Writing exams can be a daunting experience for on- and off-campus students alike. Many students would readily swap their formal examinations for take-home assignments, to escape the pressure of test-taking. However, exams are an inevitable part of the university experience, so it’s essential to find strategies for overcoming test-related anxiety. Keeping the following do’s and don’ts in mind prior to and during an exam will help you perform to your full potential.

 Before the day


  •  make sure you know where and when your exam will be held.  If your exam is being held on campus, you can plan your route using the interactive map.
  • make yourself familiar with the basic rules for exams at Carleton (did you know you can bring water in with you, but only in a sealed, transparent, unlabeled container? Or that you can’t enter the exam room after the first half hour?) and for distance exams, if that applies to you.  This way, you won’t get any nasty surprises on exam day. The Carleton Undergraduate Calendar features a list of exam procedures.
  • visit the student information page designed by Carleton’s Scheduling and Examination Services department. This page features useful information for exam-takers, such as the answers to frequently asked questions and details on how to apply to write off-campus exams.

 On the day


  • keep track of the time. If an exam is made up of multiple sections, be sure to allot an appropriate amount of time for completing each part to the best of your abilities.
  • abide by the official policies and procedures for writing exams at Carleton.
  • complete questions in a logical order. Chronological order is not necessarily the most effective route for tackling an exam. Begin by answering questions that are weighted more heavily. This can help maximize the marks you earn, should you run out of time to complete the exam. Completing easier questions first is another useful tactic to maximize the number of correctly answered questions.
  • read questions and instructions carefully. Rushing through a question can cause you to misread information and waste time forming an incorrect response.
  • plan the structure of longer responses. For example, before delving into an essay question, take a moment to reflect on your thesis and outline each argument. Some brief planning can help you formulate coherent answers that earn high marks.


  • pay attention to fellow test-takers. Glancing at others while stumped on an exam question is a dangerous trap to fall into. Not only do you risk being accused of cheating – you’re also likely to grow increasingly confused. Looking toward your neighbour’s answers can lead you to second-guess your own. Keep your eyes and mind on your own exam.
  • leave the exam room without checking your work. It can be tempting to turn in an exam the moment you’ve answered the final question, but reviewing your answers will help you correct mistakes and achieve a higher score.
  • leave questions unanswered. Attempting every question will help you increase your overall score by gaining partial marks. A few correct guesses can boost your score enormously – particularly in the case of multiple-choice exams.
  • grow anxious when you encounter a difficult question. Contemplating failure and worst-case scenarios is unproductive, and will likely distract you from recalling information. Strive to approach each question with a positive frame of mind.

For further exam-related support, contact Scheduling and Examination Services.