Use this five-step process for writing exams

There’s no doubt exams can be stressful, but using a process can help you stay calm. Try this five-step process for your next exam:

Step 1: Read the exam (especially instructions)

It might sound obvious, but taking the first five minutes to skim the exam is important to help you understand and make a plan for answering different types of questions in your exam. For example, one section might be an essay question and another might be problem-based. Take the time to read instructions in each section of your exam and ask for clarification if something is unclear to you.

Step 2: Pay attention to the percentage of each section

The weight of each section and question can help you estimate how much time and detail you need to include in your answer. For example, responding with one sentence to a problem-based question worth 10 marks is not enough to get full marks.

Step 3: Start with the easiest questions

When you read through the exam, mark the questions you think will be the easiest. Answering these first helps you build confidence in your abilities before moving onto the harder ones.

Step 4: Pace yourself

Multi-part questions and problem-based questions require more time because you need to plan out your answer. If you rush through these, you might provide insufficient information or incorrect answers. But you also want to avoid answering too slowly or you could run out of time. Be mindful of what types of questions you still need to answer, how difficult they will be and how much time is left.

Step 5: Check your work

When you finish, go through your exam to make sure that you’ve responded to all the questions. Pay close attention to questions you had trouble with and double-check your answers. With that said, be careful not to change answers you felt extremely confident in answering when you started the exam — trust your gut on those.

BONUS: Before submitting your exam, always do one final check to make sure you included your name, student number and section — these are important details and easy to forget.