• Ian Gibbs

Exam Tip #19: Time Management

I hate the expression Time Management.

I like to be free and flexible.

I don’t like being tied down and boxed in.

Maybe you feel the same way.

Nevertheless, in an exam, whether you like it or not, you’re very much boxed in.

The luxury of freedom awaits you at the other side of the exit when your invigilator says ‘Time’s up, pens down.’

But for the moment, you’re stuck with it.

You have a limited time to get maximum points.

So logic suggests you should start answering questions as soon as you turn over your paper, right?

Not quite.

Before your invigilator says you can start, you’ll have an idea of the time you have in minutes and how many marks the paper is worth.

It should say so on the front of your exam paper.

Let’s say your paper is worth 50 marks and you have one and a half hours (90 minutes) to do it.

Simple maths says that the minutes-per-mark ratio is 90/50, or just under two minutes per mark.

But this is assuming you jump in, answering questions straight away.

As we saw in the last chapter, it is a very good idea to spend time carefully reading all the questions before you start answering any of them.

So going back to the time management:

The whole exam is 90 minutes: take 10 minutes to read the questions and then another 10 minutes to go over your answers at the end.

That leaves you with 70 minutes to get 50 points, or just under one and a half minutes per point.

If you’re comfortable with these sorts of calculations, great.

If you’re not, don’t panic.

The important point is to avoid spending too much time on some questions and not enough on others. It’s so easy to do just the opposite.

Let’s say you have just two questions to answer. The first is about a topic you’re very comfortable with and that you know loads of stuff about.

The second isn’t.

It’s not about one of your strong points. It looks tricky and you’re struggling to think of anything intelligent to say.

The temptation is to write as much as you can on the first question, but this will take you well over its fair share of time.

The problem here is that although you write more than required, it’s unlikely it will get many extra marks.

Always keep an eye on the time.

During the exam, there should be a clock clearly showing how much time you have left.

If you allocate a time limit for each of your questions and stick to it, you’re reducing the risk of wasting too much time on the easier questions (which you’ll have done first – see next blog) while giving yourself the best chance to get as many marks as you can on the trickier ones.

So how often do you calculate how much time you ought to spend on each question when you’re doing a past exam paper?




If you can get into the habit of working out roughly how much time you have for each question, it will feel more natural to do it in the exam and thus avoid wasting too much time on some questions and running out of time on others.

Time management might not be your favourite topic at home, but in an exam, it could make all the difference to earning a few more marks and getting a better grade.

Tip 19: Divide your time realistically between reading the questions, answering and then reviewing your answers. Then stick to it.