Exam Strategy

Exam Strategy: Some general points to remember 

As examinations approach, it is always good to consider some approaches to planning, timing and answering questions in the exam. This, of course, will vary from subject to subject. 


Spend the first two or three minutes of the exam reading the question paper. Avoid jumping straight into the first question. Mark the questions which you are more confident with, and answer these first. This will get you off to a good start. With your best questions completed, you can now tackle the more challenging questions with a positive mindset.

If your question requires an extended answer or is essay based, it is good practice to plan your answer. The plan does not have to be detailed but rather a quick synopsis of your ideas. The old reliable Mind Map is a great tool with which to plan and organise your ideas into a logical sequence. You may not get round to making the point in your essay / extended answer, but because you have mentioned it in the plan, you may gain marks! 

Furthermore, ‘ticking off’ the relevant points on your Mind Map plan as you complete them, keeps you on track and ensures that you don’t miss out any of your initial thoughts. However, ensure that you ‘tick off’ the points rather than crossing through them, crossed out work is not marked!

Marks Allocated 

Each question will show the number of marks allocated.  You can use this to your advantage. Timing: Check the exam paper for the total number of marks allocated and the number of questions you are required to answer. A quick calculation will give you the number of minutes you should give to each question. You should be aware of this before the examination.


Marks for each part of a question: In the exam itself, check the number of marks given to the parts of each question. In Junior Cycle for example, if parts (i) and (ii) are allocated 2 marks each, part (iii) 6 marks and parts (iv) and (v) are allocated 10 marks each, then spend the majority of time for that question on parts (iv) and (v). This will vary subject to subject. If you get stuck on a question and go over your time limit, MOVE ON, you can always come back to it if you have time.

Answer the Question

It sounds simple, but unfortunately many students don’t! First off, read the question carefully. Underline or highlight the key parts of the question and any ‘command’ words.  If a question asks you to describe, make sure you don’t simply explain – a ‘describe’ question will usually mean that you will have to develop a detailed response to, for example a structure, a process, a theme or a character. This will vary depending on the subject being examined.

Show your workings!

This may seem obvious, but under time constraints it is often easier to write down a final answer.  This is fine if your answer is correct, but what happens if it is wrong?  Showing your workings allows the examiner to award marks for partly correct answers. On questions which require you to show your working, not doing so can lose you marks, even if you get the final answer correct.

“I ran out of time!”

If you find yourself with limited time and still several questions to answer, then you may want to consider answering two half questions rather than one complete one. By answering those parts of the remaining questions with more marks allocated, you may end up with more marks in total by attempting both.

Your Wellbeing

Stay Hydrated

Lots of research in sport, industry and business has highlighted the benefits of staying hydrated. Exam conditions are no different and taking small sips of water throughout the exam can be beneficial.


After your exam, whether at lunchtime or in the evening, short bursts of exercise are important. A five-minute walk around the running track can help clear your mind and help focus on an afternoon exam.  

Subject Specific Approaches - Leaving Certificate

Coming soon.