How to optimise your reading time during exams

Utilising the reading time at the start of an examination can give you a valuable advantage.

students optimising reading time in school exams
Cluey Learning Monday, 14 October 2019

Most school examinations provide reading time before writing begins. In New South Wales, for example, HSC exams generally have five or ten minutes of reading time. Victorian Certificate of Education students are allowed examination reading time of up to 15 minutes. 

During reading time, you are permitted to read the exam paper but not use pens or pencils, nor mark the paper in any way. 

Some students find reading time frustrating. They just want to start writing. But a planned and systematic approach to reading time will help you to tackle the exam paper more efficiently and effectively – giving you a significant bonus if you use it well. 

Here are some basic steps to follow to maximise the benefit of reading time. 

1. Check the basics

It may seem obvious, but your first reading of the paper should check that it’s the correct exam paper for the correct subject. Make sure the starting and finishing times are clear and what you had expected. 

2. Read the instructions

Ensure you are clear about the structure and requirements of the paper. Make sure you check how many sections there are and which questions you need to answer.  

3. Read through the paper

Read through the whole paper carefully, taking the time to focus on each question and what it is asking. Force yourself to read the questions slowly, making a mental note of key words and instructions. 

4. Plan your approach and selection of questions

After reading the whole paper, you can choose the questions that you’re going to answer. Read these selected questions again. (Some students find that their subconscious can start thinking about responses while they work on other sections.) Also, decide in which order you will answer the questions. Unless specified, you may not need to answer them in order. You might prefer to start by answering the question that you’re most confident about. 

5. Plan your time

Work out how much time you should allocate to each question. Keep in mind the mark allocation, so that you plan your time accordingly. Decide the time by which each section needs to be completed. Allow some time for a short break between questions and more time at the end of the exam for a final check of the paper. 

6. Pause and reflect

At this point, take a moment to pause and relax. Breathe deeply. Give yourself confidence that you have maximised your use of reading time and are now ready to start your responses. 

7. Mentally start the first question

If there’s any time remaining in reading time, look again at the first question you plan to answer. In your mind, consider how you will approach your response and mentally plan your answer. Once the instruction for writing is given, you will be ready to launch into the exam with a well-formed plan of attack. 

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