You have studied well for your exam, wrapped everything up yesterday and had a nice sleep, and now you are in the exam hall with your exam papers in your hand. Then suddenly you have these questions in your mind.
How should I begin answering all these questions?
This is very common to a lot of students. After all, since when are we taught the skills for answering exam paper questions?
And this is exactly what this post is about. I am going to tell you all the general test taking tips and strategies that we all want to know.
This post covers…
- What should I do when I first receive my paper?
- Should I do the paper according to its order?
- In what ways should I allocate my time? How can I finish the entire paper in time?
- What should I do if I am stuck?
This is part of the Series: Top Tips for Exam and Tests!.
If you haven’t read the previous post, I have picked some great ones for you to go through!
- Science-Backed Study Tips to Ace Your Exam (+ Free Checklist!)
- Free 7-Day Course: How to Study for Exams Effectively
- How to Study for Exams in a Week
- The Best Ways to Prepare for Final Exams
Now let’s get started with some awesome test taking tips!
Skim and preview your paper immediately when you first receive it.
Before going into any strategies and skills, the most important thing when you first get your exam paper is to skim through the entire paper and find out the following things.
- The number of questions you are required to answer
- How the types of questions are distributed
- The weighting of each question / part
Write down things you may forget on the paper.
There’s one more thing that I often do when I first receive the paper. While skimming, I would probably be able to spot out some questions regarding some facts that I may forget.
I would then immediately jot down the information that I may forget at the back of the paper to make sure that I won’t lose them when I need them.
Similarly, when I am taking math exams, I would immediately write down all the formulas that I may forget at the front when receiving the paper (provided that it won’t take a lot of time for me to do so). This makes the process of completing the paper easier for me.
Should I attempt the easier questions or the difficult ones first?
After grasping the above information, you can now decide how you are going to complete your exam paper.
Generally speaking, it is a good practice to start with easier questions. It is also usually the case that the exam paper will begin with easier questions first, and then go to more difficult questions. One good way of completing the paper would be just to follow the sequence of the exam paper.
Why is attempting the exam paper in its original order good for you?
- You won’t miss a few questions carelessly. If you are doing the questions here and there, you may have missed one or two without noticing.
- You are more likely to get the easier questions correct. Imagine if you start with the most difficult question, and got stuck for a long time. Then, just when you finally come up with an answer (that you may not be so satisfied with), you realized that you are running out of time. Boom. You will then loose the chance of getting the marks for the easier questions. Worse still, you may not be able to get all the marks for the difficult question.
- Completing easier questions first can boost your confidence. Just imagine how desperate you would feel if you start with a question that you don’t even know what to answer! It definitely doesn’t feel good. But if you start with easier questions, you will work on the paper smoothly, and so you will feel more confident. Remember I talked about how attitude matters in your exams? Once you get more confident with yourself, you are more likely to solve the difficult problems (and you will have more time to do them as well!)
While I follow the sequence of my exam paper most of the times, there are times that I choose to complete the latter questions first. I may want to spend more time on those questions, and I am confident that I can finish the earlier parts even with time pressure.
If you really decide to not follow the order…
If you decide to do other questions first, I recommend doing the entire part rather than just picking a few questions to work on. For example, if you decide to work on the questions on Part C first, then do the entire Part C before going back to Part A. This will prevent the problem of skipping questions mistakenly.
How should I plan my time in exams?
Time management in exams can determine your performance and your grades. A lot of students may perform very well when there is no time pressure, but once they have to do a paper in two hours, they never perform just as well because they couldn’t finish the paper.
Why leave yourself thinking that I could have gotten a much better grade if I could finish the entire paper? Let’s get those marks back by planning our time well!
Allocate your time per the weighting of the questions
A very important time planning strategy is to allocate your time according to the weighting of the question. Let’s say you are doing a 2-hour exam paper, and you need to complete 2 essay questions. One carries the weight of 40%, and the other carries 60%.
Naturally, you will allocate 40% of the time to the first question, and 60% to the second.
That makes a lot of sense since the first question is usually easier than the second one considering the weighting.
