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Exam Technique Tips Part Two

Welcome to the second of three articles on Exam Technique Tips. If you missed our previous article, you can see it here

Exam Technique tips

How to pass the exam!

You do not pass the exam on the day! A snooker player has to perform well on the day but he wins as a result of all the hours he has spent off season practicing angles and cue ball control. Similarly you pass your exam through all the hours spent revising your subject area and doing specimen exams for months before the exam. There is no substitute for time spent in study.

Cheesy cliche:

Exams are like life. There is a lot of luck, and the harder you work the greater your share of it is likely to be!

As far as the day is concerned you want everything to be working in your favour. If you are going to use my system then I strongly advise you to do the following:

D Day – 7

Check that you know exactly where the exam is going to be held. One of my ICSA students once went to the wrong location! He had to get across Sheffield to the correct location and arrived very late. Of course if you do this for a public exam you might, or might not, be allowed to start- it depends on the rules. You will not, however, be given any extra time at the end. He failed! You probably will fail!

Check how long it will take you to get to the location and decide how you are going to travel. On the day you will be on edge. Frankly I advise you not to drive. Get a reliable taxi or something of the sort. Again I remember a student who used her own car and had a minor accident en route. Her mind was on other things. Having had such a thing happen you are unlikely to be in the correct frame of mind when you get to the exam centre! Allow plenty of time. You are better arriving 30 minutes early than 3 minutes late. When I had my interview to be commissioned into the army a previous candidate had arrived late- the wheel had come off his taxi. They refused to interview him. He had not allowed for the eventuality.

D Day -5, or 4, or 126 if you want….

Prepare your exam passing kit. See the appendix. Yes I absolutely did carry all that stuff with me to every exam. Most of it I never needed but it was a comfort to know it is all there.

D Day -1

Some people don’t revise the day, or particularly the evening, before an exam. This is a personal decision. I always did but it is up to you. Make sure you get to bed at a reasonable hour. Get plenty of sleep. Set 2 alarm clocks.

D Day

Get up, shower, clean clothes etc. You want to be at your best. Dress comfortably. Good taste precludes me advising you what to wear but the idea is comfort, warmth in the winter… enough said.

Get a decent breakfast. Your brain needs food. Once you are ready make sure you have your exam passing kit, your attendance slip and a means of identification which will be accepted by the examining board. Take a deep breath and set off.

Get to the exam centre and find out where your exam is taking place. No point going into the room too early. Stay outside and try to relax. Take care of any personal comfort issues! Then once you are all called on to go into the exam room go in and get on with it! Find your desk, make yourself comfortable and wait.

Once the exam starts- well that is part 3 of the series…….


The following is a list of the items I used to take with me to exams. I know I am compulsive and obsessive but any one of these might be the difference between a pass and a fail or a merit and a distinction.

  1. Transparent zip lock bag. You probably won’t be allowed to take any bag to your desk. With a clear bag the invigilator can see what you have got so you should be OK.
  2. Pens. Plural. If your pen packs in half way through the exam what are you going to do? Make sure they all work. Pencils, again plural. If your point breaks you do not stop to resharpen. You pick up the next one and continue. I used to sharpen both ends.
  3. Calculators! They can stop working. What if it falls off your desk and breaks? I knew a guy who had been lent a calculator, in the early days of such things, by a “friend”. Half way through the exam it started playing “The Grand Old Duke of York” and the only way he could stop it was to remove the batteries. Some friend! He had programmed it deliberately.
  4. Small bottle of water. Some sweets. Those are fairly standard. I added a packet of Rennies which are an anti indigestion chewable tablet and some painkillers. Indigestion is a common sign of nervousness. Headaches can happen. I never, ever, used either of these but I have heard students after an exam saying they had suffered from indigestion or headache and so felt sure they had underperformed.
  5. Take a watch- or even 2. There should be a clock in the exam room- but be completely self contained. Don’t rely on anybody else.

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