A Guide to Exam-Writing Techniques for Your Best Performance

Written By: Rashi S.

The exam season has begun…it is a stressful time for most students as the exams hold the highest weighting and will often determine whether they get accepted into the university of their choice or not. Thus, I would like to give you some tips in addition to the preparation that you have already done to help you stay focused during your exams and do them to the best of your ability. 



Sometimes students start panicking or blank out due to the stress during exams. Consequently, their exam performance does not go well. However, to avoid this, you simply have to breathe. By focusing on nothing but breathing in and out for one minute you can slow down your heart rate calming your nerves and overworked mind. It will help you enter your body and mind into a state of calm, making you relaxed and focused. 

 Time Management 

Before your exams, ensure that you have figured out how you will be dividing your time when to answer the questions. Especially for essay-based exams, it is pivotal that you do this because taking too much time to answer one question can hinder your performance in other areas of the test. Most teachers give you tips in class about how they recommend distributing your time in exams and thus this should not be novel news to you. At this stage, you may already have an idea about this and it is a good idea to do practice papers using that technique to put it into practice. I also write how I plan on managing the time of the exam on the paper itself (see example below). Tip: wear a regular watch (smart watchers are not allowed in the IB exam hall) to keep track of the time in case you are seated in a place from which you cannot/it is difficult for you to see the clock.  

 Befriend Drafting 

Although making a rough draft/outline may seem counterintuitive as it is tempting to straightaway start writing the essay, making an outline is vital. Surely, the outline does not have to be extremely long or detailed. However, they are useful because they allow you to organize your arguments and structure the essay well. Additionally, when I was a DP student, my teacher taught us this strategy: do not cross out your outline or do it on scrap paper (examiners are not obliged to mark the material that is not on the answer booklet). Instead, create the outline on the answer booklet as in case you are not able to finish your essay, the examiner can determine the structure of your essay by seeing what you intended to write. This can sometimes help you secure at least a few points. If the exam is more science or math-based, the rough draft can help you to scribble down important formulae or side calculations you were clutching on to with all your mental force. 


10:00-5: essay outline  

10:05-45: write essay 

10:45-50: proof-read  

 Do the questions you know first and do not leave any questions blank 

I highly recommend doing the questions that you are confident about first [especially for multiple-choice questions (MCQs)]. This will build up your confidence as it can be discouraging initially to look at questions that you do not know and get stuck on them. Thus, skip the ones that you do not know for the time being and return back to them later. Furthermore, by using this strategy you can ensure that you secure the maximum number of points for them under time constraints. 

 Look for clues from other questions  

This is particularly useful for source analysis or MCQs as sometimes questions have information about a question that you are stuck on. If you are unsure between a few questions or answer options, write down some notes and ideas. For the former, it will help you choose the answer that you think is right by recalling the evidence of the answers from class. For the latter, it will aid you to see which questions you could write a better answer for. Underline any command words or limiting words in the question to enable yourself to focus on the specifics of what you are being asked. 

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