HE Exams Wiki

What should you take to the exam centre? What are you allowed to take into the room? What if disaster strikes? Read this page to be prepared for exam day!

Exams Quiet Please

A home-ed sibling providing moral support outside the exam room.

What should I take to the exam centre?[]

  • Photo ID - usually a passport, or other form of ID previously agreed with the exams officer.
  • Your Statement of Entry - not essential, but helpful. This is a listing the exams you're entered for. Don't worry if you can't find it, as long as you're sure you are entered for the exams. The exam centre will have your candidate number and will have you on the register for each individual paper.
  • Clear pencil case or bag
  • Black pen for writing, dark pencil for diagrams, ruler, rubber (more details on pens/pencils below)
  • Calculators are allowed unless the exam paper specifies otherwise eg the non-calculator GCSE maths. Any memory function must be cleared before the exam and you must be able to demonstrate how this is done, if requested. See 'Calculators allowed in UK exams' for all you need.
  • Maths - protractor, compasses etc.
  • Bottle of water with label removed.


On Exam Day[]

The exams officer should have told you where to go and who to ask for on the day; if not, go to the centre's main reception and explain that you are accompanying a private candidate. You may be required to sign a visitor's book.  Some centres will require the adult to remain on the premises while the student sits exams.

Morning exams start at 9AM and afternoon exams at 1.30 PM , unless specified otherwise. Standard JCQ guidelines (see below) state that candidates should be ready to enter the exam room 10 minutes before the scheduled start. You also need time to find your way to the correct place etc, so allow plenty of time.

Here are some suggestions for candidates from parents:

Before the exam:[]

  • Arrive at least half an hour before the exam.  Sometimes it's hard to find the exam room, and it's better to be early and calm, rather than late and panicking! Be aware that on busy days, exam centres may take some time to process candidates. Ensure that you are prepared for a wait and that you are dressed appropriately to wait outdoors.
  • Go to the loo before the exam, even if you think you don't need to!
  • Take a bottle of water, with label removed.  Staying hydrated keeps the brain alert.
  • Wear layers; exam rooms can be freezing cold or stiflingly hot and stuffy....be prepared.
  • The invigilator should tell you clearly when you may start.  If you are not clear about this, raise your hand, making sure it is easy for the invigilator to see that you are trying to get her attention, and wait for the invigilator to come to you.
  • Candidates should check that they have the correct exam paper in front of them. On busy days, the examinations officer may have a very heavy workload and sometimes things get muddled. The invigilator will usually remind you to do check you have the correct question paper in the standard instructions at the start of the exam, but every year people don't check, and every year, some people find they've started answering the wrong paper. Check the paper title and the tier of entry. Should you have Foundation or Higher? Are you absolutely certain this is the right paper? If not, put your hand up and wait for an invigilator to come, then tell them. You cannot afford to be shy about this.

Banned Items[]

Check your pockets for banned items. You must not take the following into the exam:

  • Mobile phone
  • Watch , or any other communication device. This includes traditional watches as well as smart watches.
  • Pieces of paper eg scrap paper even if blank, tracing paper, notes etc.

If a mobile phone is found on you during an exam, even if turned off, then you are likely to be disqualified from that exam. The exam centre has no leeway on this - it's a JCQ rule.

You are no longer allowed to take your own tracing paper into an exam. If you need tracing paper for a maths exam, ask the invigilator to supply some. This way they can check it does not have any notes written on it. If you're worried that the exam centre may not have any available, you could hand an unopened packet to the invigilator on entry to the hall, so that they can check it and hand a sheet out if necessary.

What if disaster strikes? Illness or running late?[]

You cannot rearrange the exam - unless you take it on the scheduled day, you will have to wait for the next exam season to take the exam.

If you are ill on the day of the exam, you need to let the exams officer know. If you have a contagious illness they may not allow you to sit the exams. If you need to be near an exit door so you can run to a toilet, they can arrange this. If you sit the exam when unwell, the exams officer may be able to apply for special consideration for you - although this is only a very small percentage of the exam mark overall.

If your writing arm is injured, then a last minute scribe may be allocated to you. Talk to the Exams Officer.

If you are not well enough to go to the exam centre, let the exams officer know ASAP so they they don't waste time trying to find you.

If you are running late, let the exams officer know. Still go to the exam centre. If you arrive within the first 30 minutes of the exam then you should be able to sit the paper. If you arrive within the first hour, it may still be possible for you to sit the paper at the exam officer's discretion as this is still within what is known as the 'secure window' for the exam.

