So many essays, so little time: Mastering your written exam

It’s safe to say that we’ve all been faced with the terrifyingly threatening exam paper that just looks unmanageable. It is more than normal to feel pressured when staring at an exam paper for the first time, knowing that the time is ticking, and that this exam counts…By Lillie Almond.

Take a look through these tips on how to conquer the essay battle.


 Revision and preparation

  • What do you most struggle with? This is an ambiguous question: think of what you would be least comfortable with stumbling into in the exam. Write down bullet points about these areas, and focus on these first.
  • While it seems obvious to work on what you are challenged by, remember to brush up on the bits you’re good at. This is because if you have a choice between the devil and the… not-so-devil, you should embrace the not-so-devil. Works that much better, of course, when he’s been polished up too.
  • Work with friends. Find out what other people’s concerns are and share yours. Learning by teaching is super-effective: get everyone together, share out topics and teach each other.


In the exam

  • Read, think, choose. Don’t rush into your first essay without reading the others. Give yourself five minutes to glance through the questions, and give yourself a time framework within which you are working. The tortoise beat the hare because he paced himself… and maybe took plenty of time to look at his exam questions before rushing into anything!
  • Read your chosen question again. This sounds ridiculously obvious, but is easily overlooked in the pressure of the moment. When you see buzzwords, underline them, but be sure to look at their context. With or without intent, it is common for exam questions to double back on themselves confusingly- if you read too fast, you may end up answering the wrong thing all together.
  • Don’t panic. As all of your great ideas come into your head, scribble them all into a plan. Anything that comes to mind can go in that all important plan, because it will be scribbled out afterwards, and in the meantime, can act as a safety box for your runaway thoughts.
  • Proofread. Examiners don’t take kindly to foolish errors- and you are only doing yourself a disservice by riddling your own work with mistakes that you don’t usually make. Leave at least five minutes for a glance over what you’ve written.


It’s scarily easy to overlook the obvious when faced with the pressure of an exam. When you go in, take your time and check (and double-check) what you do. Yes, there is a time limit, and yes, you should be wary of it. Yet a stitch in time saves nine, and it pays to mentally take yourself out of the time constraints when planning and structuring your work.

Save a few more stitches for everyone else by sharing your exam tips and advice below, happy writing! 

Image: Writing: Jeffrey james pacres/CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0


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