Exams can have a variety of formats and it is important that you know which type of exam you are preparing for. Click on the one relevant to you.

Essay Exams

Standard exams in many subject areas involve answering essay style questions. You should observe the usual rules of essay writing such as structure, good grammar etc. Preparation for standard exams could include tackling some past papers within the time constraints stipulated. Pay particular attention to the time spent on each question.


Open Book Exams

Open book exams allow you to bring books and other material such as notes, into the exam room. You will be tested on your understanding of material rather than on your memory. However, you are likely to be limited in the quantity of information you can take into the exam and possibly the amount of notes you can make beforehand. There is also the danger that you will waste time looking things up rather than writing the answer to the question that has been set. Organisation is critical.

As well as referring to the General Tips there are some additional points you should note:

  • Select the material you take into the exam room carefully.
  • Identify key issues and make concise notes about what you think is important. Make separate notes of dates, formulas etc. so that they can be easily located during the exam.
  • Mark up key issues in your texts prior to the exam using post-it notes, so that you don’t waste precious time during the exam.
  • You must demonstrate critical thinking rather than just copying out long passages of text from the material you have brought in.

Remember to read carefully the instructions you have been given regarding the material you can bring into the exam room. There are penalties if you contravene these rules.


Multiple Choice Exams

These are often popular with students as there is always the hope that you can guess an answer correctly even if you are unsure! To achieve good marks at this type of exam you need to learn your material thoroughly and be able to recall and apply it quickly.

As well as referring to the General Tips there are some additional points you should note:

  • Try predicting the answer to the question before reading the options given. Choose this answer if present.
  • Read all the options provided.
  • Read the questions carefully, looking out for trick questions, double negatives etc.
  • Go through the paper answering all the questions you are sure of first.
  • Return to the remaining questions. Eliminate the answers you know are wrong first, then choose your answer based on what you think is probable.

Be aware, however, that sometimes a wrong answer carries penalties of lost marks.


Open Question Exams

These can be questions or case studies which you are given as long as two weeks or more in advance to allow you to prepare your answers. You may also be required to prepare as part of a group. You then take the exam under normal conditions. The advantage of this type of exam is that not only do you know what the subject of the questions is but you also have time to interpret the wording of the questions.

As well as referring to the General Tips there are some additional points you should note:

  • As you have been given advance notice of the questions you might be expected to produce a better standard of work.
  • Select your resources i.e. books and journal articles etc., with care.
  • Prepare a model answer covering all the main issues and arguments.
  • Spend an equal amount of time on each question unless some questions are worth fewer marks.
  • Don’t leave everything to the last minute, as preparation and planning is the key with this type of exam.


Oral Exams

Oral exams, or vivas, may be part of your major project. It will be necessary to communicate effectively with your examiner(s) as well as demonstrating both your subject knowledge and presentation skills. You should apply similar skills to those used in delivering a presentation and think specifically about the points below, in addition to the General Tips:

  • Practise as you would for any presentation. Make a recording and/or practise in front of friends or a mirror to improve your presentation techniques.
  • Check that the room you will be in can cope with any specialised equipment e.g. laptop or media systems.
  • Practise using any specialised equipment.
  • Create a good, professional impression when you enter the exam room by dressing appropriately and greeting your examiner(s).
  • Listen carefully to the questions as you will not have heard them before. If you do not understand the question ask for it to be repeated, or clarified.
  • Keep to the point and don’t ramble. If you don’t know the answer to a question, just say so.
  • Concentrate throughout and don’t let your mind wander.
  • Don’t just answer a question with yes or no. Give as much relevant detail as you can in your answers.