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Rows of empty desks and chairs in an exam hall.
Tips to make it through exam day

Whether you’re at school, TAFE or university, exams are an important type of assessment almost all students will need to undertake. For many students exams can be daunting, especially when they count for a large percentage of marks towards a subject. But fear not – whether you’ve been diligently studying for weeks or up all night cramming last minute, here’s some tips to help you maximise your performance on exam day.

BEFORE THE EXAM

Eat well

A healthy, balanced breakfast will ensure you sustain energy and don’t get hungry. Think protein and complex carbohydrates (low GI) that will release energy slowly over several hours. It’s also important to stay well-hydrated but not so much that you need a toilet break every 20 minutes!

Dress accordingly

The key here is that you’re not distracted by being uncomfortable. Wear clothes you are comfortable in and take a jacket in case the exam room is cold. To minimise distractions, avoid clothes made out of noisy material and jewellery that may dangle against the table.

Stop studying

You can re-read summaries but don’t start trying to digest a new concept or learn new material on the day of an exam. Chances are you’ve already learned everything you’re going to and new ideas can just lead to confusion with what you already know.

Take everything you’ll need

Make sure you take everything you are permitted to have in the exam. Identification and multiple pens (in case one runs out) are almost mandatory. Some exams allow aids such as cheat sheets, text books or calculators. You don’t want to be the only person without a crucial tool.

Leave home early

If ever there’s going to be an unexpected event or delayed train, it’s sure to be when you have to be somewhere at a certain time. Leave a little bit earlier than you normally would to ensure you arrive on time and avoid any last minute panic. If you arrive early, take some time to grab a coffee and relax.

Think positively

Even if you’re feeling underprepared, negative self-talk, such as ‘My life will be ruined if I fail’, will not help. Instead, try to imagine that you are in the exam and feeling confident. Before the exam avoid other students who are stressing out – negativity can be contagious.

DURING THE EXAM

Read questions thoroughly

Use your reading time to scan the whole exam to get an overview of its structure. Read all instructions very carefully to ensure you’re answering what is asked. Identify which sections and questions are compulsory and, where you have a choice of questions, select the one(s) you will answer.

Use your time wisely

Plan the amount of time you will spend on each question proportional to what they are worth. For example if a question is worth 30 per cent of the marks, you should allocate 30 per cent of your time. Try to use up all the time in the exam and don’t forget to leave some time at the end to review and refine your answers.

Decide which order you’ll answer questions in

Answering easier questions first will boost your confidence and may even allow you to pick up some extra time that you can spend on more difficult questions. If you’re unsure about a question, leave it until the end.

Pre-plan your answers

It can be helpful to jot down key points and concepts you will use to illustrate your answer to a question, before you start writing your detailed response. This way you can concentrate on writing an articulate answer without trying to remember everything you want to cover at the same time.

Write something for every question

Attempt to answer every question. If you don’t know the answer to something, write anything you think might be relevant – it may earn you a couple of extra marks. Often when you start writing something, more details will come to you. If you’re running out of time, writing some dot points is better than nothing.

AFTER THE EXAM

Reward yourself

Whether you think you nailed it or didn’t do so well, nothing you say or do after the exam will change your answers so there’s no point dwelling on it. Instead, reward yourself by doing something you really enjoy, such as shopping, going for a run or catching up with friends.

Reflect on your experience

After you’ve enjoyed some down time, be sure to reflect on your exam so you can build on strengths and learn from mistakes. Ask yourself questions like ‘was I prepared enough?’, ‘did stress get in the way of my performance?’, ‘did I manage my time effectively?’ and ‘did I answer the questions asked?’. Knowing where you can improve will assist your planning and performance in future exams.

Read some handy tips on preparing for exams on the Deakin Life blog.

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