• Christian Paul

Top 5 tips to make the most of your time during exams

Updated: Oct 25, 2019

Time is definitely the biggest killer when it comes to exams. Student’s every year come out of an exam panicked that they were unable to make it all the way to end of the questions. Or worse, that they lost too much time on the tricky questions and have left an easy question unanswered because of it.

Now I can’t guarantee that you will be able to finish every exam you go through, but these 5 tips should help you to save time in exams that would otherwise be a little overwhelming.

1. Take advantage of your reading time

Many students squander their reading time and it actually puts them at a HUGE disadvantage. The students who can utilise the reading time well often find that it can be easier to coordinate their writing time effectively.

When you have that 15 minutes of reading time, try not to focus on working out the answer to specific questions. Instead, identify questions according to how capable you are of answering them.

Your goal here is to figure out which questions are easy, and which are challenging. Don’t worry about the answers; chances are you’ll forget them by the time you get to writing anyway! Instead, make sure you know in advance which questions are going to be worth your time, and which questions might be challenging for you to complete without wasting too many precious minutes.

Once you’ve gone through and made a note of all the questions, use your remaining time to plan out how you are going to attack your exam. Starting at question 1 and working your way through might not be the best strategy.

2. Make sure to read the question properly

How many times have you gotten a question wrong in a test or SAC that you absolutely knew the answer to? 80% of the time, it’s simply due to not answering the question properly.

Taking the extra time to read the question carefully will actually save time in exams, not cost it. Not reading the question properly will likely end in one of three ways. You’ll either:

  1. Give the wrong answer

  2. Find the right answer, but will have to go back and reread the question anyway to make sure OR

  3. Hit it a roadblock because you started work on the wrong idea

Take the easy way out of these and just read the damn question.

3. Don’t do the questions in order

Before every exam in Uni, I used to approach my tutors and ask if they had any advice. They would always tell me the same thing:

Nail as many marks as you can as early as you can.

It always stuck with me, and it was a HUGE help throughout my exams.

Focus on the questions you know you can do well, and get them out of the way first. That way, there is no chance of you getting to the end of the exam having left easy marks on the table.

Too many students lose easy marks due to losing too much time on the more challenging questions.

If you can’t think of anything to try after 30 seconds of staring at a question, come back to it later. You’ll come back with a fresh perspective and will have a better shot at nailing it.

4. Schedule your remaining time

Once you’ve nailed the questions you know you can do well, take a few moments to map out the rest of your time.

By paying attention to the time you have remaining, you can make a rough estimate of how much time each remaining question is worth.

This only takes a few seconds, and it can help to save you from a rude shock when you realise that you only have ten minutes of writing time left. By keeping an eye on the clock, you can make sure that you allocate the right amount of time for questions you need to answer.

5. Pay attention to the marking allocation

Marking allocation is critical to making sure you allow the right amount of time to each question. While the marking structure changes for every subject, the general rule here is:

1 mark means you only need to provide the answer

2+ marks mean you need explanation/working as well as your answer

Make sure you pay attention here, as the marking allocation can provide you with an indication of how much information you need to provide. Not only that, but it’s also a sign of how long a question might need.

One thing to remember is to try not to fall into the trap of giving TOO MUCH information for a question that doesn’t have the marks available. I see students every year who provide wonderfully detailed answers to 1 or 2 mark questions. While the attention to detail is nice, they always end up spending far too long on these questions. This often means they lose time that could be dedicated to the much more challenging (and rewarding) questions.

You have limited time; make the most of it!

No matter which subjects you are studying, the exams are almost always the most frightening part. And in nearly every case, time is a crucial aspect that terrifies even the most prepared of students.

But if you keep even two or three of these ideas in your head, you’ll find yourself relaxing at the prospect of not being overwhelmed. And reducing that stress is going to make more difference than any amount of study will.

What do you think?

Would you add anything to this list of strategies? Post your ideas and thoughts in the comments below!

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