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Exams: Understanding different types of exams

Tips and strategies for preparing for, and sitting, an exam

Understanding different types of exams

Multiple Choice

  • Read the question before you look at the answers.
  • Try to supply your own answer before reading the choices provided.
  • Accept the question at face value - don’t read anything in to it or assume that it is a ‘trick’ question.
  • Do not keep changing your answer, usually your first choice is the right one – unless you misread the question.
  • Completely fill in the answer space
  • Completely erase any errors or stray marks
  • Do not mark two answers as it will be marked incorrect
  • Record the answer in its properly numbered space
  • Do the easy questions first
  • Mark or highlight questions that you want to reconsider
  • Guess only if there is no penalty for doing so
  • Check the paper at the end
  • Create a memory aid, if these are permitted in your exam.


Essay/short answer exams

Essay and short answer exams are designed to test  your ability to synthesise information and to organise your thoughts on paper.


  • be familiar with the terminology used in essay exam questions.
  • Take time to read the paper thoroughly.
  • Make sure you time yourself on each question – keep to the time you allocated.
  • Write an essay plan to keep your thoughts coherent and organised. This plan does not need to be as detailed as for an assessment task.
  • Always write the question number at the top of the page. 
  • Always give your answer in short answer and essay questions in the first sentence by using the wording of the question.


Structure your essay to include:

An introduction explicitly state your answer and the organisation of the essay

Body paragraphs 

  • Include supporting material and appropriate details for your answer.
  • Structure the body of the essay as you indicated in your introduction.
  • Use transitions to tie your ideas together.
  • Go back and reread the question, refer to your plan and introduction if you are beginning to ramble.

The conclusion

re-answer the question and refer briefly to the main points in the body.

conclusion example


  • Leave space in between answers in case you have time to add any information you didn’t include in your essay.
  • If you run out of time answer in point form. Markers will often give you some marks for this.
  • If you have time at the end of the exam proof read your essay but remember that allowance has been made for the “lack of polish” in an essay exam.
  • If you know the question, write a brief essay plan on a memory aid, if these are permitted in your exam.