How To Pass Exams – Midterms Are Coming, Are You Ready?

It’s that time of year and mid-terms are under way, and for many of you this will be your first time writing them.  Exams can be difficult and quite stressful, especially if you’re uncomfortable with the course material. Many of you are probably wondering how to pass exams so this might turn into a long post, but as a blog dedicated to helping students I feel as if it is justified.

I’m going to go over some tips that will help you get through the worst of it, but everyone has their own way of writing exams and eventually you will develop your own short cuts and strategies.  There are many tips out there and some of them will sound pretty crazy, but having been there, I’ll try to make things as realistic as possible.  So here is a realistic guide on how to pass exams.

Practical “How To Pass Exams” Tips

How To Pass Exams
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I’ll get these out of the way first, they are simple common sense things.

  1. Writing Tools – You’d be surprised on how many people don’t bring pencils to exams.  Most exams are multiple choice in school, because the answer sheets are fed through a machine that does the grading automatically. One major flaw is that the machine doesn’t seem to work well when you use pens.  Sometimes profs can be picky about what color of pens you use.
  2. Bring Spares – Again simple, but bring spare pens and pencils in case you run out of ink/lead.  It’s better than getting stressed out over an easily preventable circumstance halfway through the exam.
  3. Showing Up On Time – My advice is to show up to school 30 minutes early, but don’t go to the exam until 5 minutes before it’s scheduled to start.  If you show up in line and wait for 20 minutes I can guarantee you will get rattled.  There are always a few guys out there that go early and are not prepared at all.  These people go around asking people tons of questions and cause everyone to second guess themselves; leaving you walking into the exam severely lacking confidence.
  4. Health – Be sure to get a good night’s sleep, as well as a good meal before the exam.  Depending on the exam as well as the type of person you are this can be altered.  I’m poor at math, so I would take sleep over cramming, because I couldn’t afford any easy mistakes on the test.  For marketing or business courses, I would sacrifice sleep for the extra study time.
  5. Go To Class! – I’ve heard of some people taking a week off classes to study before midterms start which is pretty ridiculous.  Even I showed up to the classes prior to the exam, they are key classes that review what will be on the exam!
  6. The Course Website – Always keep a tab on this website as some profs use them, although not all of them do.  Sometimes they will post a practice material for the exam.

You May Begin!

Everyone is staring at the clock, and the instructor will announce that you may begin.  Whether you are writing a math test or a history exam, here are a few tips that will help you out.

  1. Read Over The Exam – People always suggest this step and it’s often overlooked.  The reason for this is for you to get a picture of what the exam will be like and where you should allocate your time.  I was always a fast writer and never once stayed until the end of the exam, so I seldom did this.  If you usually stay until the end, it can be beneficial so you can spend the majority of the time on more important questions.  You can also pick up some useful tips from other spots on the exam.
  2. Read The Instructions – I know its pretty strightforward, just answer the questions right?  Sometimes the prof will give you 10 questions and only wants you to answer 8, if you answer them all they will only mark the first 8.  Or sometimes, the prof has something against the world and will take extra marks away for every wrong answer in multiple choice.  This is very good to know before you start guessing on the questions you aren’t 100% sure of.  You’d be surprised at the amount of people that don’t follow this basic idea.
  3. Time Allocation – This is where you want to figure out which questions are worth the most, and where you want to spend most of your time.  If you’re short on time it’s best to leave multiple choice questions for last because in the worst case scenario you can still guess at them.
  4. Drawing A Blank? – If you don’t know the answer don’t stress over it because it won’t be the first, and it won’t be the last time it will happen. Just move on to the next question and go back to it at the end of the exam.  Sometimes you will find the answer in another question later on, or answering another question will trigger the correct response for the unanswered questions earlier on.
  5. Review – Always look over the exam in the last 5-10 minutes to be sure you never made a careless mistake.  Especially in math where its easy to write down a dyslexic answer.  I started doing this my last 2 years and I always found 2 or 3 questions that I would change to the right answer.  You will also have a  different view of some of the questions after thinking about the subject for a full hour.
  6. Stay Until The End – Again, this is commonly recommended, although I was never a big fan.  Then again I wasn’t an “A” student, either way, I found if I stay until the end just to sit there, I start changing my “gut feeling” guesses and go from right to wrong answers.
  7. When You Leave The Exam, Don’t Hang Around – For the same reason as not showing up early, you will always have that guy running around paranoid if he got the same answer as you.  Chances are you both disagree on more than one question, it doesn’t mean you got it wrong.  All these people do is shake your confidence, so it’s best to avoid them.  In some cases it’s fun to turn tables on them and say, “You didn’t get that question? You’re screwed!”

Multiple Choice Tests

I have a love hate relationship with these kinds of tests, they are great if you have no idea what the test is on… or am I the only one who has shown up to class to receive that surprise MC test… Anyway, here are some tips.

