Answering exam questions - the good, the bad and the ugly

You’ve studied, you’ve revised, but now you’re sat in the exam hall wondering how on earth you’re meant to go about answering the questions in front of you. We realise that getting all of that knowledge out of your head and down onto paper is more than tricky. So here’s the good, the bad and the ugly of answering exam questions to help you to make the process a whole lot easier.

Answering exam questions

The Good

Prep prep prep!

Going in prepared will mean you’re less stressed, more focused and will stop the surprises. Would you go on a Tinder date without having a look on the person’s Facebook first?

Make sure you walk into the exam knowing what you’re going to be faced with. How many questions are there? What format are the questions? How many marks are at stake? How are the questions worded? How long should my answers be? Ask your teachers, practice with old exam papers and get in the know!

The Question

The question is good, it’s your friend and it’s there to help.

Make sure you understand the question. Identify keywords and what it’s asking you to do – discuss? Evaluate? Compare? Outline?

Stick to the topic and answer the question that’s been set. If you’re asked specifically about one thing don’t go off naming everything else related to that just because you’ve revised it all. Supposing the question is on Harry Styles don’t spend paragraphs discussing Zayn’s solo career or Liam’s relationship with Cheryl.


Always remember to P.E.E.

Point. Evidence. Explain. A nice easy structure that’s easy to remember and carry out. Make your point, back it up with some evidence and explain it. Here's an example for you.

Question: Discuss who you think is the greatest living actor?

Answer: I think Tom Hanks is the greatest living actor (point). His films have grossed over $90 billion and he has won two Oscars (evidence). His success at the box office shows his success with audiences and his Oscars with critics. Over a career of nearly 40 years he’s played a wide range of roles from soldiers to spacemen and cowboys to castaways. The likes of which is virtually unparalleled (explain).

Structure can make or break a good exam answer and this technique, as recommended by student mentor Soton, is sure to get you on the right track.

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The Bad


You’ve got this. You’ve done your prep, you know your structure don’t dive straight in. 

One thing that you do have in an exam is time. Use it. Don’t jump straight into the first question. Flick through the paper. If you can choose which questions to answer work out which ones you can answer best. Spend a few minutes planning your answer and working on your P.E.E.. If you’ve done your prep and practised on sample questions you may know how long it takes you to write certain length questions. Use this and break down your time sufficiently.


Make sure you avoid waffle. You need to be clear and concise. A well-structured piece of writing will please an examiner. Repeating yourself and straying away from a question (remember the 1D analogy) will only upset them.

Student mentors Andreea suggest writing out everything about the topic that is in your head and then selecting the relevant bits to include in your answer.


That’s it. Time is up. It’s all over. Your paper has been collected and you’re leaving the hall. The end.

But is it?

Don't keep going over the exam in your head! It is done now and there's no getting that paper back. You’re only going to depress yourself. Don’t worry about Kevin, who aced it all in 30 minutes and spent the remaining 90 minutes counting the bricks on the side of the sports hall. Kevin’s a liar! If you’ve got more exams, you need to focus on them and not look back. If it’s the end of your exams go and enjoy your Summer, you deserve it!

The Ugly

If you remember all of the above you should be doing better than these people...

Worried? Don't be!

Worried? Don't be.

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