Life of a mature student – 8 things not to do if you have an exam

I thought exams were a thing of the past, but I’m doing a part-time IT degree at the Open University. Much of the assessment process is around submitting assignments – I wrote about this in my post about getting assignments done and submitted, , but some of it does actually involve timed exams.

At school I didn’t mind exams too much – but as adults it’s easy to get out of practice, and when the time for the exam drew closer, I worried about it far more than I used to at school. Seems I don’t like exams very much! I don’t like that feeling of the time slipping away – time that I will never get back! I’d much rather take my time to do something well, than feel under pressure to get the questions answered. But sometimes you just have to get on with it and do the exam.

So, whatever it is that you’re studying, if you’re preparing for an exam, here are 8 things that you shouldn’t do. Most of these are from my own experience.

1. Don’t keep looking at the clock

Yes, you need to know what the time is so that you can plan out your time and divide it between the questions. There’s no point doing brilliantly in one area if you lose a whole bunch of marks because you didn’t get round to an important section of the question paper. But it’s also not good if you waste time because you keep checking the time, or letting the clock make you anxious or nervous.

It’s good to be aware of the clock, but try not to focus on it so much that it stops you thinking about the questions and how you are going to answer them.

2. Don’t focus on the things that you don’t know

There’s plenty that you do know. There may be something that you’ve forgotten or can’t quite remember. If you let yourself go down the rabbit hole of worrying about that, it’s a sure way to start feeling negative about yourself, getting annoyed that you didn’t revise that particular thing, panicking, and then it’s really hard to think clearly. Sometimes it’s good to focus on the things that you do know. Answer those questions that will be easy for you. Come back to the things that you’re not sure about. Don’t even think about them to start with. You can use the time that you have left to address them, but make sure you first get down all of the things that will help you to get the points.

3. Don’t leave multiple choice answers empty if you won’t be penalised for a wrong answer

I struggle with this one because whether I’m doing an exam or someone is just asking me a question, I don’t like to commit if I don’t think I have a good chance of being right. So, if I’m doing a quiz, I’ll either say I don’t know the answer or I’ll give you the 100% right answer. There’s no middle ground.

This strategy might be ok for pub quizzes or life in general, but it doesn’t help with multiple choice questions. Unless you know you will be penalised for wrong answers, it’s worth putting something in the box. Usually there’s a 25% chance of being right, so really you have nothing to lose.

4. Don’t forget that with multiple choice, sometimes you can eliminate answers

Following on from point three, if you can discard one or two of the other answers, you increase the percentage chance you have of getting the question right. If you get rid of two out of the four, you have a guess with a 50% chance of being right. Even if you don’t know the right answer, can you find any answers that are definitely, or likely to be wrong?

5. Don’t panic and give up too soon

It’s tempting to see a question that you hadn’t expected or that looks complicated and then think “I can’t do this” or “I don’t know anything about this”. This can then set you on a downward spiral where you begin to doubt yourself and your abilities. Sometimes it helps to read the question again, breaking the task down into the individual parts that you need to complete. Sometimes it helps to move on and come back to the difficult question. Sometimes it helps to take a few deep breaths and resist the urge to make a run for the door or close the exam window and cry!

6. Don’t keep revising until right before the exam

In my school days, sometimes I didn’t even look at my notes the day of the exam. If you’ve revised thoroughly, trying to learn just before the exam can actually make things worse because you start to panic. What you really need is a clear head. Everyone works differently, but trying to do too much immediately before the exam may make you feel more stressed out, so in the long run it might not be what you need.

7. Don’t get so carried away that you go way over the word count

Essay type answers with word counts can feel quite restrictive if you’re used to writing a lot. Some markers are very strict and they’ll just disregard all of the extra words. This doesn’t help you if you’ve got so involved in the topic that your answer is much longer than it should be. Try and make a plan for the structure of your answer before you start writing it. This way you’re less likely to get carried away and write too much.

8. Make sure you know exactly what the question is asking

There are all kinds of ways in which you can lose marks if you don’t do this. It can be as simple as putting your answer in the wrong unit of measurement, or as complicated as misreading the entire task. It’s not enough to know something about the subject – you’re being assessed on how well you apply the knowledge that you have to the question or task that you’re being asked to do. Sometimes it is worth rereading the question to make sure you know exactly what’s expected of you. Have a look back over your answer and see whether you have addressed all the points in the question. Sometimes the number of marks available can give you a clue as to how this will be calculated. Don’t waste time answering a question that hasn’t been asked – even if what you write is correct, if it’s not relevant, it won’t help you to pick up points.

I hope these tips have been helpful. Are there any more that you would add?

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Author: englishwithkirsty

I have two blogs. Unseen Beauty is my personal blog. English with Kirsty is my business blog for people who are interested in languages or learning English.

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