If I asked you to tell me how to pass a university exam, what would you say?
‘Erm, revise?’

What if I asked you how to fail an exam?
‘But why would I want to fail my exam?!’

In this blog post you’ll discover:

  • 15 ways to fail your university exam
  • How to turn these failures around so you excel in your exams
  • 15 ideas you can implement today to get the grades you want. 

Coming up with lots of way you can do well in an exam is a little difficult. But if you start with a negative brainstorm instead – ways to fail an exam – it’s much easier. Coming up with reasons why something won’t work broadens the question’s scope. You then take these negatives and ways to fail and transform them to find solutions.

In this blog post I’ve done this for you. First you’ll read my negative brainstorm, and then you’ll find out how you can turn these failures into ways to succeed. You’ll discover more than fifteen ideas you can implement to give yourself the best possible chance of excelling in your exam. Scroll down for a graphic you can save too.


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15 Ways to Fail An Exam

1. Turned up late to your exam as you got lost or stuck in traffic

2. Turned up late to your exam as you overslept

3. Missed the entire exam as you got the date/time wrong

4. Didn’t perform at your best as you were up all night cramming

5. Revised until the last possible minute, panicked, then didn’t perform at your best

6. Struggled through the exam with a dehydration headache

7. Felt exhausted and lethargic during the exam so didn’t perform your best

8. Kicked out of the exam for having unauthorised equipment, notes or for having your mobile phone in your pocket

9. Wasted time getting to grips with the confusing exam format

10. Went into the exam believing you would fail

11. Ran out of time so missed a few questions

12. Answered the wrong questions or missed some compulsory questions

13. Misunderstood a question so answered it incorrectly

14. Couldn’t answer some questions and didn’t write enough for others as you couldn’t remember enough material

15. Left the exam early.

15 Ways to Excel in Your Exam

1. Leave plenty of time to get to your exam. Plan your route whether that’s walking, driving or using public transport. If you’re driving, work out where you can park and whether traffic will impact your journey time. If you’re really worried, practice the journey first to set your mind at ease.

2. Set multiple alarms to make sure you wake up on time. If you’re a ‘snoozer’ like me, set an alarm on the other side of your room so you can’t just hit snooze and fall back to sleep.

3. Triple check the date, time and location of your exam. Silly mistakes happen, like missing a dentist appointment, but you do not want that to happen on such an important day. If you have multiple exams this is even more important as confusion might happen. Also, details can change last minute so don’t forget to check with your university for any updates.

4. I do believe cramming has value as I’ve managed to answer exam questions I only learned the day before. But, you really do need to try for a full night’s sleep the day before. You’ll find it difficult to perform at your best and remember details if you pull an all-nighter.

5. Looking at your notes and continuing revision on the day of your exam is a mistake. You are unlikely to get anything new to stick with nerves so high. You are more likely to just panic yourself, especially if you can’t recall some of the material. Focus on keeping calm instead and give yourself a pep talk to boost your confidence.

6. When you’re busy revising it’s easy to forget to drink enough water. But the last thing you want during your exam is a throbbing dehydration headache. Make an effort to drink more water in the days leading up to your exam. If you suffer from headaches a lot, and you’re checked you’re allowed to do this, you could even bring some painkillers in with you to make sure you can cope if a headache hits.

7. Even if you really don’t feel like it, try to eat something before your exam. I normally feel so sick and panicky I could cry any minute, but it’s important to fuel your brain, even if it’s just a few mouthfuls of cereal and a piece of fruit.

8. Triple check your exam instructions which should tell you what you can and cannot bring into your exam. You might make an innocent mistake like taking in the wrong calculator or bringing notes in because you didn’t realise it was a closed book exam. But these mistakes could get you kicked out of the exam. Similarly, either don’t bring your mobile with you or make sure you follow the guidelines. For example, this might be to leave your mobile in your bag or leave it at the front of the room.

9. I’ve talked about this before but I once turned over my maths exam paper…and panicked. I’d practiced short, low-mark questions but the exam paper was full of long, multipart questions. This format threw me. I wasted time and I missed easy marks looking back.

Always try to include practice exam questions and past papers into your revision. You want to get used to the style of your exam questions so you’re not surprised when you turn over the paper.

10. During you revision it’s normal to experience feelings of failure and panic. You care about your university grades so it’s natural for your mind to worry. On the day of your exam you may or may not be happy with your revision. But, you cannot think about the past as there’s nothing you can do about it.

Walking into your exam believing you’ll fail will probably result in that happening. A negative attitude won’t get you the positive results you want. It’s no use thinking of the revision you didn’t do, the sessions you missed or the things you’d like to change. What’s important is the future: the next few hours until the end of your exam.

Tell the negative part of your brain to pipe down and focus all your energy on what you can influence. You are where you are so do the best you can with what you have.

11. You should NEVER run out of time to attempt each exam question. Work out how long you can spend on each question depending on its number of marks. For example, for a two hour exam with forty marks, you should spend 2.5 minutes working on each mark. This leaves ten spare minutes to use at the beginning or end of your exam to plan and edit. Make sure you move on to the next question as soon as your allocated time is up. You can always go back and finish or add to an answer later. It’s a lot easier to get the first 50% of a question’s marks than the second. You will gain more marks by achieving 50% of the marks for four questions than 75% of the marks for two questions.

12. Find out the exam’s format during your revision but also read the paper’s instructions carefully at the start of the exam. Check whether all questions are compulsory or whether some are optional so you have choices to make.

13. You may have written a beautiful exam answer, but if you misread the question high marks are unlikely. It’s so easy to quickly read an exam question and jump straight into scribbling down your answer. Take your time and read each question multiple times. Underline the action words so it’s easier to identify what is required of you. Work out some key points or possible sections and then start. Keep referring back to the question to check you’re on track.

14. If your struggle to answer the exam questions or recall enough details your revision was probably ineffective. In another blog post I talk about 15 exam revision mistakes. Ultimately, if you use passive techniques instead of active ones, don’t revise for long enough, and miss out some of the necessary topics – you’re unlikely to gain the high marks.

Here’s what you should do instead:

· Start revision as early as possible

· Make revision a top priority – clear your schedule of anything that’s not urgent or super important

· Identify what topics might come up in your exam so you can plan it into your revision

· Revise using active revision techniques that force you to test you understanding.

15. I can’t really think of a reason to leave an exam early. Exam questions are carefully designed to take a certain amount of time. Unless you’re Hermione Granger, you can’t finish a three hour exam in one hour (and Hermione would continue scribbling until the last second). Use your spare time to add extra points, check your answers for gaps, and check any calculations for errors.

HOW TO FAIL AN EXAM and what to do instead


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Workbook + video training to take you from procrastination and overwhelm to understanding your question and mapping out your ideas with momentum. Easier, faster essay writing (and higher grades) await.

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