Exam Technique

Good exam technique is vital in passing professional examinations.

Exam Technique - The Rules

The following rules are the steps you must apply when answering exam questions.

1. Reading time

You have 15 minutes reading time which should be used wisely.  It allows you to look through the long form questions - do not worry about the SFQs at this stage.

You can look to see what the requirements of each long question are, and the time allocation for each one. A quick skim through the content will then let you decide which question you are going to attempt first. If you still have time you can start annotating your exam paper with key dates, requirements, conditions etc. You can also find the legislative references you may need for a written question.

Remember you cannot start writing on your answer paper until the reading time is over.              

2. Time allocation

Logically, a question worth 10% of the marks should take 10% of the time. However, in the heat of the exam, students often get bogged down by individual questions. Therefore, you should allocate your time between individual questions. In a 3 hour (180 minutes) exam, each per cent is worth 1.8 minutes time. Therefore, multiply the mark allocation by 1.8 and you have the length of time to spend on that particular question. YOU MUST NOT EXCEED THIS TIME.

3. Read the requirements

Even though you have already had a quick look during the reading time you should start any question by reading the requirements. It is no use reading a three page long question if the requirement then says "please can you spell the word dog"! You should, therefore, read the requirement and ascertain exactly what the question is asking from you. Who are you? Are you doing a letter or a memorandum, notes for a meeting etc?

4. Answer any sub-requirements now if possible

Sometimes there are parts of questions which can be answered before reading the information in the question itself. These MUST be done first since:

  • this ensures you answer the easier test of knowledge before getting bogged down by the details in the question 
  • you can often answer these parts quickly, freeing up some time for the more time consuming other requirements 

5. Set up proformas if applicable

Setting up proformas before starting your answers helps keep the answer properly spaced out and therefore easier to mark. 

6. "Actively" read the question

An excellent way to waste time in the exam is to have to read the question more than once. To prevent this, you must read the question in an active way, by:

  • highlighting any relevant sections - the requirement (step 2) tells you what you are trying to do, so you need only highlight the information you need 
  • crossing out any irrelevant parts - be brutal here: it is a waste of time and annoying to read an irrelevant paragraph once; to do so twice is stupid 
  • jotting down any initial thoughts in the margin next to the appropriate paragraph 

7. Answer the question doing the easy bits first

Note that answering the question only occurs at step 7 and not before! When planning your answer, remember that there are no marks on the marking scheme for being brave and trying areas that you find tricky. There are marks for getting things right, including workings. Therefore, you MUST do the areas that you find the easiest first.

When answering the question, remember the golden rule - you must assume that the marker has no technical knowledge. Therefore, your answer needs to be set out in a way that they can understand very quickly. To facilitate this:

  • you should only make one point in each paragraph 
  • no paragraph should exceed four lines in length 
  • always leave one to two lines between paragraphs 
  • use as many subheadings as possible to break your answer down, underlining these headings with a ruler do not waffle 
  • when doing calculations, always show your approach so that, if you get the answer wrong, the marker can see what you have been trying to do, with calculations, highlight the answer so the marker can see what you have come up with straight away 
  • Use the Frank Bruno principle - keep it short, simple and punchy! 


If you do not stop on time, you may not get up to the easy parts of the next question. This is very annoying if you end up failing by only 1 or 2%.


Learning to use exam technique is often like learning to ride a bike - it looks easy enough but, when you first try, it often goes horribly wrong.

Like riding a bike, don't worry when this happens. Keep working at using the above rules and your chances of success will dramatically improve.

This article provided by Kaplan Financial Ltd