipping the crucial step of reviewing your work could cost you in the long run.

Reviewing your exam answers gives you the opportunity to go back and double check spelling and grammar. It also allows you one last chance to objectively review each answer and ensure that you’ve correctly addressed each question.

Have you ever made a careless mistake on an exam? Share your story in the comments.

About the author

Marta Molga is a Graduate of York University’s Communication Studies program and has a Post-Graduate Certificate in Corporate Communications from Sheridan College. She has a deep love for travel, and in her spare time you can find her in the gym or volunteering and raising money for a good cause. Connect with her on LinkedIn.