Make sure you understand how long you have available to answer the questions and pace yourself accordingly. You will need to ensure that you have left adequate time to answer the longer essay style questions or to re-read your answers.

  • Have you worked out the ‘marks per minute’?

Understanding Questions

Make sure that you understand the meaning of all the questions before you answer them. Underlining key words can be helpful.

  • Do you understand what the question is asking you to write about?


Developing a point or argument will gain more marks. You need to follow through on your thinking by explaining exactly what you mean and what the result is. The examiner cannot read minds so put yours onto paper!

  • Does your answer include the words ‘because’, ‘therefore’, ‘this results in’, ‘consequently’ etc?

Avoid Common Errors

  • Misreading the questions (“What county is the Lake District in?” – “England”) or failing to answer the exact question asked;
  • Too much irrelevant information;
  • Lack of detail in the answer;
  • Not using the supporting resources properly – either ignoring them or copying information word for word.
  • Have you read the question carefully?

Get the balance right

The exams are not all based on the recall of facts – they are actually examining you on three things:

  • Knowledge – recalling factual information;
  • Skills – the ability to use maps, photos, graphs, etc. to extract relevant information and to structure essays and pieces of extended writing.
  • Understanding – applying your ability to evaluate, summarise, make links, etc.
  • Have you asked your teacher what the examiners in their subject will be looking for specifically?

Practice Exam Technique

Get familiar with the structure of exam questions. Many candidates struggle not from lack of subject knowledge, but they are unable to understand exactly what the examiner is asking.

  • Do you know the difference between ‘describe’ and ‘explain’?

Look carefully at the mark allocations

It is amazing how many candidates leave massive spaces in their answer booklets. Remember that the spaces are a guide to how much to write. The more marks that are available, the longer your answer should be. Marks are not taken away for irrelevant answers, so if you are really stuck or unsure, just put down everything you know that could be related to the question.

  • Have you made enough points to achieve the marks available?

Understand how questions are marked

Remember that many questions are usually marked in levels (according to the quality of your answer). Top marks require good knowledge/skills/understanding, added to the ability to elaborate, make links and structure your answers.

  • Do you understand the mark schemes for previous exams?

Planning works!

Taking time to plan your answers can be valuable in the long run. It shows examiners that you have considered the content needed and applied the best structure to allow you to answer it. Examiners will also mark this plan if you do not finish the essay/answer in time.

  • Have you developed a way of laying out your plans which is quick and adaptable?

Check and check again

Never leave an exam without reading through your answers at least once. Give yourself time to correct and improve your previous answers. Never just sit there and wait for the exam to end!!

  • Can you be confident that you have done your best?