Managing time in the examination

Managing time in the examination :

Keep an eye on the time, and work within a timetable depending on your approach to the whole exam. Whether you prefer to follow plan A,B or C below, you will need to monitor your time management and adjust your allocation to protect yourself from failing to answer all the questions the exam requires.

Allow yourself brief rests in the exam. Loosen up physically, stretch ( if you can do so without feeling awkward) , take several deeper breaths; shut your eyes when you are thinking.

Do leave time to check and polish your answers at the very end.

Remember the examiner knows that this is an exam answer and does not expect beautifully written prose , or even much originality. what they want to see is whether you can understand a question and create a well argued answer in a very short space of time. They cannot possibly assess all you know about a topic under these circumstances, and they do not expect to. So give yourself permission to do a competent job and get on with the task.

NB You may use the same material in two different questions if it is relevant but this is not encouraged.


Choosing ‘easy’ or ‘difficult’ questions:

Obviously the main determinant on choosing questions is whether the topic interests you, and you think that you have revised it thoroughly enough. But it is common for students to be put off answering what looks like a difficult question about a topic they do know. There may be 2 good reasons why it is worth your while choosing such a question despite its’ difficulty:

1 If it is answered by fewer students, or all students find it difficult, you may be more likely to get a higher mark than for the easy ones.

2 As you plan your answer you may find your revision and interest in the topic stands you in good stead, and the question is actually more straightforward than it first appeared.

For students who panic at unfamiliar forms of question, however, it may be better to avoid stirring yourself up, if there are alternatives which you could answer. Especially for these students, it is so useful to steady yourself by getting started, that you may be well advised to begin with an easy question so you can feel some confidence return.

Deciding the order of questions to answer:

It is probably a good idea to make your longest question the first one you do, if you are sure you can keep to time on it. Do not be tempted to spend extra time on it once you feel confident you have got the key points down to score reasonably good marks. ( Think about what you know of the marking scheme to help you with this.)

Leave your worst question until last. BUT ensure you leave yourself enough time to answer it.

Devote any extra time to your best questions.


Identifying your preferred option for tackling exam questions:

Different ways of mixing your planning time in an exam with your writing time will depend on the structure of the exam and number of questions you have to answer, what works best for you and the triggers you may have to unhelpful anxiety. Possibilities include:

Plan A: Plan your answers to all the essay questions before you begin to write.

If you are calm, feel you have revised thoroughly, and have no worries about hearing other students writing busily around you , you may benefit from this option which allows you to get accustomed to planning, and to adjust your plans for all the essays before you begin to write. On some courses this offers a great bonus, as you may be reminded of key points for one answer in the course of planning for another. The additional ideas, or even the shift in focus can then be integrated seamlessly into the final work!

But you will need to be clear how much time to allocate to the planning, and not over run this; or the allocation of time for each written answer.


Plan B : Choose the question about which you feel you have most confidence, and answer that. With that one under your belt- to time- you may then either plan each of the other answers as you write, or settle down at that point to plan all the others.

If you are more anxious, or need to begin writing in order to do yourself best justice you may like to follow this option

Plan C: Do any answer you can do adequately, and save your best question to do second. You may be most likely to do your best answer in the second one you tackle, because by then you will have got into your stride, and found your rhythm. This is where experienced exam candidates are most likely to know what is best for them. It is why inexperienced ones would benefit from doing more than one mock exam to discover their preferred pattern. For those who panic and have to get started before much sense of clarity of thought can return, this is probably a good strategy.

For plans B or C it will be more important to leave time at the end of the exam to check over your total script to see if small improvements can be made. Some students always leave 2-3 lines between paragraphs or at the bottom of each page to allow for inserts at this point. You could try this out in a mock to see if you find it helpful.


When things don’t go according to plan:

TIME: It is important to keep a sharp eye on the passage of time, so you can identify the problem and rectify it early on. If you begin to run out of time , stop to re-plan the rest of the exam: Are you going to manage to do a basic answer for all questions? Can you finish the question you are currently working on quickly? You might be much more concise, or finish in skeleton note form , or show the relevant steps in a calculation even if you do not have time to carry them out.

Do not throw away marks by failing to give yourself at least half the normal time for the last question. Remember how much more likely you are to pick up the basic marks for an answer in this period.

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