If the mention of exams makes you feel anxious, you are normal. Feeling apprehensive about exams can give you the drive you need to put in place strategies to excel.

You will receive notification of the exam timetable via your student email. If you don’t frequently check that email, do so from about week ten.

The exam timetable will list these details about your exam:

  • when
  • where
  • how long it is
  • what materials you are permitted to use during the exam.


Whether you are sitting an online exam or an on-campus exam, the routine for preparing for it is the same.

Plan ahead

As soon as exam dates are released, put them in your calendar or diary. Quite apart from helping you turn up on the right day, this means you can plan revision of your study material.

  • Build revision into your weekly timetable.
  • Include time for relaxation, domestic activities and sleep. If you are exhausted, you will not perform well in an exam.
  • Set revision times for when you are at your most alert.

Building on your knowledge is something you can do from the very beginning of semester. Consider it a core part of study, and revising for exams won’t be an additional burden.

Revise actively

Systematically review your material. An active learning technique such as SQ3R gives your revision structure. SQ3R stands for:

  • Survey: scan through your notes and texts
  • Question: what is the topic about
  • Read: find answers to your question, taking notes
  • Recall: answer the question without your notes
  • Review: re-read your notes

Memory works in mysterious ways. And it is possible to train yours to be better. Read our helpsheet about memory.

Theoretical vs. practical exams

These are two types of exams you may encounter: theoretical and practical.

Theoretical exams are the kind where everybody sits quietly and writes/types until their hands fall off. These short or long-answer questions aim to test your knowledge of theory through written expression.

Practical exams involve some sort of physical expression, such as:

  • demonstrating how a nurse would take blood
  • a teaching role-play or sporting activity
  • performing a monologue

The most relevant exam information you will find in the course description, or through your lecturer.

Types of questions

You’ll find a range of questions on your exams. Here are the most common types you might encounter:

  • Multiple choice: these often have an answer/s that is obviously wrong, so if you are unsure, try to eliminate those first
  • Short answer questions: require a response in a few paragraphs
  • Long answer questions: often broader and require more detailed answers; use the format of a small essay, and include an introduction and conclusion, divide your paragraphs into body paragraphs, allowing for a single topic within each paragraph (you won’t need to reference unless the resources have been provided)

If you are aware of the type of questions you will face in your exam, practise past questions in the same format. This will prime your approach to the exam, enabling you to feel more comfortable on the day because the format will be familiar.

Download these relevant helpsheets:

Open book exams

In ‘open book’ exams, you can refer to any textbooks or information sheets while you undertake the exam. However, your Course Coordinator may list criteria as ‘limited’, which means you may only use certain items they have specified. These are usually listed in your course description; ask your lecturer if you’re uncertain.

Cheat sheets

Often a ‘limited’ open book exam refers to the opportunity to bring in your own cheat sheet. A ‘cheat sheet’ is a sheet written by you that can contain whatever notes you decide are worthwhile. It may be key theories or formulae, or the information you found most difficult.

Find out the rules before you write up your cheat sheet, because you can’t just take a thousand pages. Sometimes a cheat sheet can be a single A4 sheet, sometimes it can be ten pages. Sometimes they must be handwritten and sometimes typed. Here are a few key things to remember when writing up your cheat sheet:

  • Make it easy to read: order content logically and legibly
  • Use all allowable space: don’t leave blank space – fill your cheat sheet!
  • Important information first: key formulas or core information.

Online exams

Online exams are delivered through Moodle. These require you to use a computer. Most often, you are given a period of time in which to sit the exam, such as a window of 24 hours or a longer period. However once you commence the exam, your set time starts and you can’t go back later to finish it. If you do not have confidence in your home internet or you think you will be interrupted at home, then you can elect to sit the exam in a quiet study area on campus.

Download our helpsheet for more, Online Exams: Moodle Tests.

On-campus exams

The first thing you need to know is where to go. The exam won’t wait for you if you’re lost on campus somewhere.


You will receive notification of the exam timetable via your student email. If you don’t frequently check that email, do so from about week ten.

The exam timetable will list these details about your exam:

  • when
  • where
  • how long it is
  • what materials you are permitted to use during the exam.

Got a pen?

Turning up to an exam only to realise that you’ve forgotten a pen is not a good start. Get everything you will need the night before and put it in your bag, or somewhere useful. Take more pens and pencils than you’ll need.

You can also take in a single, unmarked water bottle. Being hydrated will help your brain to function (usually).

Exam format

Exams for different courses are often scheduled together in an exam hall. Lecturers will be wandering around, and you’ll need to raise your hand to get their attention if you need help. An official will use a microphone to explain the rules of the exam, such as ‘no talking’, and give you other information. Generally, exams are broken into two parts: reading time and writing time.

Reading time

Reading time will almost always be a total of ten minutes. In that time, you can’t touch a pencil. How you best use the time depends on the sorts of questions in your exams. First, flick through the exam to get a quick overview of what it contains. Then, if you have written answer questions to do, start thinking and planning for them. As you can’t write anything down yet, it can be pointless to begin answering multiple choice questions in your head. Use your reading time, don’t waste it looking around.

Writing time

Writing time is when the exam actually starts. You and every other student will snatch at your pens/pencils and write furiously for the next few hours. Exams generally last for several hours; check your exam timetable. Most theoretical exams are between one to three hours, but they can be longer.

You may leave during writing time if you finish early. Only consider it when you have checked your work thoroughly and you are certain you can’t improve anything.

If you are running short on time, maximise your chance of receiving marks (something, anything) by writing an outline or notes of the material you would cover if you had more time.

Ensure all your tables or graphs have labels to indicate what they are demonstrating.

Mathematics problems should be written out to maximise your chance of getting marks for demonstrating good process, even if the end sum is incorrect.

Find more information about exam strategies and minimising exam anxiety on our helpsheet page.