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Many students will have an exam as a method of assessment when at university. It is an opportunity to demonstrate your knowledge about a given subject. When approaching your exam, start early and find out what is expected of you. Plan your time and choose a revision method suitable for the type of test you will undertake. Consider if nerves will be a factor and what may help you approach the date with confidence.

The exam skills reading list brings together a range of helpful texts. Plus, we have collated some useful strategies for all students approaching exams.

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Exam Snacksize video,

  • What types of exam are there?

    Analysis of a case study - A case study will be related to the content of your module and your learning objectives. You should take the knowledge that you have gained over the course and apply it to the given situation. You will gain marks for applying relevant materials, theories or legislation where necessary.

    Multiple choice exam - These questions offer you a list of possible answers, some may be very similar. Read the possible answers closely to ensure you know what each indicates before making your selection. You are being tested to make judgements under pressure. Take your time, don’t rush, and allow time to review your answers at the end of the exam.

    Open book exam – An open book exam is a time constrained unseen exam where students can bring in books or folders. In this type of exam, you are asked to apply and critique the information you have learned. As you have access to sources you aren’t being checked on your memory of facts. Make sure you have organised all of your materials before the start of your test to make best use of your time. 

    Seen Exam – A seen exam is a time-constrained assessment task, presented to students at some time in advance of the assessment. The actual exam is still taken under strict conditions, with no external material allowed into the exam room and a time limit for completing the answers.

    Short answer exam - You are being invited to demonstrate your knowledge of a topic in a very concise and direct way. Consider noting down the answer in bullet points first and review to form full sentences. Be selective in your answer to include the most important information.

    Spoken exam - Be prepared to speak aloud about yourself and your work. Make sure you have a good understanding of the topic you need to speak about and you cover all aspects of the question and learning objectives. Consider writing your talk into bullet points and practise the talk through a number of times, checking for content and running to time. Expect to respond to questions from your examiner. You may want to practise this by considering what types of question you might be asked and recording your answers to them. Listen back to your recording and analyse your answers, making sure you keep to your allotted time. Preparing some phrases that indicate whether you agree or disagree with a point of view presented by your examiner might help give you a bit of breathing space to think about your fuller answer

    Unseen Exam - An unseen exam is a time-constrained assessment task, presented to students for the first time at the beginning of the assessment. Unseen exams are usually hand-written and last two to three hours. They are sometimes required by professional bodies.



  • In the weeks before your exam

    Do you wait until the week before exams, and then start to prepare? Or do you wait until the night before your actual exam? Leaving your preparation this late means that you’re likely to feel very stressed and unlikely to get the grade than you really deserve. Don’t leave it too late! In fact, we would recommend looking at assessment information at the beginning of your module. At this point you may find out what type of exam to expect and how long it will be. Assessment weeks including those with exams will be indicated in your schedule of work on Blackboard. Talk to your tutor and ask to see any past papers. Past papers will give you an idea of the type and format of exam you will be set later in the module.  

    Remember – it is up to you to find out the following information. Your Blackboard site is the first place to look. 

    Information you needQuestions to ask
    Dates and times When are your exams?
    Duration How long is the exam?
    Location Where is the exam being held? How will you get there?
    Scope How much of the course does the exam cover? Which learning outcomes?
    Format What type of exam is it? What will you be asked to do? What kind of questions will you be asked? 
    Marking criteria How much is each question worth?
    Equipment  What do you need for the exam? Pen, spare pen, calculator, notes, water? Anything else?
    Revision technique What kind of information do you need to know? Which revision strategy would work best? 

    Using learning objectives

    Locate your learning objectives on your Blackboard site. They will list the aims of the module and what you need to learn by the end of your course to successfully gain a pass mark. Sometimes your exam will address all of the learning objectives of your module. In some modules you will have two types of assessment and it is important to know which learning objectives you are being asked to meet for each one. If you have access to past papers you can look at the relationship between learning objectives and the type of exam questions you might be asked. Be aware that learning objectives on a module may change over time. Ask your tutor if they will share past papers with you. Check the marking scheme or the rubric for your exam which will be on your Blackboard site or ask your tutor.  You can also look at the  University Wide Grade Descriptors (appendix 3a) to get a broad view of the expectations of work for your level of study.

    Using your feedback

    Review your feedback from previous assessments. Reviewing any feedback comments and identifying your priorities will be beneficial for all assessments including exams. Our feedback portfolio will guide you through previous comments from academic staff and suggest ways act on the themes raised.

  • Revision strategies

    Revision is an individual process and all students will start with different knowledge, revision techniques and feelings about the exam process. It is important to think about you and how you work best to find the most suitable revision strategy for your upcoming exam. Think about when you prefer to work and if you find it useful to work in short chunks or long periods. Also identify where you would like to do your revision. 

    Organising your time

    Tips for productive study, Skills@Cumbria Tips for study videoAt the beginning of your revision, it may feel overwhelming when you consider how much information you need to learn. Taking some time to identify what you need to know, when, and how you will learn that information will help put everything into perspective. Time management underpins all of these elements. Watch the Tips For Productive Study video (4.09) for a quick introduction to the topic. 


    Time spent organising your revision will mean that you know how much work you need to do and when you will achieve it. Our Tackling Your Time Management resource will guide you through analysing your time, prioritising tasks and being productive. Make a weekly plan which can help you to identify when you will study, plus also other important parts of your week such as work, caring commitments, sleep and relaxation.

