Leeds University Library

Exams: writing in the exam

Top tips

1) Have an exam timetable

  • Failure to allow enough time to complete all questions is a common mistake. It can be calming when under pressure to have a timetable in mind. This is something you should think about before the day of the exam. Use past papers to familiarise yourself with the format
  • Take a look at our example of an exam timetable (PDF).

2) Don't rush in - read the paper thoroughly

  • Can you spot your preferred topic? Check the wording of the question - can you address that specific area?
  • Preferred topic not there? Check it's not "hidden" within other questions. Can you apply what you know to other questions?
  • You might want to answer the question you feel most confident about first, or do that second when you have started to relax in order to maximise your marks from it
  • Still not sure? Jot down a very quick outline for a few topics, and decide which you can answer the best.

3) Analyse the question

Receiving exam scripts which do not answer the question is a common complaint from markers. How can you avoid this?

  • Re-read the questions and circle key words
  • Analyse the wording of the question
  • Is it an essay? Short question? Does it require a diagram?

For detailed advice and activities on how to interpret questions see Interpreting your assignment (activity).

4) Plan your answers

To help you produce a well-structured answer, we advise that you make a short plan before you start to write.

Tips on planning

  • For short answers - jot down a short outline or some keywords
  • Note down any mnemonics or things that you might forget
  • A plan does not have to be neat or complete so don't spend
    too much time on it
  • You can try making a mind map to generate ideas
  • You may want to create an outline of the points you want to make paragraph by paragraph. Take a look at our example of Planning in paragraphs (PDF)
  • A plan should be flexible and used as an outline. As you start
    writing, your thinking will evolve
  • If ideas for other questions pop up, note them down
    immediately!
  • Cross out anything that you don't want to be marked.

5) Impress your examiners!

What is the examiner looking for? Take a look at our guide for some ideas on how you might be able to Impress your examiner (PDF).

Writing short answers

  • Keep to the point - do not simply regurgitate everything you know, but address the question directly
  • Have some structure - be analytical and focused
  • Leave good margins in case you think of something else useful which you want to add later.

Exam questions can be easier to tackle than assessed essays within your module:

  • You need to provide less evidence and fewer examples than for coursework
  • You can write less for each point
  • You can miss out some background detail
  • You don't need to give a bibliography or supply detailed references.

You should however, be able to refer to the main theorists/researchers etc by name and date of major works or key reports.

6) Check your answers

  • Make sure that you have numbered your answers
  • Make sure that you have attempted all the questions that you have been asked to
  • Correct any obvious errors- spelling, grammar etc
    Re-write illegible words
  • Have you missed anything out?
  • If you need to add extra information, make sure that this is marked up clearly on the paper e.g. Add ^ in text/margin- "see additional paragraph x...".

7) Think about structure
See our Structuring your writing page for guidance.

8) Write in an academic style
See our Academic writing pages for guidance.

9) Have a disaster recovery plan!
Take a look at our short recovery plan to help if things aren't going to plan on the day.