Exam time is here. Nerves are increasing but fear not.
Leading up to exam time and mocks there’s always a lot of talk about what a student should and shouldn’t do. There is talk of revision cards. Using past papers. Making sure that they have a revision timetable. Looking at what you eat and drink to keep your mind and body healthy. Yet few people talk about managing your time in an exam. This is a skill in itself.
Use you time wisely... (Really?)
If time is ever mentioned, it’s usually suggested that the student uses their time “wisely”. But what does this actually mean? Yes, it is about prioritising, planning the answers, staying focused and keeping calm. Yet this doesn’t sound very practical. What we need is real advice that can be easily followed.
Teachers say a four-marked question should take no longer than four minutes to write. This includes the time needed to read the question, plan the answer and write it. But have you ever tried writing for 4 minutes? And answering the question with the depth of detail that an exam marker is looking for. It is all possible but does need to be practised. This is why it is a good idea to plan how you manage your exam time early on.
Doing past exam papers and writing under timed exam conditions is helpful.
This doesn’t mean you have to complete the whole exam paper in one go. You could answer the shorter or longer questions. Yet giving yourself a time limit is essential. This will help you get used to writing at speed. But make sure that you can include all the content needed.
It is tricky to think about the content and how much time you have left in the middle of answering a question.
Here are three methods to help you manage your exam time.
1. Reduce the amount of writing time
Firstly, plan to knock off 5 to 10 minutes from the exam duration time. Then divide the time left into sections linked to the sections in the paper. The extra time of 5 to 10 minutes can act as a buffer in case you are running out of time. This often happens if one spends too long on a particular question.
2. Use the number of lines as a guide mark
The second tip, given by an exam marker, is to use the number of lines given on the exam paper as the guide. If you run out of line space, you are likely to be writing too much for that particular answer. There will be keywords in the question. For example: describe or explain. These keywords will help clarify the type of answer an examiner is looking for. The most common errors are not reading the question or giving too much detail. If it is only worth one or two marks an examiner is not looking for a paragraph of writing.
3. Know the amount of word expected to be written
The third piece of advice is to become used to how many words or sentences a question would be expecting. To help you achieve the third technique use the infographic to the left. 1 or 2 marked questions only need short answers.
If on the day, your mind goes blank, or you feel that you’re running out of time, do not panic. Take a few moments to close your eyes, take a few breaths in and out, gather your thoughts and do what you can. You have the knowledge and the skills to do this. It is better to look at the question make one point with supporting evidence and move on. Avoid leaving anything blank.
Be reassured, the exam boards know exactly how long it should take for a student to answer an exam. They have years of experience when creating exams. They will have given you enough time to answer the questions in the detail expected. You should feel you are writing fast, but not feel too rushed to answer any question.
Another extra tip:
Always have a backup pen to write with. Favourite pens do run out of ink at the most awkward of times.
Obviously, we can help you with your handwriting. Keep it legible. Practice writing at the speed expected. Most exam boards give access to past papers online. The more of them that you do, the greater chance to practice writing at the speed you’ll have. It’ll also help you feel more confident on the day of your exam. Your teachers can help you structure the answer to gain the best possible marks.
Good luck to everyone who was sitting their exams or mocks. You’ll be great!
If you would like some help with writing in exams, we do offer our exam ready handwriting online course.
Past exam papers by AQA can be found here.