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How to do well in an exam you didn't study for

By Lauren Condon on 16 June 2017Exam adviceHSCNSWblogStudy tips

So… you didn’t study for your exam.

Well, that’s sort of our biggest piece of advice when it comes to doing well… and you still didn’t study. Seriously?

Well, fine. We’re on your side and tbh, we’ve all walked into an exam room knowing that we really didn’t study.

But here’s your disclosure: there is really only so much you can do in an exam to maximise your marks without studying so these are our tips but no guarantee you’re going to get away with this! It’s all about getting as many marks as possible from the things you already understand and already know.

Let’s jump in.

Step 1: Put yourself in the right mind frame

Okay, this advice might sound a little bit vague but obviously there isn’t a super solid strategy for pulling off an exam you didn’t study for - it’s all going to be in the little things you can do during or just before an exam!

First things first, you want to put yourself in the right mind frame for this subject and for the exam. So, just before you go in, make sure you:

  • Read over your assessment notification again so you know exactly what is coming.
  • Read the syllabus dot points under the topic in the exam to start jogging your memory.
  • If you have the time, try and read over notes or watch a video on the content you don’t know that well but hey, you may not even have time for that!
  • Cut the whining. We all love to whinge about how unprepared we are before an exam but try to get over that and just start focusing on the two hours ahead of you!

Step 2: Manage your exam time

Time management probably isn’t your best skill if you’re reading this but don’t worry about that! This is all about making some smart choices during the exam to make up for choosing not to study to get the most marks possible.

So firstly, go through the exam and start by doing the questions or sections that you know how to answer. If you don’t know something or aren’t sure how to write an answer, just put a big scribble next to it and move on. This way, you don’t spend all your time struggling with one question and you miss out on all the marks on the other half of the paper! Come back to the tricky ones later (but don’t forget about them!).

Secondly, read those questions so, so carefully. You seriously don’t want to waste marks by misreading a question and either giving the wrong answer or having to waste time going back and fixing it.

They’re both small strategies but they should make a big difference for you!

Step 3: Use the right strategy for each type of question

If you haven’t studied, then it’s even more important that you’re a little bit strategic about the way you answer different exams. There are so many different types of questions and different subjects but we can help you out with a few of the more common ones.

Multiple Choice

  • Rule out the ones you know are obviously wrong to narrow down your options.
  • Even if you have no clue, always make a guess. A small chance of being right is better than no chance.
  • You want to be efficient but don’t blitz through so quickly you fall for the trick option.
  • Use the facts from the multiple choice as evidence in other answers in your exams!

Math exams

  • You really need to start by doing the questions you know how to tackle and come back to the impossible looking ones later.
  • Check your work!
  • Always attempt a question because you could get marks for your working out even if you can’t find the answer.


  • Read and follow your instructions so carefully (this is pretty much your best shot!).

Short Answers

  • Be as clear as possible, the marker is just looking to see if you know the information!
  • Don’t keep waffling or rambling. You won’t get anymore marks, you’ll just waste time.

Long responses/essays

  • Write down any quotes or facts you remember on to the working paper straight away so you can remember to put them in your response.
  • Come up with an argument/thesis for your response (this will really help your marks).
  • Plan your response. Check out why this is so important in our to plan or not to plan blog post.
  • Try and refer to multiple syllabus dot points for a really good answer.


It’s always going to help if you study beforehand but these tips will really help you get the most marks out of what you already know! Remember to get in the right mind frame, manage your exam time and use the right strategies. And hey, even if you did study, these are pretty solid techniques to do even better in your exam so I guess we’re all winners! 🎉🎉

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