During our school years, exams are a mandatory and pivotal part of learning and progressing, we get used to being tested. However, for adult learners, exams may feel like a distant memory and a daunting prospect. It’s not unusual for professionals undertaking leadership and management qualifications and training to tell us that it’s been over 15 years since their last written exam.  

So, to help adult learners to prepare for and ace their next exams, our Functional Skills team have put together some helpful tips:    

1. Practise the Questions 

Hand with pen over application form

So that you feel as prepared as possible, it’s important to get familiar with the test format, which includes the types of questions you’ll have to answer and how you’re supposed to answer them.   

If you can, do as many mock tests and exam style questions as possible. Familiarise yourself with the different verbs used in exam questions – do you know how to effectively ‘describe’ something as opposed to ‘explain’ it? You’ll often be able to find questions online or by asking your tutor for samples. Get feedback on your answers to help show where you need to improve and to make sure you’re writing your answers the way the examiner will want them.  

2. Make sure you have the correct equipment for studying and taking exams 

Bring the right equipment to exams

It may sound obvious, but it’s amazing how easy it is to forget important items.  

Write a list of what items you need for each exam or test – You will inevitably need a pen of course but for a maths exam you might need a calculator, ruler or protractor whereas for an English exam you’d be more likely to need a dictionary, spare paper and a highlighter.

If you’re using a laptop, make sure that it’s charged and check if you need to download any files or applications before you begin.   

3. Prepare your environment 

Exam environment

In today’s Covid/post-Covid world, it’s not always possible to take exams in a special pre-prepared environment and people will take exams in environments different to what they’re used to – such as from home or a work location. 

Wherever you may be, remember to: 

Try to limit and reduce possible distractions where possible – for example, if you’re taking an exam remotely, make sure no one walks into the room if they’re not a moderator (this could cause you to be instantly disqualified.) Make sure the space is ‘booked out’ for your exam, check it has everything you need and is set up before you need to start, and turn phones & smart watches off. Make sure that you’re comfortable, which includes the temperature and light levels in the room. It may sound silly but wear comfortable clothing and ensure that you’re hydrated and have the fuel to get you through your exam, and also be sure to use the bathroom before starting. 

4. If you are struggling with a question, move on to the next one and then come back to it 

Don't get stuck with exam questions

Time is of the essence and getting bogged down with one question can derail your whole exam and cause more stress. Take a minute to look at the whole exam before you start so you have an idea of how long you need to spend in each section. If you’re struggling with one particular question move on, you can always come back to it later.