  1. Eliminate Wrong Answers – In most cases multiple choice tests have 4-5 possible answers, unless you’re in some business courses where the answers range from a-j (those suck).   In most cases you can eliminate 1 or 2 possible answers, giving you a better chance at guessing at it if you don’t know it.
  2. Read Questions Carefully – Multiple choice tests are famous for having questions that will confuse you, often putting double negatives in the question.
  3. Cover The Answers – This is a good practice to get into because it will give you a chance to answer the question without seeing all the possible answers.  Often times MC questions are designed to get you to select the answer that looks familiar, although it usually isn’t the same as the correct response.
  4. Avoid Looking For Patterns – On MC tests you will probably fill in a bubble sheet for electronic grading.  It’s easy to see that you selected “B” for the last 5 responses, making you think at least one of those is wrong. Sometimes professors do this intentionally to see how well you know your stuff.  Many times students will think its impossible to have 7-8 “B’s” in a row, so they switch their responses and fall into a familiar academic trap.
  5. Key Words – Words such as “always” and “never” are important to pay attention to as they will always change the answer.
  6. Practice Exams – Some classes will just reuse questions without changing them.  So if you go through 10 years of exams and memorize the anwers you can guarantee a pass on the exam without studying the material; however, some courses throw in new “key words” changing the question completely while leaving in the same possible answers.  These are very easy to overlook, because often times you scan the question and it seems familiar so you just pick the answer without thinking.
  7. Bring A Dice – Not so much a tip, but it’s a good way to get a chuckle or two from people who are watching you.  When guessing on a question you might as well keep it random. 1=A, 2=B and so on, if you roll a 6 just roll again.


You rarely see this form of testing in university but I have seen it on more than one exam.

  1. Count The Possibilities – If you need to match 10 definitions or statements there may be 11 possibilities to pick from.  Be sure to count it out because your confidence will shatter when you discover it when you’re done matching everything else.
  2. Double Check The Instructions – Sometimes they ask you to match 8 of the 10, or they might take marks off for the wrong answers.

Short Answer

There is only so much you can do for this section of the exam so there aren’t too many tips.

  1. Check spelling – The odd prof actually penalizes you for misspelt words, this usually happens in classes like biology where the scientific names are similar but difficult to spell.
  2. Check With the Prof – Sometimes there will be more than one right answer and when this happens, ask the prof.  He/She may give you a hint on the correct answer.
  3. Lists – When the question asks for a list don’t write an essay just keep everything point form. Otherwise you waste the graders time and it won’t do you any good.  Save the bs for the long answer portion.
  4. Write Everything You Know – Teacher Man likes to say, “If you’re not a sniper use a shotgun.”  The more you write about the topic, the more chance you give the prof to give you passing marks.

Long Answer

Thankfully I never had to write too many of these but “Teacher Man” can comment on this one more than I can, but I’ll do my best.

  1.  Make An Outline List – By making a list and breaking down your points you can go back to it as you’re writing your answer, keeping you on track.
  2. Short and Sweet – By keeping your sentences short and sweet you make your point more clear and easier to read, not to mention grade.
  3. Write Your Entire Message – If you run out of time, you’re better off making all of your points shorter instead of not including them. That way you can be sure you get marks for all of your thoughts instead of fewer marks for an elaborated point in your answer.
  4. You’re Out Of Time! – If this happens to you and you have a few long answer questions left you’re better off writing a little bit for every question rather than answering one of the questions perfectly. This of course is only if the questions are worth roughly the same.
  5. T.M SaysIf You Can’t Dazzle Them With Brilliance, Baffle Them With Bullshit – As long as you have time, keep getting stuff down for long answer.  If you can vaguely relate abstract points or other reading you have done to a main theme it can’t hurt you.  Plus, it’s a great life-skill to practice!
This post is a little long-winded but I hope it has helped out a few people, if you have any tips on how to pass exams, share just comment below and I’ll update the post.
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12 years ago

Great post, I just finished my 2nd midterm… :) And the one before that was like 6 years ago.

I have a love hate with multiple choice tests too.

The one thing is to READ carefully. So many tests are done online right now that it can be easy to miss something or glean over something really quickly.

I caught myself when reviewing the exam for 2 questions that I answered wrong by not reading the questions and available answers thoroughly.

12 years ago

I hear you! I had a prof that would give us all the practice exams we wanted. Then would change the question so it would read…”…This AND that” to “This OR That” making the answer different. If you were to skim the questions you could finish the exam in 20 minutes. Which is exactly what I did until I read over the exam in case that trickster of a prof was up to something. The results of that test was that half of the class did very well, and the other half got a D or lower….Very few C’s. Pretty… Read more »

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