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Taking exams well is a skill you can learn. It requires good preparation and the right strategy. An open-book exam requires a very different approach to a multiple-choice exam. The tips below will come in handy when revising and during the exam itself.

Taking an exam is a stressful activity for most people. You want to pass and have to demonstrate that you have mastered the materials there and then. A bit of stress is by no means a bad thing and will help you perform better. However sometimes stress can become so overwhelming that it impairs your preparation, impacts your strategy and affects your performance. Luckily there are things you can do about this! Try the following tips. If you need more assistance the student psychologists would be happy to provide advice.

Ten tips for improving how you take exams



1. Start your revision early and revise at a steady pace.

1. Put off revision until the last moment.

2. Prepare well and invest enough time in revision.

2. Keep working non-stop or spend an extreme amount of time on revision.

3. Whilst revising assess your progress regularly to build up your confidence.

3. Continuously doubt your capabilities and the quality of your preparation.

4. Stop your preparations in time so you can be well rested for the exam.

4. Revise till the very last minute.

5. Realise that some stress is a normal part of taking exams and will not influence your performance negatively.

5. Think that stress means you will fail.

6. Remind yourself that knowing only 70% of the materials well will be enough to pass.

6. Think you have to know everything and anything less is not enough.

7. Remember to take the time to think carefully about your answers during the exam.

7. Think you don’t know the answer at all if you can’t come up with it right away

8. Approach the exam strategically.

8. Work without thinking it through and just hope for the best.

9. Focus your attention on the exam only. Don’t allow yourself to be distracted.  

9. Get distracted by worries and negative thoughts (“I can’t do it”, “if only I had ...”).

10. Evaluate your performance afterwards. Learn from your mistakes.

10. Put it all out of your head straight away, not learning from mistakes because you think you shouldn’t be making any.

Exam techniques for multiple choice exams

Following these techniques will help you use your exam time more efficiently and increase your chances of passing.

System of rounds

  1. During round one only answer the easy questions. Skip anything you don’t know.
  2. During round two answer the more difficult questions. Skip the most difficult ones.
  3. During round three answer the most difficult questions. Then make sure you have filled in everything.  

Other exam techniques

In multiple-choice questions with four possible answers the following usually applies:

  1. One out of the four answers will be clearly incorrect.
  2. A second answer will appear to be incorrect following some deliberation.
  3. You must now decide which of the remaining two is the best answer. The following tips may help:  
    • Read the question and answers carefully. Look out for key terms. Do not assume too much. Many of the questions are not set with the purpose of being ‘deep’. 
    • The key is to choose the best answer even if this answer does not necessarily ‘fit perfectly’. The other answers will be either total nonsense or just ‘less correct’
    • If you have prepared well for the exam and have read the question carefully then your first impression is usually the correct one. Do not change your mind unless you are absolutely sure!

Coping with doubt

If you are convinced that two answers are incorrect, but are having doubts about the remaining two.

  • Read the question and answers carefully again and compare any key terms in the question with those in the two answers.
  • Choose the best possible answer. The perfect answer does not exist.
  • Do not read too much into the question and follow your first impression.

If initially one answer seems correct, but when you look again you start to doubt your choice of answer.

  • Multiple choice is all about recognition of things you have learnt. If you are well prepared and you have read the question and answers carefully your first impression is often the best.
  • Stick to your first choice unless you have gained new insight. Some students tend to ‘correct’ their answers in order to quell any unrest or doubt, rather than on the basis of a newly gained insight. ‘Correcting the answer’ basically then means ‘ruining your chances’. If you think you are ruining your exam it’s better to hand it in and go home.

Free online self-help programme

GezondeBoel offers a free online self-help programme on fear of failure.

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