If you are stuck on transport and may be later than an hour, the parent should contact the exams officer, and ensure the candidate doesn't have access to a mobile phone or the internet or speak to anyone else, so that you can confirm they have not been given details of the exam. In some situations the exams officer may still allow you to sit the paper.

If you realise during the exam that you have got the wrong question paper, put your hand up and wait until an invigilator comes to see you. Parents, if you find at the end of the exam that this may have happened, keep your child on the exam centre premises until you have spoken to the examinations officer, and do not let them have a mobile phone or internet access, or talk to anyone about the exams. Keeping them 'in isolation' like this means that it may be possible to sit the correct paper later in the day.

During the exam:[]

  • A clock should be clearly visible to you and your start and finish times noted on a board. As of 2021/22 JCQ regulations do not permit candidates to bring a watch into the exam room. However, part of the exam room preparation includes making sure a clock is visible. If there is a problem with telling the time using analogue clocks, communicate with the exam centre ahead of time.
  • Keep an eye on timings.  If candidates sitting several different exams are all in the same room, the invigilator may make a mistake about when you are due to finish. If you think a mistake has been made, raise your hand and ask.  You will not be penalised for asking - the invigilator will not be marking your paper!
  • If you need extra paper, raise your hand and wait for the invigilator to come to you.  Remain in your seat.
  • If you need the toilet, raise your hand and wait for the invigilator to come.  Remain in your seat until told to move. You will probably need to be accompanied to the toilet by someone who will wait outside the cubicle.  Much easier to go before the exam starts :-)
  • If you feel unwell, raise your hand and wait for the invigilator.
  • Don't take any exam papers or other exam materials out of the room. This is no longer allowed - spare papers are usually kept secure for at least 24 hours after the exam. This is because some candidates will sit the exam later due to clashes.
  • Be aware that there may be some noise and minor disruption during the exam - other candidates may need breaks; different exams may finish at different times; invigilators may need to talk quietly to each other or to candidates; there may be normal external noise.

General exam technique[]

More tips from students and parents:

  • Read the question. Then read it again, more carefully. Many marks are lost because people misread questions.
  • Note the marks available and work out how long to spend on this question (see above re practice papers)
  • Pick the low-hanging fruit first; work through the paper, doing everything that you know how to do.  Don't get hung up on questions that you don't know how to do, because if you spend too long on them you may miss out on 'easy marks' later. 
  • If you don't know how to do a question or find it is taking a long time, move on to the next question but make a mark on the exam or fold the corner over, to remind you to come back to the tough question if you have time.
  • ALWAYS attempt a question, even if you don't really know how to do it.  Marks are usually available for method, which means that even if you get the wrong answer, you may get some credit for going about it in the right way.  Do all your working on the answer booklet, and only cross it out if you are sure you have a better answer; method/working marks are available for what is on the answer booklet, but not what's on rough paper, and not what's crossed out.
  • Marks are often dropped if a question asks you to do several things; sometimes students don't answer all parts or carry out all tasks.  You could cross off each task or key word on the question paper as you do it.
  • Use all the available time; if you finish the paper, go back and check your answers carefully.  Look at the marks available per question and check your answers are of a sufficient length. Don't just sit there staring into space, as sometimes invigilators will collect the papers early in this situation and then you have lost the chance to check your work.

This Guardian article is aimed at undergraduates, but still has some useful tips for any exam candidates: 10 things academics say students get wrong in exams

What Pens and Pencils Can I Use?[]

Should I write in pen or pencil?

Here are the JCQ regulations on writing materials in exams, but see below for more detailed guidance from Edexcel:

You must write in black ink. Coloured pencils or inks may be used only for diagrams, maps, charts, etc. unless the instructions printed on the front of the question paper state otherwise. (B6)

Edexcel's advice on writing in pen or pencil[]

Here is the reply received by a member of the HE-Exams group from an Edexcel Subject Specialist June 2013 answering questions about the use of pencils in exams:

1.  On the home education forum, many of us are in the dark about what the general rules to follow are on the use of pencil in exams.  Is it that in order to read the answers easily, the use of pencil should be kept to a minimum - perhaps only to draw lines on graphs and bar charts, and everything else should be done in pen?

