Top 10 tips for taking exams

70 ways to ace your exams

Update March 2018: Since writing this blog post, I have created a free eBook called 70 ways to ace your exams.

You can get your free copy here.


You can work so hard to learn large quantities of information for an exam, but if you don’t prepare yourself mentally and physically before that exam, all that hard work can sadly go to waste.

When it comes time to take your major exams, you have to relate to yourself as a top class athlete. You need to eat the right foods, have the right mental attitude and let your body rest when it needs to leading up to your exams. These simple things can make all the difference to your mental clarity and performance.

You may be thinking “But isn’t this common sense?” but common sense isn’t so common these days.

All the time I see university students drinking energy drinks like water, getting very little sleep and eating highly processed junk food whilst cramming for their exams. I have to admit, I’ve also done this myself and I don’t recommend it. It’s a recipe for disaster or at best, mediocre grades and a stressful, miserable time.

Here are my top 10 tips for taking exams so you don’t burn yourself out:

1. Get a good nights sleep

Studies have found that if you stay awake for 21 hours straight, you have the mental capacity of someone who is legally drunk (in terms of your ability to concentrate, memorise and recall information, etc).

You can’t afford to stay awake all night studying for an exam. Why? Becuase you won’t be able to effectively recall information for the exam. It’s as simple as that!

Make sure you get at least 8 hours of quality sleep a night.

2. Exercise for at least 30 minutes a day, everyday

I make myself to go to the gym for 45 minutes to one hour each day during my exam period, but 30 minutes of walking, jogging, swimming, dancing, etc will be enough.

Often students stop exercising when it comes exam time because they begin to think that they don’t have enough time (“I must spend every moment studying!”). Big mistake.

Exercise helps us study more effectively for various reasons. Firstly, it’s a great way to relieve stress and anxiety. Secondly, it gets blood flowing to your brain (supplying oxygen, antioxidant and glucose) which can help you to think more clearly.

Think of daily exercise as being an investment in your final marks.

3. Drink plenty of water

Often when we can’t think clearly, it’s because our brains need to be hydrated. While studying and taking your exams, make sure you take regular sips of water.

4. Remember, your teachers want you to do well

Years ago, I started thinking that my teachers and lecturers were out to get me and would mark me down wherever they got the chance. As a result of this thinking, I became too scared to write anything in one of my first tests at law school! After receiving my terrible mark, my brother said this to me:

“Remember sis, your teachers want you to do well. They will try to give you marks wherever they can. It’s in their interest to do so.”

Don’t worry about writing a perfect answer. If you’re unsure, still write it down (even if it’s in dot points). You may not get any marks for it, but they won’t take marks off. Just remember, your teachers really are on your side (despite all evidence to the contrary).

5. Focus on what you do know rather than what you don’t know

Chances are there will always be something that you could have studied more thoroughly or don’t know so well come the day of the exam. By that stage, you can’t do much about that, so is there any point worrying about it?

You are better off focusing on the fact that you now know so much more than you did before and you’ll be able to answer many questions in the exam.

6. Eat a nutritious breakfast

Studies have found that students who skip breakfast experience a 20-40% reduction in cognition (i.e. concentration, memory and alertness). You want to eat a nutritious breakfast to feel fuller for longer, stabilise your mood and give you plenty of energy for the day.

Here are some healthy breakfast ideas:

  • Raw museli or porridge with nuts and chopped fruit
  • Wholegrain toast with a variety of toppings (e.g. baked beans, tomatoes, avocado, etc) and a piece of fruit
  • A smoothie
  • For more healthy breakfast ideas, click here.

    7. Avoid drinking caffeine (e.g. energy drinks, coke and coffee)

    Caffeine is a stimulant. It gives you a rush and makes you feel good in the short-term, but eventually it wears off and leaves you feeling cranky and wanting more.

    It’s also a diuretic, so it makes you urinate, which means you lose water, become thirsty and want to drink more soft drink.

    Studies have found that when we have a cup of coffee or can of coke, we are actually inducing a state of stress. Caffeine drives the adrenal glands to produce stress hormones that in turn produce the fight or flight response.

    Why not consider gradually replacing your caffeinated beverages with good old, simple water? You can jazz it up with some infused fruit or use a Soda Stream to carbonate it.

    8. Go straight home after the exam

    How many times have you stayed back after an exam to talk to your friends about what you put for each questions? How many times have you felt anxious after doing so?

    It can certainly be reassuring to know that you wrote the same answer as your friends. But if you find out that you wrote something different and you have another 4 or 5 exams to take, this may throw you off your game.

    The exam is over. There’s nothing much you can do about it, so move on and focus on studying for the next one.

