Tips for Written Exams

Exams are like games. Follow these insider tips from experienced examiners and you have a much better chance of winning!


The ‘rules’ for written exams can be broken down into before, during and after the exam.


Before the exam:

before the exam

  • Time study well: plan backwards from the date of the exam, allowing yourself plenty of time to study so you’re prepared on the day.
  • Practise exam questions: use past papers to practise answering real exam questions.
  • Time yourself: when you practise answering make sure you time yourself and stay within the confines of the exam.
  • Use marking schemes: access the marking schemes of the past exams papers online and correct your answers. You’ll learn lots this way.
  • Rework the mock: redo some of the answers from the mock paper that you could improve upon.
  • Answer blind: try answering without any textbooks or notes to see what you really know.
  • Follow examples: check out sample answers in revision books to see what the examiner looks for.
  • Revise lots: keep revising your notes.

During the exam:

during the exam

  • Arrive early: you don’t need to be rushing and stressed.
  • Read everything: read through the entire paper once.
  • Reread and choose: reread the questions and choose which ones you’ll answer.
  • Begin well: start with your best questions first and work your way down to the ones you might be less confident about.
  • Read the question carefully: you can’t be too careful about reading the question and make sure you understand what they are looking for.
  • Stick to the question asked: drifting away from the question is the single greatest way to lose marks. So stick to exactly what you are asked.
  • Plan answers: be clear about what you want to say by planning answers.
  • Watch the time: know how much time you have to answer and stick to it. If you’re not finished, move on and come back to it later.
  • Don’t waste time: no need to do things like write out the questions. That’s time wasting. Do what you’re there to do: answer.
  • Answer all questions: attempt all required questions, even the ones you don’t think you know. You might get a few marks for something you write but you can get no marks for a blank page.
  • Don’t give up: stick with it even if you feel you’re not answering well. You may be doing better than you think.
  • Read over paper: read carefully over all your answers. Proof them for errors and add any extra information you now remember.
  • Check against instructions: do one last check that you have all required questions answered.

After the exam:

after the exam

  • Avoid the post-mortem: going over the paper is a fruitless exercise. Leave it alone.
  • Focus on the positive: think about what you did well.
  • Move on: you can’t change anything now so leave it behind and move on. Concentrate on the next exam.

For more study tips, read Shortcuts to Success: Study and Exam Skills for Leaving Certificate by Irene Togher.

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