Exam success is made up of two ingredients: exam preparation and exam performance. I’ve written a good few blog posts about revision so this post will share 13 (yes, 13!) awesome strategies you can use IN your exam to seriously skyrocket your exam performance and achieve more marks.


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13 ways to skyrocket your exam performance

1. Get in the zone

You can design the hour or so before your exam begins to get you in the zone and prime you for a successful exam.

Firstly, always make sure you arrive at your exam centre early as panic about being late is an emotion you don’t need.

Secondly, go for a walk. Various studies show that aerobic exercise can boost our brain power. When we exercise we increase the oxygen flow to our brain which improves our ability to focus and our ability to process information faster – sounds like useful skills in an exam, right?

Go for a brisk walk before your exam, listen to some music that calms you (or energises you if you need it) and let these brain-boosting benefits improve your exam performance.

Thirdly, turn the focus on to you in the 10-15 minutes before you enter the exam centre. Whether you’re good friends with the other students or you don’t know any of them, use this time to sit or stand in silence.

Focus on slowing and deepening your breathing and tell yourself whatever nice thing you need to hear (e.g. I have prepared and now I’m going to do my best). Decide on a post-exam treat to remind your brain that life will continue after your exam and that whatever happens you deserve a reward.

2. Work out your timings

Take the duration of your exam and the marks in the paper to work out how long you should spend on each question or to gain each mark.

For example, let’s say your exam is 3 hours (180 minutes) and is worth 100 marks. Let’s say you allocate 10 minutes to read the paper and understand the questions (more relevant for an essay-based exam or where you have a choice of questions to answer), and 20 minutes at the end to add to your answers.

That leaves you with 150 minutes to achieve 100 marks – 1.5 minutes per mark. For a 10 mark question you should spend 15 minutes on it.

Working out these timings will improve your exam performance by ensuring you spend the right amount of time to gain the most marks.

3. Keep track of time and ALWAYS move on

Check the time regularly to make sure you’re on track. If you’ve reached the end of the time you allocated for each question – MOVE ON! Finish your sentence, leave some space and then move on because you can come back to it later during your editing time.

Your exam performance will seriously take a hit if you spend too long on one part of the paper. I didn’t follow this rule for one of my maths exams and I ended up missing out some questions at the end because I ran out of time – doh!

4. Read, read, underline, read

Rushing into a question before you fully understand it will damage your exam performance, so follow this simple rule – especially for questions that are worth more marks.

- Read the question.
- Read it again.
- Underline the key terms and check your understanding.
- Read the question again.

Then begin.

5. Look at the number of marks

This isn’t a hard-and-fast rule but it is a good guideline to follow.

For a question worth five marks, make five points or include five details or ideas.

6. Link to your learning

An exam is designed to test your understanding of the material you’ve been studying, so if you don’t include sufficient links back to what you’ve been learning your exam performance will suffer.

I see this mistake happening in a lot of the essays I review for my clients but it’s easily fixable. For every point you make in your exam answer, state the theorist and the theory, concept, model. Show off what you know!

7. For multiple choice questions – think of the answer first

Read the question first without looking at the options to see if you can identify the correct answer straight away. If you can’t, look at the options and see if you can first rule out the obviously wrong option(s).

8. For essay-based answers – plan your answer first

This may feel like a waste of time, but organising your thoughts before you start writing is going to improve your exam performance in a few ways. Note down the key points you want to include in your answer which will make sure you don’t ramble or go off on a tangent.

Also, as you write your answer you can come back to the plan to ensure you stay on track and to stop you forgetting what to write next.

9. For essay-based answers – leave space

Leave between 1/2 to 1 page between each answer in your answer booklet. During your editing time at the end you can then go back and add any more points to try and secure a few more marks.

10. Attempt every question

For longer, essay-type questions, it’s easier to gain the first half of the marks than the second half so if you’re running out of time and you have two questions left – boost your exam performance and try for both.

If you have 2 question, each worth 10 marks then you might decide to just focus on 1 question. The most marks you can gain here is 10 but let’s say a good answer will gain you 8 marks. If, however, you split your time and answer both questions, you only have to gain half the question’s marks (5) to have gained more marks overall.

11. Use the time at the end

Use the time you allotted for the end of your exam wisely to improve your exam performance. Check for errors, cross out anything you don’t want marked (like plans), and add some more points in the space you’ve left between your longer answers. If needed, draw asterisks (*) to highlight where an additional point should sit.

12. Take small breaks

It’s gonna feel like you can’t stop writing, even for a second, but do this and your exam performance will thank you. Every 10-15 minutes, stop for 20 seconds to stretch your wrists, wiggle your fingers and take a sip of water.

13. Speak up

If you feel ill at any time during the exam, raise your hand and speak to an invigilator/examiner. There are often policies in place if you aren’t well during an exam but these cannot help you if you don’t speak up.

If this blog post has helped you feel more prepared to kick butt in your exam, I’d love it if you could share with a fellow student.


How to Actually START Your Essay

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.

Start Your Essay

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