Skip to main content

Five things not to do during an exam

November 27, 2019

For all those who will be writing their first university exams, or for upper-year students who need a reminder, here are five things you should avoid doing at all costs. Most of these seem straightforward, but you’d be shocked at the number of people who lack proper exam etiquette. 

Don’t forget the basics

Now it may seem like it would go without saying that you should be prepared for your exam. Meaning that you show up with the essentials, you know, pen, pencil, eraser and maybe a calculator. You would think it’s obvious right? Well, let me tell you, it happens more often than not. People are understandably stressed and forget the bare necessities. 

This being said, a helpful habit is to set out all your exam materials the night before or morning of your exam so that you’re at less of a risk for forgetfulness. This also helps you make sure that you’ll have your homemade formula sheet handy (if applicable).


Last but certainly not least DO NOT FORGET YOUR STUDENT ID! For the love of god people, this is the single most important item, besides yourself, to bring to an exam. Without a student ID, you cannot write a final exam. If you happen to have a mishap and your ID gets I don’t know, eaten by your garbage disposal the night before your exam, you can get a temporary one at the ID office for a $5 fee. The Campus ID Office is located in the Campus Recreation and Wellness Centre, Room G1004 (across from Gyms 3, 4 and 5).

Don’t be late

This one probably also seems obvious. But people never cease to amaze me by arriving 10 to 20 minutes late to some exams. You should plan to arrive at your exam roughly 15 minutes earlier than the listed start time. This allows you and your classmates to line up and wait for the doors to open. Once you are let into the exam room, you’ll all have time to get settled before the start time. This is a well-oiled machine as long as everyone does their part by showing up on time and prepared with the required materials. 

Give yourself the extra 15 to 20-minute buffer before your exam so that you’re not stressing about being late or missing the instructor’s guidelines. Trust me, get there early, even if that means taking the earlier bus/train, it’s worth it.

If you’re going to be late, for whatever reason, try to let your professor know. Send a quick email letting them know that you’re coming so they know to expect you. You should also be ready to get right into your exam, by this I mean have your supplies readily available (not at the bottom of your bag) and your ID in your pocket. 

Don’t bring the kitchen sink

Now, I’m exaggerating a little here. But what I mean is that you should only be bringing what you need in order to get to and write your exam. If you have a backpack to carry your things, try to make sure that it’s not jammed full of other random household objects like water bottles, extra clothes, random loose paper and candy. 


Pack light, and if you need to bring a jacket or sweater to avoid freezing into a student-sicle, then know that it won’t be able to join you at your exam seat. All hats, scarves, jackets and outerwear are not permitted in the exam area. This is mostly a safety reason, as people may need to get in and out of the exam area quickly, therefore it needs to be free of obstacles and obstructions. So leave room in your bag (if you’ve got one) to put all your other stuff that will need to come off before you sit down.

Limit your gear to the essentials if you can. Everyone is asked to leave their belongings at the front of the room along the wall. Which means that you’ll be having to play the “Where the hell is my stuff?” game while fishing through a pile of jackets, bags and purses at the end of the exam. It helps make the whole process more efficient if you don’t have extra stuff to worry about finding. 

Don’t be THAT person

This is a general blanket statement asking you not to be *that* annoying person in the room. In an exam room, you could have anywhere from 50 to 500 students all writing exams at the same time. Unfortunately, it only takes one person to annoy the crap out of everyone in the room. Any of the actions listed below could cause you to become *that* person and should be avoided at all costs:

  • Obnoxious gum chewing
  • Unnecessarily loud paper crinkling 
  • Foot or pencil tapping
  • Belching (yes, this has happened, sigh)
  • Nose blowing (I know this is hard to control but please do so quietly)
  • Out-loud problem solving or reasoning (considered cheating BTW, not just annoying)
  • Water bottle/coffee cup noises

If you can avoid drawing attention to yourself by way of avoiding one of these actions during the exam, you’ll be able to focus and likely perform better. 

Avoid  bathroom breaks if possible

Last but not least, bathroom breaks. The thought may have crossed your mind, in a three-hour exam, will you be able to use the washroom if the need arises? The answer is technically yes. However, I would HIGHLY recommend avoiding this if possible. 

First things first, so many people ask to use the washroom during an exam. The way it usually works is that there will be a waitlist to use the washroom. Anyone who leaves the exam room must be escorted by an invigilator or professor. As a result of the number of invigilators and bathroom stalls, only one or two people can go at once. Which often means that there is a backlog and a lengthy waitlist. The only way that you are exempt from the wait-list is if you have a medical condition that prevents you from waiting to relieve yourself (in which case, do what you need to do). 


The argument can also be made that having to get up and go to the washroom mid-exam isn’t ideal and can throw you off your game once you’ve come back from, uhh... your pit stop. Just make sure that you go before your exam to avoid all of the extra work associated with bathroom breaks.

From the top, don’t forget your pencil, don’t be late, don’t bring extra junk, don’t be a nuisance and don’t forget to go to the bathroom ahead of time. If you steer clear of these five things, you’ll be sure to succeed during your exams this season and seasons to come. 

Pass this on to someone who needs a refresher on exam etiquette or someone who is sweating the anticipation of a new experience. 

Good luck folks!