SOAS University of London

Student Advice and Wellbeing

Ten Top Tips for Exams

1. Answer the right number of questions

  • Read any instructions carefully
  • Don’t answer too many by mistake
  • Don’t answer too few because you run out of time
  • Answering a question even roughly will give you more marks than not answering it at all and more marks than perfecting the previous answer.

2. Answer the question asked

  • Not the question you think you were asked
  • Not the question you wish you had been asked
  • Pay attention to the question rather than writing everything you know about.....

3. Take your time

  • Give yourself planning time
  • You don’t have to spend the whole time writing.  You can spend time thinking
  • Good exam answers are not always long answers

4. You can’t memorise everything

  • Any exam is not a memory test, it is asking for your understanding of what you have studied
  • It is also your opportunity to stand back, reflect on and connect the material you have covered over the year
  • You will not fail if you don’t remember a particular reference
  • But in language exams memory is more important....
  • Once in the exam concentrate on what you know not what you don’t know and be creative if you need to

5. Practise previous exam questions

  • Look over previous exam papers to identify patterns in questions
  • You can see how general or specific questions are likely to be
  • You can either practise writing answers to time or practise planning answers (perhaps a more efficient use of time)
  • Your teacher may be willing to look at your draft plan

6. Don’t panic if you think you’ve gone blank

  • Take your time
  • Keep breathing
  • Brainstorm or just write random words/doodle rather than sit frozen
  • Give yourself permission to get up and leave the room for a moment if that will help. Walking may help unfreeze you.  If you need to get up, raise your hand and get the invigilator's attention so they can authorise a temporary absence for this purpose.

7. Learn to use your breath

  • Using your breath can soothe and calm you
  • It is impossible to be relaxed and anxious at the same time
  • Focus on breathing out rather than breathing in, breathing out smoothly, slowly but without strain
  • Feel your breath flow through your body from the crown of your head to your feet and through the floor so you ground yourself

8. Take care of yourself

  • Make sure you get enough sleep
  • Use strategies to sleep – and even if you don’t sleep much the night before the exam, you can still perform
  • Keep a balanced diet
  • This is not the best time to give up coffee, tea, smoking etc. But also avoid increasing your consumption excessively
  • Keep up regular exercise, even simple walking

9. Don’t talk about the exam before or after

  • Talking to others about the exam immediately before isn’t likely to be helpful.  Others’ anxiety can be infectious.  Everyone prepares differently
  • Talking about the exam afterwards is also probably unhelpful.  There can be many different approaches to the same question.  Once your paper is handed in, let it go

10. Give yourself a treat after the exam

  • Once the exam is over give yourself time to do something you enjoy as a reward: sit in the sun, have a coffee, go for lunch with friends, go for a lunch, have a manicure, watch TV, go to the cinema, listen to music
  • Let go of the exam – enjoy the present moment rather than dwelling on the past