But I will do one more thing before actually calculating the time for each question.
Give yourself some time to check your paper
I usually minus 10 minutes from the total amount of time before having it divided between the two questions. I call this the “checking time”. The reason is that:
- I need to give myself some time to check the paper.
- And I may not be able to finish the question on time.
Since now that you have less time for each question, you would push yourself to work on them faster. And more importantly, even if you can’t finish them within your desired time, you still have 10 minutes more to work on them.
So now, after doing the calculation, I would have 44 minutes for the first question, and 66 minutes for the second question.
Write down the time to remind yourself
Next, you should write down the time that you should have completed the problem next to the question in the paper to constantly remind yourself. If my exams start at 10am, then I would write down 10:44 next to my first question, and 10:55 on my second question.
What if I can’t finish the question in time?
Once you reach the time you have written, you should move on to the next question, and go back to it after you have completed the paper. This will make sure that you can still finish the paper according to your plan.
If you planned to complete the question within a certain amount of time (let’s say you would like to finish the short question within 5 minutes), but you still can’t finish it, make sure to skip the question and come back to it during the “checking time”.
And since you start with an easier question, you can usually finish that part faster. This would give you more time to work on the difficult questions.
The length and depth of your answers
Finally, since you have already known the weighting of each question, the length and depth of your answers should correspond to the weighting. When answering questions that don’t carry a lot of marks, you should make your answer short and succinct.
Let’s say if you are working on a short question that carries 2 marks, it wouldn’t make much sense for you to write an entire paragraph to elaborate on it. It probably just requires a short and simple answer from you. By reducing the time you spent on these questions, it would give you more time to work on the questions that require a bit more work – you probably have to write a lengthy and in depth answer for these.
How should I answer the questions well?
This may sound very basic, but reading the question is often the key. A lot of students may lose a lot of marks because they misread the questions. They either skip some important keywords, or they fail to relate their answers to the question.
Make sure to read every single word carefully, and analyze the question as you answer them. I will talk more about how you can better analyze an essay question in one of the future posts of the exam series.
Remember to also answer every part of the question. This is another common mistake that a lot of people make. Either they are too focused on answering the first part of the question and forget to tackle the second part, or they do not even realize that the questions have more than one element.
Also, remember to interpret the problems and questions within the scope of the test. Try to think about what does the examiner want me to answer? What is he/she trying to test me on? With this perspective, you are more likely to come up with an answer that can relate to the exam problem and you can better solve it.
What should I do if I don’t know how to answer a question?
Generally speaking, it is not a smart decision to keep thinking about a question and waste a lot of your time. You could have used this time to solve other problems.
So when you are stuck at a question, don’t panic. If you have completely no idea how to answer it, you may consider skipping it at the moment.
Nonetheless, I recommend that you can at least try writing something on it. If it is an open-ended or essay question, you can try to use everything you know and come up with a logical answer to that question. If it is a multiple choice or short question, you can just pick an answer that seems most logical. This is better than skipping the entire question!
A Quick Summary for You!
Do you have a better idea on how you can take your exam next time? As usual, here is a summary of all the test taking tipst I have talked about:
- Skim through your paper to find out the types and weighings of the question.
- Write down things that you may forget on the paper before you start everything else.
- Start with easier questions first. This generally means following the order of the exam paper.
- Allocate the time you are going to spend on each question or part according to their weighting.
- Reserve some time (e.g. 10 minutes) for you to check the paper.
- Write down the time you should finish the question next to it.
- If you can’t finish the question on time, move on to the next one first. Go back to them later.
- The length and depth of your answer to each exam problem should correspond to its weighting.
- Read the question carefully and answer every part of the question.
- If you don’t know how to answer a question, you can either skip it or come up with the most logical answer.
That’s it for now!
I hope these test-taking tips are helpful! If you want more tips on how you can best prepare for your exams, I highly recommend you to read my previous post on Science-Backed Study Tips to Ace Your Exam (+ Free Checklist!) and sign up for the Free 7-Day Course: How to Study for Exams Effectively!
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