Francesca Burgoyne gives you some tips to help you score as many marks as possible in your exams

Holding up a 'help' sign above a stack of revision files

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Over the next few weeks thousands of you will sit silently in neatly laid-out exam rooms anxiously listening for the phrase ‘You may begin’. You turn over the paper and not wanting to waste a minute of the exam, you frantically write down everything you have learnt on alkanes, acids and alkalis, metals, the Born-Haber cycle etc. Time passes – there are just five minutes left and the big 15 mark question is still waiting for your answer…

Take your time

It’s natural to want to dive straight in, but taking a few moments to plan your approach will help you make the best use of your time in the exam room.

When you turn over the paper, take a few moments to familiarise yourself with the questions. Although it might seem like a waste of time, I assure you it isn’t! Think of it like an experiment: you won’t get the best results unless you have planned it out first.

Some tips:

  • Plan your time – based on the number of questions to answer and how many marks they are worth. You don’t want to spend five minutes on a question worth one mark and two minutes on a question worth five, or run out of time. Leave yourself some time at the end to check your answers – you could find that silly mistake.
  • Read the question carefully – make sure you understand what the question is asking you and underline the key words. Do you need to show working out, will you get marks for the units, or spelling, punctuation and grammar?
  • Answer the question – you might know your stuff but examiners can’t give you marks if you don’t actually answer the question that is asked. For example, if a question asks you to describe the difference between ionic and covalent bonding between atoms, don’t start talking about the van der Waals interactions between molecules.
  • Do the easy ones first – you can pick up marks and confidence by answering these questions first. If you start with the difficult ones, you could spend too much time on them and leave yourself flustered. You might even find yourself extra time to tackle the tricky questions if you can get through the easy ones quickly.
  • Check it – if you have planned your time well you should have enough time to check your answers at the end of the exam. Easy things to look out for are units, working out, significant figures, and making sure you have answered the question.

Obviously, this advice is a guide based on my experience – yours may be different and it is important to know what works for you. Also, don’t forget that exam results are not the only thing that matter. Don’t let them kill your enthusiasm for a subject and make sure you reward yourself when they are over!

Good luck!

Originally published in The Mole