10 Dos and 10 Don'ts of Exam Technique

With exam time upon us, now is the time to make sure students give themselves every chance of doing well by getting their exam technique right. Luke Saunders, current teacher and founder of has 10 Do’s and 10 Don’ts of exam technique that every junior or leaving cert exam student should read.

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10 Do’s of Exam technique

#1 Get your timings right

One of the biggest challenges facing students every year is getting the timing right so that you have enough time to answer all questions you need to. Come up with a clear time guide and write it on the front cover of your exam paper showing the actual time you should be starting each question. Then, in the middle of the exam you will be able to look at your watch and easily see how many questions you should have done at that time.

#2 Bring everything you need

It may sound simple but a lot of stress can be avoided by making sure you’ve everything you need to do the exam the following day. Make a check list the night before each exam.

It’s a good idea to bring some snacks in to the exam hall. Bananas and cereal bars are good. Avoid bringing noisy foods such as crisps that will distract everyone else!

#3 Get the basics right

Okay, you’ve heard it a million times before but make sure you get the basics right. Read the questions carefully, underline key parts, and put your exam number on your answer booklet. Get familiar with the layout of the exam paper. Some papers are tricky and complicated instructions could throw you on the day. Know the meanings of the key question words. Check out’s recent blog post on understanding the main words being used in the questions.

#4 Use studyclix! is designed to help students study more efficiently. The evening before a subject go through that subject topic by topic. Look at a question, try answer and then view the marking scheme to see if you would have gotten full marks.

# 5 Do the easiest questions first

There is no reason to do the questions in the order they are printed in the exam.  There are a couple of reasons for this; firstly, getting the first question done well will help calm you and get you focused for the rest of the exam. Secondly, Often you will get an easy question done quicker so you will be ahead of schedule form the start. It also means that by the end of the exam you will likely have more time to spend on the more difficult questions.

#6 Jog your short-term memory

The night before the exam is not the time to be trying to get your head around new concepts. You should be cramming keywords to jog your memory. Hopefully you will have distilled your notes into a couple of summary sheets. Go through these and try and tie the information together.

#7 Prepare your body

Two 3 hour exams a day, day after day will leave you feeling drained both mentally and physically. You need to prepare your body as well as mind for a lot of activity. Stuffing yourself with high sugar drinks and sweets will be fine for the first hour but you’ll be completely out of energy by the middle of the exam. Instead, try to eat slow energy release foods such as bread, pasta, porridge and fruit.

#8 Ask the invigilator

If you’re stuck on the meaning of a word or can’t understand what a question requires you to do. Put your hand up and ask the invigilator who is supervising the exams. More often than not they’ll help you or point you in the right direction.

#9 Look at the marking scheme

Keep an eye out for the marking scheme that shows how many marks are being awarded for each part of a question. If there are only a small amount of marks going for a part of a question then there is no point on writing a long answer, your time is better spent on parts with higher marks.

#10 If you’re running out of time

Supposing you find yourself with the time for only one question but two questions are left to do. The best thing you can do here is to do the first half of both questions. You gain way more marks in the first half of a question than at the end. Also if time is tight bullet points can be a great way of getting the information down as quickly as possible.

10 Don’ts of exam technique

#1 Don’t panic

Easier said than done we know but it’s important to try and keep level headed throughout the exam. One of the main reasons for stress at exam time is the lack of control. Students get stressed because they don’t know what is coming up.

One of the best things you can do to calm yourself is to visualize yourself in the exam hall. Reading the paper and picking out the questions you are going to do early on will help calm you as it removes the stress caused by the unknown of what’s coming up.

#2 Don’t worry about being penalized

Lots of students worry about making mistakes and worry about spelling words incorrectly. Remember you’re being marked positively not negatively so everything you write is getting you marks.

#3 Don’t leave out questions

From experience, the main reason students underperform in exams is not because they answer questions badly but because they leave out questions. As a rule of thumb, every long question you leave out will drop you by a grade.

#4 Don’t run out of time

Easier said than done I know but managing your time in the exam is vital if you are not to leave out questions. Your teacher will probably give you a breakdown of how much time to spend on each question.

A good trick is to write your question schedule with actual times onto the cover of your answer book while the papers are being handed out. This way, if you look at your watch and it’s say 11:10 you know exactly how much of your exam you should have done.  Also, make sure you stick to your schedule, so many students run overtime perfecting answers maybe gaining 3 marks at the expense of not doing a whole 50-mark question.

#5 Don’t be tired

Staying up late the night before an exam is not a good idea. You’ll end up so tired in the exam you won’t be able to work anything out.  Try and keep a regular sleep cycle so that you’re fully awake and ready to work when the exams start at 9:30 each morning.

#6 Don’t get stuck on a question

If you get a particularly hard question don’t sit there panicking about it. The best thing you can do is having a quick think about it, mark it with a highlighter and move on to another question. The chances are that by the time you come back to it your subconscious mind will have already set you up to make an attempt at it.

#7 Don’t bother looking around the exam hall

One of the most common things students do, especially in exams they find difficult, is to look around and try to see how their classmates are doing. There is really no point in doing this and it is likely that seeing others furiously writing away will only serve to stress you further. Concentrate on your own exam and try and keep your focus on your own paper.

#8 Don’t dwell

Once you finish an exam don’t spend half the day worrying about what went wrong and how you could have improved it. Chatting to friends after every exam will only fill you with frustrating regrets. When you hand up your paper, forget about that subject. You’re next focus is tomorrow’s exam.

#9 Don’t leave an exam early

There is always something you can do to improve your answers. Read back over your work and make sure you’ve answered all parts of all questions. Try to read your answers as if you were the examiner and you were correcting someone else’s work. Remember the changes you make in these last few minutes could bring you up a grade.

#10 Don’t panic

This tip is so important we’ll say it again. If a really hard question or paper comes up it’s likely every other student in Ireland will find it hard too. Very often the marking scheme will be made easier for harder exams. Stay positive and give each exam your best and everything will work out.

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Related : 5 Tips to Help Your Teenager Survive Exams and Help reduce Junior/Leaving Cert exam stress and 10 Tips for last 10 Days before exams

Do you have any tips for parents of teens who are embarking on exams?  Share them with us in the comments below.

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Jennifer, our Editor, has 1 son and admits to munching a Cadbury’s Turkish Delight now and again.