Skills booster: Tackle your exam

The exams have been handed out. You have your pen at the ready or are seated behind your laptop ready to open the exam. With adrenaline in your body, perhaps combined with lack of sleep, you want to get started. To keep calm during your exam, the following insights may come in handy.

Work in rounds

In the 'Tackle your exam' video below, you will discover how to structure your exam by first scanning your exam and then working in rounds. This way, you'll avoid running out of time!

Decode the questions

Teachers design exam questions that match the learning objectives of a course. To get a good idea of the level at which you master the course content, different types of questions are made. If you know what type of question you are dealing with, it is easier to determine your answer strategy. Three categories of questions can usually be distinguished:

Student werkend op een laptop

Type I: Green questions

Green questions are questions that, if you have been paying attention during lectures, you can answer easily. They are straightforward questions that test ready knowledge. Think of facts and sometimes related details that have been covered in the course. You either know the answer, or you don't.


You can prepare by practising concepts and definitions with flashcards or by quizzing yourself or your fellow student.

During the exam

Don't linger too long on a 'green' question if you can't come up with the answer. Circle it and move on to the next question. If you have prepared well for the exam, you will often remember the answer later.

Student maakt aantekeningen bij tentamen

Type II: Orange questions

The orange questions are a bit trickier and require more thinking than the 'green' questions. They are often insight questions, which require you to make connections, name differences or similarities or explain something in your own words. The key here is a combination of knowledge (concepts) and insight (connections). It is important that you not only provide a description in open questions, but also mention relevant concepts in your answer.


You can prepare by 'cramming' knowledge according to the methods described under 'green'. You should also realise that you have to combine different concepts, formulas or ideas to arrive at a solid answer to a question. Schematising is a good way to really get above the content. In addition, it helps to study pictures, formulas and flowcharts and explain them to yourself. You can also ask yourself questions about the steps, causes, consequences, connections, similarities and differences.

During the exam

Take a little longer to think about an orange question, but don't linger too long on it. Include part of the question in your answer and jot down relevant concepts in the margin, so that you already collect ingredients you can use to create an answer later.

Student markeert tentamenvraag om er later op terug te komen.

Type III: Red questions

Red questions are next-level questions, where you are expected to apply your knowledge to new, unfamiliar issues, analyse something or take a stand on something. It is not a matter of reproducing knowledge. No, these kinds of questions require you to combine knowledge and insight to come up with a new meaningful answer accordingly. A claim is made on your critical thinking skills.


You can prepare for these kinds of questions by making concept maps and argumentation diagrams and by relating the different ideas and topics of the course to each other. Often, the assignments and discussions during the seminars are a good indicator of what to expect on the test. Active participation in your seminars will help you to perform well on the test.

During the exam

A question like this can throw you off balance. After all, it was not in the book and was not discussed in this way during the lectures. Realise that you cannot know the answer to this question then either. You have to come up with an answer yourself and be able to link relevant information covered during the course to it. Often there is no straightforward right or wrong with this type of question, but it is all about argumentation and how your answer shows that you are able to rise above the course content.

More tips

Looking for more writing and studying techniques you can implement right away? Check out the overview of all tips and knowledge clips.


Stringer, W. (2012). Strategies to Fight Exam Stress and Achieve Success. ACA CTA ICSA Ventus Publishing ATS.  
Taffy E. Raphael, Teaching Question Answer Relationships, Revisited, The Reading Teacher, Vol. 39, No. 6 (Feb., 1986), pp. 516-522.
Ellis, D. (1998). Becoming a Master Student. Houghton Mifflin: Boston

The Skills Boosters are brought to you by: Educational Development & Training, Skills Lab and the National Programme for Education (NPO).