Improve your exam technique: Top ways to get top marks

Passing an exam is more than just doing some revision and hoping for the best, homing your exam technique will help you make sure you can put all that knowledge onto paper.

Here’s our top ways to get the top marks in all your exams, be sure to add your own suggestions in the comments below!

Make use of reading time

Some exams will give you a 10 or 20 minute ‘Reading’ period – so make use of it! Even if you’ve read all the paper before the time’s up, don’t sit idle. Go back over the questions and make sure you understand and read them correctly.

Generally, you won’t be allowed to actually start the exam or make notes during this time, but that doesn’t stop you answering the questions in your head. If you’ve got a choice about what questions to answer, make it now and begin to form an outline of your response or a plan of attack in your mind.

If there is no reading time, then still start off the exam in the same way: Read and interpret the question and plan your answer before putting pen to paper.


Answer the God damn question

Yes, it’s said time and time again, but some people never listen: ANSWER THE ACTUAL QUESTION!

This not only requires you to read the actual exam questions, but also the instructions on the front, telling you exactly what you need to complete.

Failing to answer the question is not only about misunderstanding (or just plain ignoring) what was asked, but also going into too much or not enough depth, on which note…

Look at the allocated marks

The mark scheme is your friend: Use the amount of allocated marks on a question as a guide for your response.

A one mark question isn’t going to be expecting an essay style response. Indeed, it may not even require more than one or two words, and is unlikely to need anything more than sentence or two at the very most.

On the other hand, a 30 mark question is going to want some depth in your response, so writing a paragraph is not going to get you many of the marks.

You should also use the allocated marks to help you decide how long to spend on a question. If one answer is worth half the marks in the exam, then you should be spending about half of the time allowed in writing your response.

Learn how to be concise

On the topic of time, completing your answer before the end of the exam is often one of the hardest parts, rather than actually coming up with the solution in the first place.

Read up on how to write more concisely to allow you to get the mark winning information on the page as opposed to wasting time on the filler.

> 8 steps to concise writing

Start with what you know

Secure the easy marks first by answering the questions you know how to respond to. Even if most of the paper has left you completely stumped, this will get your brain working and make sure you get at least some of the available marks.

One you start writing you’ll no doubt find information from revision comes flooding back to you, boosting your confidence for the rest of the exam.

Show your working

In the case of STEM exams – that’s Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics – be sure to explain your working, where applicable.

Not only could this get you marks even if you get the answer wrong, it may even be required to get the full marks available.

And talking of the answer, make it clear to the examiner! Cross out any errors and put a line under or circle around your final response.

Don’t leave early

Finally, don’t leave the exam early, no matter how confident you may be. If you’ve completed every question and think you’ve done enough to get all the marks, read through the whole exam again – from the instructions to the questions and your answers.

Check your spelling, grammar and presentation – does what you’ve written even make sense? Does it actually answer the question? Can it be improved in any way?

In the case of calculations, check your working again and make sure it matches your written answer.

Lastly, help the examiner by cleaning up your paper: Cross out any errors or mistakes and highlight your final answers