• Ian Gibbs

Exam Tip #23: It’s Never Over Until It’s Over

Picture this: You’re sat in your exam and (unlike the situation in the previous blog) things are going pretty well. You’ve been able to have a good go at all the questions.

You carefully planned your answers, you distributed your time, you answered the easiest questions first and you carefully answered each one, giving the type of answer required.

You’ve done well.

You’re happy with your efforts and, what’s more, looking at the clock you still have 15 minutes left!

What do you do now?

a) Grab your things and leave early, exuding confidence (If you are allowed. Some exam rules expressly prohibit leaving early—and quite rightly so!)

b) Sit there exhausted, thankful that you’ve done the best you can.

c) Turn your answer paper back over and start reading it from the beginning again.

You only get the satisfaction of a correct answer if you answered c).

The truth is the exam is never over till it’s over.

The temptation to say ‘That’s it. I’m done.’ is tremendous.

But wait!

These last few minutes still count.

Silly mistakes happen.

How many times have you sent a text message, only to realise you made a silly mistake?

How many times have you sent a text message with a silly mistake and NOT noticed?

When you go through your answers, don’t be surprised to find the definition you’re sure you included has mysteriously vanished.

When you go through your answers, don’t be surprised when you suddenly remember a really good idea to add to your answer.

When you go through your answers, don’t be surprised to find you haven’t answered the second half of Question 3.

In those final few minutes, you might not find anything you can add to improve your final mark.


At least you tried.

But maybe, just maybe you were able to add an enlightening observation or an original comment that allowed you to demonstrate to the examiner just how much you know your stuff.

It might only earn you an extra half mark, but that extra half mark might just nudge your result from one grade up to the next.

It could be the difference between a pass and a fail, or a good grade and an excellent grade.

The decision is simple: You’ve spent years working your way to this moment. Are you really going to jeopardise getting the best result you can for switching your brain off a few minutes early?

Imagine you’re in for a heart operation and when the surgeon is close to the end, she has two options: either to double-check all the stitches are secure, all the dead matter has been cleaned up and all the clamps and forceps have been removed OR to sew you back up nice and sharpish so she can get on the golf course 10 minutes earlier.

Which option do you think would be wisest?

So make a promise to yourself before the exam that if you have any spare time at the end, you will use it wisely to check:

✔ Have you clearly stated which question is being answered?

✔ Have you clearly shown your reasoning?

✔ Have you done exactly what the question requires?

✔ Have you included units? (e.g. is your answer in grams or kilograms?)

✔ Have you followed the instruction on the front and answered no more and no less than necessary?

✔ Are there any assumptions you’ve made but forgotten to state?

✔ Have you checked both sides of each question paper?

✔ Are your explanations clear?

Students who finish an exam early aren’t cool or clever. They’re overconfident, lazy or cowards.

Finish early or get the best grade possible?

It’s your choice.

Tip 23: Under no circumstance finish your exam early. It’s never over ‘till it’s over.

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