Answer: Examination scripts are now marked using e-pen technology which improves quality of marking and reduces the need to deal with thousands of paper scripts. To ensure candidate responses are electronically read for examiners the main issue is requesting candidates to use black or blue pen to write with and use a sharp HB grade pencil to draw graphs and diagrams using a quality white rubber to erase any mistakes during graph work and drawing.

The whole page of an exam script is scanned so that all candidate responses, even the crossed out, are seen in order to credit relevant contribution where applicable. To this end a black/blue pen and HB pencil scan very well indeed. In the rare event that something does not scan well, e.g. a very feint pencil being used,  the computer indicates this and the script is directly marked in the traditional way.

1. When drawing graphs:

The numbers on the x and y axes are written in pen

A. Sharp HB pencil is OK too, especially if candidate changes mind later.

Titles written in pen (can be horizontal or vertical depending on the space)

A. Sharp HB pencil is OK too, especially if candidate changes mind later.

Lines drawn in pencil with x marking co-ordinates

A. Sharp HB pencil is best, especially if candidate changes mind later.

If asked to use a ruler to join the points - are you being asked to draw a line of best fit?

A. If the question instructs a line of best fit, then do so, otherwise the candidate must use their skill and judgement using the context of the subject to decide upon best type of line.

If you have two lines on the graph, can you label them on the graph paper in pen or do you have to use pencil?

A.Sharp HB pencil is best, especially if candidate changes mind later.

2. When asked to draw a table with results on a blank space: Do you draw the lines of the table in pen or pencil?

A. Sharp HB pencil is best, especially if candidate changes mind later.

Results in pen or pencil?

A. Pen or pencil.

3. If asked to draw a table of biomass on graph paper, do all the lines of the table need to be in pencil or can you use pen?

A. Sharp HB pencil is best, especially if candidate changes mind later.

Can you write headings like dunnock, sparrow hawk etc in pen on the graph paper or do you have to use pencil?

A. Sharp HB pencil is best, especially if candidate changes mind later.

CIE advice to candidates[]

Can students write in pencil on the mathematics examination paper?

In section 3.2.6 Stationery, Materials and Other Equipment in the Handbook to Centres it states:

“Candidates must write their answers legibly in black or blue ink. Candidates should be warned that the use of pale blue ink contributes to illegibility. Red ink must not be used. Soft pencil (type B or HB is recommended) must be used for multiple choice tests. Pencils or pens in other colours may be used for diagrams and maps only.”

Mathematical constructions and graphs would fall into the same category as the last sentence and so it is permissible to use a pencil for questions assessing these skills. Other than that, blue or black ink should be used as (a) it can’t be altered after the examination and (b) the examiner can see the way the student was developing the question even though the final answer may be incorrect.

Can students have extra paper for rough work?

For each paper students should write all their answers and working on the question paper.

(Source: CIE Maths Frequently Asked Questions

Exam Guidelines and Regulations[]

JCQ is the Joint Council for Qualifications, a collaboration of all the major exam boards.  It oversees exam administration and provides guidelines on things like appeals, transferring credit for units into a different exam board or specification, etc.. They publish guidance for candidates on written exams, controlled assessment, on-screen tests and other situations.  See JCQ Guidance for Candidates.  

Below are some of the most commonly-asked questions which are answered in the Guidance for candidates in written exams .  The section numbers are in brackets after each answer.

What items are banned from the exam room?[]

You must not take into the exam room:

  • notes;
  • a calculator case/instruction leaflet;
  • a reading pen;
  • a mobile phone, iPod, MP3/4 player, a wrist watch which has a data storage device or any other product with text/digital facilities.

Any pencil cases taken into the exam room must be see-through.
Remember: possession of unauthorised material is breaking the rules, even if you do not intend to use it, and you will be subject to penalty and possible disqualification. (A4)

Calculators are subject to their own set of regulations; our page explains which calculators are allowed, and recommended, for GCSE and A-level exams.

After the Exams[]

If you don't already know how you will get your results, check this with the exams officer before you leave or soon afterwards. Will you need to come to the exam centre to collect them on results day? Will they be able to email results to you? Exams officers will be extremely busy on results day so they won't want queries from you then - get it out of the way early!

See Results Day for advice on collecting your results, understanding your marks, and what to do if you're unhappy about them.

Still have questions?[]

If you've read this page but still have questions - Join the HE Exams community to get support from fellow home-educators. There is a Facebook group: Home Education UK Exams & Alternatives, and an email group, the HE Exams Yahoogroup.