“If I had more time…”

Students often complain that the time restraint in exams and tests is their biggest challenge.

I often watch students write tests in class, to assess where their challenges are, and what I find is that they’re so busy focussing on making sure they’re writing EVERYTHING they know, that they’re ignoring the time component entirely.

This seems a little contradictory to the title of this post, I know. Here’s my point: Time is not your biggest problem. If you had more time, you would STILL fail, because you’re so focussed on the technical details, knowledge and making sure that you FINISH everything, that you’re not ever going to meet any deadline. We could give you an extra 30 minutes, and you’d have the same problem.

Since we can’t change the time allocated in exams, we need to make sure we can change what we do have control over.

The important question is: WHERE is your time going when you’re writing?

The biggest time wasters in exams that cost you marks

  • Re-Reading the case study (continually referring back to it all the time)
  • Not being sure where to START with your answer
  • Taking too long to turn thoughts into ‘written’ points on your page. (It’s in your head, BUT to turn it into a sentence takes a while!)
  • Didn’t spend enough time learning to apply theory in different scenarios
  • Not being sure (fast enough) what the detail in the case study ‘means’ for the answer
  • Going overtime on questions, at the expense of the next question, and perhaps leaving out a whole question
  • Not learning to write out ‘formats’ quickly (eg: SFP / SPL etc)
  • Getting stuck in the ‘middle’ of a calc, which means you lose the marks for the rest of it!

What can you do about it?

This is easier said than done, of course! I work with my study coaching students on this, because it really is important:

Study Coaching

Here are some things to work with on your own:

NEVER go overtime on a question

When you’re studying and doing questions, do them under the relevant time pressure. Once your time is up, change your colour pen, and continue for another five or ten minutes. When you mark your attempt, identify just how many marks you got in those extra minutes. This will also indicate whether more time would actually get you more marks! In most cases, the majority of marks are obtained in the first few minutes of the solution, not the last! This often helps students REALLY see that they shouldn’t go overtime on questions. It’s not worth the marks you’ll get.

Learn to ‘read’ and note your case study

When we lecture exam courses, we talk students through HOW to read the case study, to get the maximum value out of the information in the minimum amount of time. This saves you time so you don’t have to go back to re-reading the case study all the time.

Learn to ‘gather’ marks

This is a term I use to describe the skill of picking up marks along the way in an exam. Students often see mark allocations as ‘all or nothing’. There are easy marks in there. GET THEM, and GET THEM FAST! Formats, structures are crucial here, because it becomes habit to create a shell to slot information into.


Sheesh, accounting students HATE this, but you have to be able to get your point across. QUICKLY. Especially in Auditing, or discussion questions. When you see a solution that looks far better than yours, look closely at the sentence structure, how they’ve saved words and time. Then leave it for a while. Go back and REWRITE that point, keeping in mind the stuff that you picked up from the solution. Not a parrot-fashion memory-dump, but training your brain to think about that sentence differently. Active versus passive learning. Your brain will not retain stuff if you don’t write it down and teach it how to do something differently.

Once you identify what your primary challenge is, work on that. Work on fixing the underlying issues, and by default, you will end up speeding up!

Exam Technique: Time

Do not ignore this challenge. Do not underestimate the impact of time limitations on your studying and exam writing.

You can’t change time, so change what you do.

If you can relate, or have a query...

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Yvonne Starkey CA(SA)

Yvonne Starkey CA(SA)

I coach accounting students who are struggling with their study habits and mindset, and want their studies to be as effective as they used to be. See more on my about page

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