Exam time How to face your paper

Does starting your exam make you nervous? If so, it's a good idea to walk through entering the exam the night before, understanding how you are going to approach your exam paper and imagining yourself entering the exam hall to calm your nerves. Understanding what to expect will calm your nerves and help you relax before you go to bed.

The night before

Get an early night and try to do something relaxing, such as having a bath, listening to music or reading a book. Make sure you know where you are going the following day, including a room, and decide upon a time you'll leave the house. Ideally, you don't want to get there either too late or too early as both will make you nervous! Get your bag ready and packed with everything you might need. This might include:

Any revision you might want to have with you beforehand or in the middle of the day if you've also got an exam in the afternoon

Pens, pencils and any other writing material

A bottle of water

A packet of tissues

Food - especially if your exam is a long one. Try not to bring anything too noisy to open and too noisy to eat

ID - uni exams usually require you to bring your ID card

Books - is it an open book exam or are you allowed to bring a dictionary?

A calculator if you need one

Before you arrive in the exam hall

Make sure you go to the loo if you need to, turn off your mobile phone and take out everything you will need for the exam. Once you've put your bag down in the designated area go and find your seat. 

At your desk

Fill in the details on the front of your paper, for example, your name or exam number.

If you've got a watch on and it annoys you while you are writing or want to use it to tell the time in the exam put it on the desk in front of you.

Take a long deep breath to calm yourself whilst you are waiting for everyone else to sit down. You're bound to be feeling a little tense at this stage.  

How long is your exam? Calculate how long you've got until the end of your exam so you can keep note of timings throughout. 

When everyone has sat down and the examiner has said so, turn over your paper.

Read through your exam paper.

Read through your exam paper one more time. Take your time to read through all the questions and instructions carefully to give yourself a clear understanding of what the questions are asking you. 

You'll know the type of questions to expect before you go into the exam hall (for example short answers or long essays) and if there is a choice of questions to choose from, think about the ones in which you are going to answer. There might be one or two that immediately take your fancy, but if you are stuck pick those that you relate well to your revision. If you are really stuck, you can always start to answer some and then come back to the other questions to decide later on. 

Depending on the type of questions in your exam paper, allocate an amount of time to each question so you are confident you can finish on time. 

Which question are you going to do first? If your paper is made up of a mix of questions are you going to attempt the long ones, essay questions first and get them out the way, or get all the little, fiddly things done first? You might want to answer the questions you find easier first so you can relax knowing that you are making progress or tackle a difficult question first while you are still alert. 

Spend the beginning of each question planning your answer. Planning gets you into the right mindset to tackle the question and it also gives you time to think about what you want to say and how you are going to say it. 

Ignore everyone else

Between questions, you might like to take a break; have some water, have a stretch or spend a few seconds breathing deeply and getting back on track. 

Manage your time. Keep an eye on the clock, so to ensure you manage to finish. If you know you are not going to complete the exam paper make sure you have a skeleton answer in note form which examiners can mark from. Something is better than nothing, and if they see a well-thought-out plan they will certainly give your some points. 

Look after yourself throughout your exam. Ask yourself at intervals whether you are hot or hungry or feeling cramped. 

If you panic

Sometimes whatever we have revised completely goes out of our heads. Or we might have a few essay questions we could attempt, but we can’t decide which one is best. Sometimes we find we’re writing the wrong answer to the question and just freak out. If this happens, here are a few easy steps to take:

Ask yourself whether you are comfortable. If you are too hot or too cold adjust your clothing. Move around and fidget if your limbs are feeling a bit numb. 

Ask yourself whether you are hungry or thirsty?

If your panic gets worse stop what you are doing for a couple of minutes to help you calm down. Use the tense and release method to relax, accompanied by deep breathes. 

If you feel unwell for example you may feel sick or faint, ask the invigilator if you may leave the room for a short while. Going out of the room and taking a few deep breaths of fresh air and a sip of water may be just what you need to calm down.


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