Student reading notes

The key to any exam is preparation. You can make sure you get the best grade possible by planning ahead.

Before the exam

Being prepared for your exams isn’t just about revision.

  • Check times, dates, and locations well in advance. Your exam may be in an unfamiliar location – You may even want to do a trial run of your journey beforehand to be safe.
  • Eat sensibly and get a good night’s sleep before your exam.
  • Make sure you have everything you need for your exam – pens, pencils, any permitted books, etc.
  • Try not to think or talk about the exam too much before it starts. This will help to reduce tension.

In the exam

Whatever the subject matter you’re being tested on, there are several techniques that will help you to be successful:

  • First of all, read the instructions carefully. It may sound obvious, but important information about the number of questions you need to answer and how long you should spend on each one will be given to you in the instructions. Don’t let yourself be that student who didn’t turn over the exam paper and thought there was only one question.
  • Read each question carefully so you know what you’re being asked to do. Mark up the ones you think you’ll be able to answer best.
  • Unless told otherwise, you don’t need to stick to the numerical order of the questions. If you think you’d rather answer the questions in a different order, feel free to do so.
  • Allow yourself an appropriate amount of time for each question.
  • When answering essay questions, focus on answering the question. It’s easy to go off-topic if you don’t plan ahead, so prepare a structure for your answer in advance. You might find it helpful to plan all your answers at the start of the exam, while your mind is fresh.
  • Ensure your writing is legible. You might have written the best answer ever, but if it’s an indecipherable scrawl then you won’t get your deserved marks.
  • If time allows, go back and check your work.
  • If you find that you’re running out of time and still have some answers to write, try to give an outline for how you would answer the question – you’ll get more marks for the attempt than you will for leaving a blank page.

In the exam

Keeping calm

It’s possible that you’ll find yourself feeling stressed and panicky during an exam, even if you normally wouldn’t. There are a few things you can do to keep calm:

  • Do not worry about your neighbours. They may be scribbling away furiously but that doesn’t mean they’re getting it right.
  • If you get stuck on a question, don’t stress about it or waste time on it you can always move on and come back to it later.
  • If you start to panic, close your eyes and wait until you feel calmer.


  • At least one invigilator will be present in your examination. If you have a problem during the exam you may raise your hand and an invigilator will attend to you. Beware, though, they can’t help you with the examination questions.
  • It is important that you listen to what the invigilators say before the examination begins: they may give you important information before the exam starts.
  • If you arrive late for an exam, you should go straight to the invigilator and explain your reason. You may still be able to sit the paper.

After the exam

When the exam is over and you’re out of the room, avoid the temptation to examine your performance and compare your answers with your fellow students. You can’t change your answers now, and you’ve probably got another exam to prepare for.

It is worth spending a little time thinking about how you could improve your exam technique for the future. Did you allow enough time for each question? Was there anything you would have done differently?

Once all your exams are over, you can analyse your overall revision and exam techniques. Did your revision techniques work for you? Did other students use techniques you might find useful?

Remember the Imperial College Union Advice Centre also provides a range of advice about academic matters, such as appeals against exam marks.