Joe's Jotter: 15 exam hall essentials for all students

As we get closer to exam time, it is always useful to get some tips for dealing with the exam hall itself and indeed writing the exam paper.

I’ve spent plenty of time in exam halls myself accumulating great experience sitting Maths, ICT and Geography papers along with various educationally themed ones.

These are some of the techniques and shortcuts that worked for me during my study days. There is plenty of practical advice below and even if you only adopt four or five of these key points, reading them has been a worthwhile exercise.

At this time of year, I try to pass these and many more tips to my own students and many of them have commented that they have found them useful:

♣ Lay out your answer book as clearly as possible being aware of your handwriting.

♣ If applicable, put a box around each answer to make it easier for the examiner to identify

♣ Never leave a question answerless. You can very easily gain marks for the most basic attempt.

♣ The method you use to answer a question is more important than the answer you arrive at.

♣ Double check how many marks each individual part of a question is worth on the day and give it the appropriate amount of time. When this time is up, move on to the next question part.

♣ Write down any formulas, acronyms, or key notes you have memorised the minute you sit down in the exam. In doing this, you can empty your head of content that can be used later.

♣ Start by briefly reading through the questions and make some notes on the paper of what jumps into your head in relation to the topics that you recognise.

♣ Keep re-reading a question if you are unsure about what is being asked. Surprisingly, a large percentage of students only read a question once and then tear into it. Some of these students end up answering a question they think is on the paper as opposed to the question that is actually written there. Be on your guard here as the examiners will have no sympathy for those you don’t address what’s being asked. Underline key words in the question to improve your focus.

♣ If the question requires a step-by-step approach, make sure to write every step down. This especially applies to subjects like Home Economics (S&S), Maths, Geography and Physics etc. This will ensure you get the majority of the marks for each question part even with minor mistakes.

As we get closer to exam time, it is always useful to get some tips for dealing with the exam hall itself and indeed writing the exam paper.

♣ When answering questions in different subjects, be aware of how the marking works on each exam paper and tailor your answer appropriately. For example, Languages may be marked on structure, layout, content, and vocabulary; where in contrast, Maths will be marked on attempts and steps in the right direction etc.

♣ Draw diagrams where possible to make your point. If you are more of a visual learner, you will be good at enhancing your argument with diagrams. Make sure and label each diagram well and refer to it

in your text paragraph. Your written explanation may not need to be as long due to the explanatory nature of the pictorial answer. You can still draw your graphs and diagrams in pencil if you prefer.

♣ Remember there is often more than one way to find an answer in certain subjects, so don’t be afraid to experiment and express yourself if you’re not fully sure what to do. Examiners love individuality and expression.

♣ Show all your workings within a question. Do not do rough work somewhere else in your answer book where the examiner may not understand its importance. Most exam papers now allow you to write the answer in a box or grid, so show all your workings there. Any work done in your head or on your calculator should be written down on your answerbook. If you are answering a question part on a different page of your answerbook, make sure and explain this with a clear signpost to the examiner.

♣ I would advise against the use of Tippex. If you wish to erase something, just put an ‘X’ through it, making sure it is still visible. Examiners must correct everything on the paper including information that has been crossed out, so this content could in fact be worth marks.

♣ When answering a question based on a graph, draw lines on the graph to show your readings. You could lose marks for just writing down the answer only. This applies to subjects where you are asked to draw a graph or analyse one that may be printed on the paper.


More details about Joe’s ACE Tuition (Maths and English) classes for Junior Cycle and Leaving Certificate Students (2022), ACE Maths Assessments, and his Award winning ACE Maths Solution Books can be found via the links below. Pick up your copy today!

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