Wed | Jun 19, 2024

10 exam execution strategies for university students

Published:Wednesday | April 24, 2024 | 12:10 AM-
Understanding and being able to articulate yourself well on a written examination paper is important in obtaining a good passing grade.
Understanding and being able to articulate yourself well on a written examination paper is important in obtaining a good passing grade.
Mike Myles
Mike Myles

It is that time again and most examination guidelines available to students focus on the preparation phase where students are given study tips and suggestions about how to better prepare themselves for a written exam; mostly in relation to gathering and understanding the content.

Over the years I have found that information on how candidates can maximise their chances of acing a course or module through effective execution strategies is lacking.

Being able to execute an examination paper is as important as understanding and being able to recall the content. The question as to whether you know and can recall the content at the point where you are now sitting in an examination room suddenly becomes less relevant. This is because examinations have a way of throwing us into a state of mind that works against our ability to perform at our best. The trick is to work out a plan of action that will increase your chances of obtaining the best grade you are capable of getting.

Understanding and being able to articulate yourself well on a written examination paper is important in obtaining a good passing grade. Managing how you execute the exam paper, however, is key in obtaining an exceptional score and could mean the difference between a B+ and an A. And in the event that you may not have been as prepared content wise, it could also mean the difference between a failing grade and that passing grade to at least get you through.

Too often candidates attempt to do an exam without the proper execution where planning, organising, scheduling and monitoring are concerned.

As such, here are a few tips I have come up with that have stood the test of time in my many years sitting many exams at the university level. To date, as an average student, I have never failed an examination paper taking this approach.


At this point, all you should do is get close and personal with the paper. Take a first glance at the sections and the questions. Then do it a couple more times to get an overall feel. This approach helps you to combat any early fears that may have emerged prior to the start of the exam, and gives you a sense of conquest to boost your confidence.


Read through the questions and select which you will do first, second, third and so on. Don’t panic if a question doesn’t look as inviting as you would have liked. Also, in the options sections choose the one(s) that you will be doing by circling or ticking them off.


Mentally, for any task it is normally best to start with the easier or less technical ones and in the case of an exam it is really the same. So do the questions in order of difficulty, as in do the “easier” ones first.

Starting with the more challenging ones because you think they are more important because of the mark allocated won’t help your initial state of mind, which is common for candidates. You will find that as you go along, more information is triggered and you will be able to recall more content in preparation for the more difficult questions.


Allocate the time you will spend on each section and then on each question in each section (inclusive of outlines… see #9). For example, for a three-hour examination in a three-section paper, you may want to allocate 60 minutes to one section, 45 minutes to another and 75 minutes on the last section, depending.

Then within the section to which you have allocated 60 minutes, you may want to allocate 10 minutes for each question, in a case where that section has six questions.


Stick to your time allocation for each section and questions. Never go over, as you may sacrifice several questions for that one question that may be challenging you and giving up time and scores. You can come back to it after, and in many cases by then you probably would be in a better position to tackle it again.


In order to ensure that you are sticking to your time allocation, check periodically on the clock to see how you are doing and adjust as you go along. This form of monitoring is very important, as it enables you to take immediate actions before it is too late.

Too many candidates write away without checking the clock only to hear the famous “you have 10 minutes remaining”, with one whole section left. This then causes panic and mayhem in their head where they lose focus and it gets downhill afterwards.


If you are running out of time, you should utilise bullet points with a summarised version of what you would have expounded on. This helps the examiner to see where you were going and that you at least understand the question. Most examiners will award the minimum scores in this case and as such you would have earned more having done this throughout an entire section rather than struggling with one question in that same section.


Even when you think “oh this one is so easy”, carefully read and reread the questions, underlining key phrases, and scribbling key concepts beside the question. This is not only helpful in the recalling process, but also important for interpretation of the question, which means that if you get it wrong then everything else will be wrong, and a grand waste of time.


Before attempting to write in the answer booklet in response to the question, do a rough outline of your responses jotting down key words, phrases and concepts in a logical and structured order. A good approach is to classify your outline of jottings under main areas such as definition of key concepts; your thesis in response to the question; several points of arguments you will put forward; and finally, examples and illustrations to support them. This will resemble a typical approach to essay writing.

As you write, and glance at your outline, you will find your thoughts and writing are flowing quite easily.


In addition to doing an outline, there are several methods you can use such as the journalists’ questions (who, what, where, why, when, how, etc.); and brainstorming (jotting down bubbles of concepts, and making connections like in a “connect the dots” game to show relationships) to capture your thoughts that you will now build on.


Follow these tips and you will find that you will never again run out of time in an exam, as you would have attempted ALL questions comfortably within the required timeline with time left to revisit those questions that may have been challenging you before; as well as time to recheck your paper for grammatical and typical spelling or typographical errors and misspelling.


`Mike Myles is a lecturer and public management and policy expert in the School of Business and Administration at the University of Technology, Jamaica. Email feedback to or and