    Whilst revising, make sure you keep a balance between study and relaxation.  Some students find it helps to plan in time for breaks; some exercise; fresh air; a treat.  Making sure you eat well and get plenty of sleep are also good strategies for effective revision.  Plan time for things you enjoy doing to break up your day. 

    Overall, it is useful to think of exam revision as something that may take several weeks. This allows you to develop your knowledge over time and mean you can develop a greater understanding of your topic.

    Revision techniques 

    When you are revising, focus on what needs to be covered now, and not other topics that you will be revising later on.  This helps you to keep your focus and not get distracted.  Using a technique such as the Pomodoro Technique can help with keeping your focus. 

    There are many ways to revise your notes for an exam. Some techniques will be better suited to a specific type of assessment, so consider what you are being asked to do before starting. Reviewing your notes, using index cards and identifying connections between material are useful starting points for all exams. The best revision is when you go beyond reviewing your materials and make revision an active task. Explore our Top Ten Exam Revision techniques to learn about the different revision methods you might try.

    The exam skills reading list brings together a rage of good quality texts, with most available online. For more detail about revision strategies see chapter nine of Simplify Your Study which includes examples of revision methods or The Exam Skills Handbook offers a comprehensive introduction to all things exam related. The assistive technology page gives more information about useful apps for learning.  

  • Taking an exam

    • Read the paper very carefully
    • Stay calm, concentrate on the questions, and do not worry what others are doing
    • Decide which questions you are going to do, and allocate the time in proportion to the marks
    • Don't miss out a question (you will lose ALL the marks for that question). If you are running out of time, summarise the main points you wanted to make
    • Make sure you really answer the question asked - not just write all you know on that topic
    • Take 5 minutes at the start of each question to plan what you are going to write
    • Try not to waffle
    • Try to write legibly
    • After the examination, don't hold massive post-mortems, put it behind you

    Find out about the University of Cumbria's academic regulations, procedures and marking criteria.

  • Dealing with nerves

    Dealing with nerves

    There are a number of strategies you can explore to help you deal with nerves before and during the exam. Watch the video below to find out more about tips you might try.  

    Exam nerves video,

    Learn more about taking deep breaths from the NHS website. 


    During your revision, and on the day of the exam, it can be helpful to identify your thought patterns and change any negative thoughts to positive thoughts.  This self-talk (like an internal narrator) can be either helpful or destructive. 

    Look back on your previous experiences of assignments or exams and identify your self-talk.  Consider the following points: 

    • What were you telling yourself? 
    • Was it positive or negative? 
    • What were your feelings? 
    • What did you learn from these feelings? 

    Now, try to change any negative statements or feelings that you have identified to positive ones.  Using this technique during your time at University can help to reduce negative self-talk and encourage positive self-talk.


    Resilience is the ability to adapt well and positively in relation to stressful or difficult situations.  The learning experience from such situations can be drawn upon to become stronger and more able to cope in the future. Some of the characteristics of being resilient include: having good problem-solving skills; using goal-setting; being more likely to seek help; not dwelling or over-reacting to stressful situations; and believing that your actions will help you to cope with situations.  

    Being resilient at university helps you to respond to situations positively, and to see them as opportunities to learn. Focusing on positive responses and choices puts you in control of your learning. Being resilient can help you to respond to feedback in a proactive way and see it as an opportunity for academic development, and also manage our emotional responses to feedback. 

    Watch this video for further information about resilience (you will need to log in to Linkedin Learning with your University username and password.) Any negative statements or feelings that you have identified could be reframed to make constructive points. Using this technique during your time at University can help to reduce negative self-talk and encourage positive self-talk. 

    Further support

    If you find that worry and anxiety about exams, or any aspect of student life, is becoming persistent, take a look at these different websites with some top tips and information on how to access support: 

    University of Cumbria Mental Health and Wellbeing Service

    University of Cumbria: Self help

    University of Cumbria: I need calm


    Mind: How to cope with student life

    Student space



  • Exams held remotely

    Where you may previously have expected to come onto campus or to a workplace to sit an exam for all exams, it is possible that this may now take place at home. There are a number of things to consider when approaching your exam date. 

    Once you know when your assessment will take place consider where you will be able to have uninterrupted time to do the work. Identifying a suitable work area, which is free from distractions, is an important part of your preparation. Watch our video about organising your study which addresses setting up your workspace. 

    No_mobile_Red, Red mobile phone with strikethroughYou may find that using a mobile phone blocker such as Forest, switching off your phone or putting it in a different room is a good idea. Doing this will help you focus only on the exam. For your computer we would also recommend a website blocker such as Cold Turkey to help limit distractions. Using a blocker will mean that you can still have access to good quality websites during your exam submission, but limit the temptation to lose time on websites that you use for pleasure. 

    One common type of exam that may take place off campus is an open book exam. Students from The University of Manchester have brought together their tips for a successful experience. Whilst this may feel different to a traditional campus-based exam, there are many similarities. All exams regardless of where they are held will check your learning and tie closely to your learning objectives. As you might have access to notes and books, the focus of this type of exam is about how well you have understood the material and not necessarily about recalling facts or figures. 

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