Exam Day 101

You've (hopefully) spent months preparing for these exams and that alone can be a cause for stress, as pressure coupled with expectation crescendos towards this very moment. John Donne claimed "no man is an island" but the overwhelming feeling of the exam hall is quite to the contrary.  In this very moment you find yourself surrounded by peers, teachers and familiar faces all at a distance; everyone is in this alone. This may be an intimidating introduction, yet the best way of dealing with situations like these is through knowing what lies ahead as much as possible so that you're not tripped up by them on the day. We've all been through it all and with these experiences to hand, here are our top tips for being your best you on exam day.


A simple, obvious suggestion - but a good starting point nonetheless. Avoid fussing over details on exam day: have your bag packed with the correct stationary ready, prepare your clothes, get yourself a watch to sit on your desk/wrist and arrange your breakfast the night before. Wake up feeling like nothing is required of you before you sit at your desk, with nothing but the subject in question on your mind.


Once sat down, make sure you're at your most alert by following a simple series of physical "exercises" that have been claimed to stimulate the brain. Even if these were, scientifically, to have no real effect or seem rather trivial, using them as a placebo is just as beneficial - remember that anything that gets you into the zone or believing you are at your peak performance level is key. Here are a few that have helped us through the years: 

  • Stretch tiredness out of your limbs: place one elbow over your head and push down with your other hand, massage the soft tissue in your hands to get them ready for constant exertion, apply pressure to your temples, brow and cheeks to wake up your face, and pull downwards on your earlobes to engage the brain (this last one has also been claimed to be linked with improved memory).
  • Loosen your neck by slowly turning your head from left to right, up to down - you'll have it tilted downwards for several hours and can avoid getting aches this way.
  • Take deep, 3 second breaths in through your nose, hold for 3 seconds and exhale for 3 seconds through your mouth as you do the above - this gets oxygen flowing to all the right places for maximum focus.


third | Read the questions carefully, answer them purposefully

'Purposefully' means with an intention to score marks. We've repeated this piece of advice on numerous occasions because it is so very crucial and yet somehow underestimated. Here's what we've said previously on this point that applies completely to exam day: as students, how many times are you told to do this? Countless. As an examiner composing the questions, the answer precedes the question. Consequently, as an exam taker, read the question carefully to consider what answer the examiner is looking for. Often (and depending on the subject) exams are marked according to a positive mark scheme, where mentioning specific 'key words' in your answer will gain you points and absence of these key words mean you don't score as high. At other times, clues can be found in the wording of the question itself.

Fourth | stuck? don't panic

If you find yourself stuck on a question, either because you don't understand it or because you simply don't know enough to answer it, do not panic. Panic simply wastes time and blocks your ability to power through the situation, which is inevitably what you must do. If this is an essay subject, a few easy marks may rely on facts that should be included in your answer (dates, names etc) but if you can't remember these or didn't study up on the topic, there are plenty of other (arguably more crucial) marks on offer that you can score by discussing your way through concepts introduced in the question. Even a little trick such as referencing phrases included in the question from time to time shows the examiner that you are on track, directly responding to the question set, and gives the impression of someone who knows what they are talking about. If the subject is scientific/mathematic, showing your intention or 'working out' scores you marks even if the eventual answer is wrong - examiners are looking for intent and attempted methodology, not just correct answers. Instead of panicking, therefore, accept that certain marks have been lost and that you can still give a successful answer in spite of this.

fifth | do you!

It's so easy to allow yourself to be distracted by whatever else is going on in the exam hall. It could be your neighbouring examinee with a bad cold constantly blowing their nose or nervous friends who frequently leave the room on a bathroom break. It could even be the invigilator pacing up and down the rows of desks. Forget it, forget it all. It's hard to do, but essential, and once you let go of your immediate surroundings and immerse yourself in the paper directly in front of you, you will really be able to harness your full potential. Ultimately, that is what an exam is all about - doing your best, trying your hardest.

Wishing you all the very best of luck!