    9. Take a few deep breaths when you get stuck

    If you come across a question that you’re not sure how to answer in the exam, stop for a moment and take a few deep breathes (in for the count of 3 and out for the count of 3). If you are not sure how to answer it there and then, move on to another question.

    The worst thing you can do is start to panic, because as they say “Stress makes you stupid”. You won’t be able to think clearly.

    10. Dealing with writer’s cramp/elbow

    I’m sure many of us are familiar with writers cramp/elbow. This can be due to holding your pen too tight. Loosen your grip or get a pen that you won’t have to press down so hard on the paper.

    The reality is, even with a good pen, your elbow will start to hurt at some point if you’re taking a 3 hour exam. When it does hurt, have a rest for a few moments (yes, you have time to do this!) and stretch it out on your desk.

    I hope you have found these tips helpful. If you have some techniques or strategies that work for you when preparing for exams, feel free to share them below.

    Want to learn more exam strategies? Click here to download a free copy of 70 ways to ace your exams.

    36 thoughts on “Top 10 tips for taking exams

    1. Jane, you mention some really great tips here for taking exams. Actually, I think most of them are excellent tips for any type of stressful/nerve racking activity such as presenting a speech, going for an interview or performing a play.

      In high school I found keeping a positive mindset also really useful when taking exams. Keeping things in perspective and literally taking one day at a time!

        1. My exam is going to be on Saturday!!! My parents are so hard on me and giving me pressure…….. They say that I MUST pass this exam…

    2. I have found these tips very useful.
      My first exam is tomorrow and fingers crossed all goes well.

    3. tomorrow will be my exam and im quite nervous about it especially in geometry..haizz..its really nerve cracking…i really want to do well in the exam so that my grades will improve..i hope that this tips can help me..aja!

    4. Great tips! I’m in the midst of finals week at the moment, and they just calmed me down and made me remember that confidence that I had after my last set of finals when I panicked for weeks and then scored really well. I realised that all that panicking was unnecessary other than to get me to study. When I go into my final tomorrow, I will remember to be calm and confident. That is, afterall, the ONLY way to take a test.

      πŸ˜‰ Thanks!

    5. hey my first exam is drama tomorrow manday 11th of may and i am so nervus i have to perfome a speech on masks it is a projet i have really been working hard on infact i lost sleep 2 nights in a row because of it i am so nervus and scared i dont want to mess up thanks for the tips xxx

    6. Following are some more healthy breakfast options
      * Pongal/ idli/ dosa with coriander/ mint chutney
      * Rotis with a small serving of a cooked vegetable
      * Stuffed whole-wheat parathas with yogurt
      * Mixed vegetable upma
      * Sandwiches with boiled egg and apple salad on whole wheat bread
      * Oats porridge or cereals with milk, along with fresh and dried fruits
      * (Down these with a few glasses of thirst quenching water)

    7. this tips were great.I have my science exam tommorow oh my god i am so scared.I will try and go and do those tips you have gave thanks so much. πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚

    8. i have my examz in two days i have a lot of positive attitude i just have tu revise the whole course but m not willing too … i dunt feel like studying rather my mindz distaracted every sec at other things liek facebook of my neighbour r my sister !! wat do i do !!

    9. I am in my final semester and i have my income tax paper a day aftr!!!! I feel d tips are reallly gud 2 overcome unnecessary tensions…..:thank u:-);-)

    10. The tips are VERY useful, I got new tips from here, thank you.
      I am going to face my half yearly after few days.

    11. tomor is mah foundation exm m lil bit nervous bt ths tips…is vry useful…let see bt now m damn sure tht will rock it…jusss figerrss crosss

    12. Thanks for the great tips! My exams start soon and I was making the common mistake of not exercising. Well, now I know what I really should be doing. Thanks a ton Jane! Fingers crossed that my exam goes well.

    13. Thanks for the wonderful encouragement. It had help me a lot ..

    14. Thanks Jane for your tips , but I’m still in tention but I’ll follow your tips .
      Thanks and thanks

    15. Jane, I do really good in school but when it comes to test.. I freak out and I don’t do good on it. What do I do about that?

      1. Hi K,

        I think you answered your own question.
        You said “I freak out”. As soon as you freak out, everything tends to go down hill and it makes it harder for you to retrieve the information you need for the exam.

        You need to find ways to stay calm.
        I like to exercise, power pose and meditate.
        But what works for me may not work for you.

        Have a play with different stress management techniques and see how you go.

        Dr Jane Genovese

    16. Today is my exam,,,ill send you feed back when i get the result ,,in GODs grace and mercy he answered my prayer

    17. HUHHH! tomorrow is my first mid term exam in my new school :/ NERVOUS ALOT….. but i.a i’ll try to implement on these tips………..

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