Five things you shouldn't do in the exam room

November 10, 2015
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It’s that time of year again and you’re either cramming hard for exams or pretending they don’t exist. No matter the extent of your reluctance, your presence in that exam room is the crucial decider of a pass or a fail. Make it all a little more smooth sailing and don’t do the following.


You’ll either get into the exam room knowing your shit and feeling good, or you’ll feel the exact opposite, in which case you’ll be inclined to panic. Don’t. Panicking will only make things worse and will induce a mental block that you definitely don’t need at this moment in time. Take a few deep breaths, read over the questions and try and recall as much as you can. If you’re still super stuck, harness your inner creativity and rely on the ancient art of bullshitting. At this point, it doesn’t matter what you get down, as long as it’s relatively coherent. Put your mind at ease and remember that this exam means little in the grand scheme of things.

Waste reading time

Reading time exists for a reason, so it makes sense to capitalise on it, thus saving yourself from diving headfirst into the unknown. Those five or 10 minutes preceding writing time are a golden opportunity to get a gist for what the exam entails and to formulate a plan of attack. Work out what questions you’re comfortable with and what ones you’ll need to spend a bit longer navigating, and you’ll feel that little bit more confident when it comes to answering. This could also be a good time to collect your thoughts, breathe a little and reassure yourself that you’ve got it in the bag.

Think of something funny

Maybe it’s the nerves, but for some bizarre reason, it’s always in the most silent and serious situations that we find ourselves struggling to fight back inappropriate but totally involuntary laughter. In an exam, the moment an even remotely funny thought or memory pops into your head, you’re doomed. Trying to suppress a fit of hysterics in a dead quiet room isn’t easy: your eyes will water, your body will shake, and making eye contact with a friend will only generate more giggles, rendering things a thousand times worse. Make sure you rid your mind of all the recent cat videos you’ve watched and concentrate on the task at hand. As soon as laughter looms, pondering the prospect of a fail should sort you out.


When you’ve got a strict time limit set for an exam, trying your hardest to get through it as quickly as possible is instinct, but also a pretty bad approach to take. Rushing will only mean a higher chance of misinterpreting questions and making careless and preventable errors. At least once, I’ve found myself halfway through writing a totally irrelevant exam response, all because I didn’t take the time to try and understand the question. If you plan your time wisely and get to know what’s being asked of you, you should be able to glide through the exam stress-free.

Spend too long on one question

While rushing is advised against, so is the opposite: spending too much time on one question. No matter how well you know your stuff, poor time management could end up being your fatal flaw. Take your time but don’t take too much time, remembering that all questions need to be adequately addressed. A good way to ensure this is to get all of the more straightforward questions out of the way before moving on to trickier ones. This saves you the frustration of not getting those easy marks all because you spent too long addressing a single question. 

Aobh O’Brien-Moody

Aobh studies journalism at UNSW, eats too much ice cream and is half Irish in case you couldn’t tell. She tweets at @Aobh_OBM.

Image: Ryan McGilchrist, Flickr Creative Commons license