Every year, thousands of students take thousands of tests and exams. And, in every examination, someone – at least one person – makes a mistake they could have easily avoided. However, they don’t avoid it – and, in the exam room, they may not even notice the mistake they made. Sometimes, somehow, some of these mistakes will be made public. You’ll see the exam questions online and the howler that accompanied it. It could be a mistake that could have been born only of madness – or a mistake that sets everyone laughing. However, it could also be a mistake that you or your friend could make in any of your examinations. Mistakes, actually, are incredibly normal things. You’ll make them. You just want to ensure that you make them less than other people. A way to avoid making such mistakes – whether in your past papers or in your actual exams – is to know what mistakes are most commonly made. This should guide your exam preparation and all practice exams or mock exams that you do. And that’s why we’re detailing the most common exam mistakes people make right here. From the understandable and the unfortunate to the downright silly, here are the ten most common exam mistakes that you should really learn to avoid. Find out more about common exam mistakes to avoid!

exam paper
It seems a bit scary the exam paper, doesn't it?

10 Silly Exam Mistakes You Should Be Aware Of

So, here are the silliest exam mistakes of which you should be aware of. From not having read the question properly to misspelling keywords, from test anxiety to poor time management, the chances are you have committed one of these already. However, get on top of these mistakes and you’ll save yourself from losing vital marks in the future. The key to all of this is crucial: good exam technique is just important for success as good knowledge of the subject. You should never ever sacrifice the former in favour of the latter. If there is anything to remember when you are revising, studying, or taking practice tests, it’s this.

Not Reading the Question Properly

The first is almost the classic of the classics in exam errors – and it is one that your teachers will have warned you about time and time again. Reading the question properly is the way that you ensure that you can give the correct answer. It’s as simple as that. If for each of your test questions you don’t compute what you are actually being asked, there is not really any chance that you’re going to get the grade you would like to receive. So, no matter how stressed or rushed you are, read the question once and then read the question again – and then maybe underline the key parts to ensure that you have understood.

Answering a Different Question to the One Asked

If misunderstanding the question is one common type of error, there is a similar one that people make too. That’s seeing the question written and answering a question that they would prefer were being asked. The result of this is that they ever so slightly twist the question to more comfortable ground – and end up writing something that they feel is relevant but that isn’t, actually. Of course, this can only happen in specific types of questions. For multiple choice questions, it is quite unlikely. However, for essays or for questions that require a longer response, it is pretty much up there with the most common mistakes there are. Ensure your test preparation is on point and there’s no need to twist the question.

Having No Understanding of What the Examiners Want

In a sense, examiners do try to make it as easy for you as possible. They write up practice questions, they provide past exam papers to help you prepare, they dish out reports analysing the mistakes of previous exams, and they give you a specification of precisely what they intend to test you on. They are, in a way, on your side – and they do want you to do well in the actual test. Given all of this stuff that they release before the exam, there is no excuse that you don’t know what the examiners want. However, many people make this mistake, not knowing that you are supposed to explain rather than describe or that you are required to do x, y, and z in an essay. This should be the fundamental element of any study plan. Every tutor and all study guides will tell you the same. Find out how to avoid common exam mistakes!

silly exam mistakes
It's not the end of the world!

Cramming the Night Before – and Having No Energy Left

Talking of study skills, there is one thing that you really should remember. That’s that cramming the night before exams really isn’t a great idea. Writing out your flashcards and running through your study guide are both good things to do, but five hours before your exam and on zero hours sleep is not. You are ruining your chances of success by failing to sleep the night before. Whilst you’ll hope that your adrenaline will get you through it, your recall will be poor and you are much more likely to panic (see below). As study tips and test-taking strategies go, sleeping well should be top of your list.

Running Out of Time

The next two sort of go together. However, you can do one without doing the other. The first is running out of time. Good time management is one of the most crucial exam techniques there are: it’s all good you being able to write the most beautiful, compelling, and detailed essay ever – but if you can’t do it in the time it’s worth nothing. So, ensure you leave the time to answer all of the questions. Too many people don’t – and throw away loads of marks by spending all of their time on the first ones.

Not Planning Your Answers

Not planning your answer is one of the reasons people run out of time. They don’t know what they are going to say, and so ramble, using their exam time to try and get to a point that answers the question. Meanwhile, some people think that planning your answers is itself a waste of time. It isn’t. This way, you’ll rather be much more focused and efficient in the way that you answer your question. It also allows you to look ahead to see how much time you have left. You’ll practise all of this in your mock tests, to get the hang of it. Check out some funny exam mistakes - to make you feel better!

Not Checking Your Work

This could be added to the last two too – as people who do not check their work generally are those who have run out of time. However, it is a crucial mistake to not go over your exam paper for errors. Everyone will make a mistake: a number written down wrong or an important word spelt incorrectly. Spotting any of these in your test papers will improve your grade. So, if you haven’t checked your work because you have run out of time, that’s fine. If you haven’t checked it even though you have finished in time, this is just plain daft.

silly exam mistakes
Not very happy after his mistake!

Making Spelling and Grammar Errors

Some people spelling and grammar errors more than others – and there is nothing to say that these people are ‘sillier’ than those who are quite okay at spelling. We all have different strengths and weaknesses. However, in the rush to finish a paper, we can make mistakes that we don’t intend – and we can even spell words wrong that we would have never thought possible to spell incorrectly. Check them and correct them – because spelling and grammar errors are not a good look.

Scrawling in a Handwriting that’s Illegible

We bet that lots of your teachers have told you before that sketchy handwriting won’t do you any favours. Do actually listen to them, because – on this at least – they are right. It’s not that you are going to get marked down for poor handwriting. This just won’t happen. However, poor handwriting makes read your script just really hard work for whoever is marking it. And they won’t necessarily feel like they are on your side. Given this, if there can be a close choice between a mark and a no-mark, you’re giving them reason to choose the latter.


In all of this, panic – pure, blind panic – is probably the primary cause. This is the biggest mistake of all and is the reason why so many people do silly things in the exam hall. We know it is easier said than done, but you need to find a way to chill before the exam. You are not doing yourself any favours otherwise. By the way, it's not just you that does it. Exam boards make mistakes too.

Need tutor?

Enjoyed this article?

5.00/5 - 1 vote(s)