+1 (315) 557-6473 

Strategies for Managing Difficult Exam Questions

September 02, 2023
Maxwell Harper
Maxwell Harper
Exam Help
With a Master's in Educational Psychology from the University of Toronto, Maxwell Harper is a seasoned expert in guiding students through live exams. With years of experience and a proven track record, he has assisted over 2000 students in achieving success through effective strategies.

Exams are a crucial part of the education system, serving as assessments of students' understanding and mastery of course materials. While some exam questions may be straightforward and aligned with the topics covered in class, others can be challenging, requiring students to think critically and apply their knowledge in unique ways. Dealing with difficult exam questions when you take your online exam can be stressful, but with the right strategies, you can navigate them effectively and boost your chances of success. In this blog, we'll explore a range of strategies to help you manage difficult exam questions and perform your best under pressure.

  1. Stay Calm and Focused
  2. In the high-pressure environment of exams, the instinct to feel anxious is common, especially when confronted with challenging questions. However, mastering the ability to remain calm and focused is vital to addressing these questions effectively. By taking a few moments to inhale deeply and collect your thoughts before delving into the question, you can center yourself and ease the initial tension. Reminding yourself that you've invested time in preparation and possess the necessary knowledge and skills can empower you to confront the challenge with confidence.


  1. Read the Question Carefully
  2. A frequent mistake students encounter when tackling complex questions is misinterpreting the question itself. Thoroughly reading the question is crucial, as it helps in identifying keywords, phrases, and specific instructions that offer insights into what's being asked. An effective approach involves highlighting or underlining the critical elements of the question. Often, the crux of the challenge lies not in the subject matter, but in comprehending the question's structure and intent.

  3. Break Down the Question
  4. Complex questions can be overwhelming, but breaking them into smaller segments can make them more approachable. This technique involves dissecting the intricate question into its distinct components and addressing each part individually. Doing so aids in organizing your thoughts and prevents you from feeling daunted by the question's complexity. By methodically addressing each aspect, you can systematically piece together a comprehensive answer.

  5. Identify Relevant Concepts
  6. Difficult questions frequently demand the application of concepts in novel contexts or the integration of ideas from various course sections. Identifying the pertinent concepts or theories applicable to the question is key. Reflect on how these concepts interrelate and their potential to form a comprehensive response. This strategy not only showcases your grasp of the material but also demonstrates your ability to synthesize information from different sources.

  7. Use the Right Problem-Solving Techniques
  8. Addressing diverse types of difficult questions necessitates employing appropriate problem-solving techniques. Math and science questions, for instance, might require diagrammatic representation, equation formulation, or systematic step-by-step solutions. Conversely, when dealing with conceptual queries, the focus shifts to constructing sound logical arguments and substantiating your claims with supporting evidence. Tailoring your approach to the nature of the question enhances your chances of arriving at accurate solutions.

  9. Time Management
  10. Efficient time management is a critical skill, particularly when facing challenging exam questions. Assigning specific timeframes to each question based on its complexity and point value is a strategic approach. By doing so, you prevent the trap of spending excessive time on a single question, potentially jeopardizing your ability to address other questions adequately. If you encounter a daunting question, it's acceptable to move forward and revisit it later with a fresh perspective. Prioritizing questions aligned with your confidence level maximizes your time utilization and allows for a comprehensive review before submission.

  11. Practice Active Recall
  12. Active recall is a potent learning technique that transcends mere note reviewing. Instead of passively reading your materials, actively retrieve information from memory. Engage in recalling key concepts and solving intricate problems without relying on your notes. This practice enhances memory retention and prepares you for the cognitive demands of responding to challenging questions. By honing this skill, you empower yourself to tackle questions with a deeper understanding and the ability to apply information from memory.

  13. Seek Clarity from the Instructor
  14. Encountering perplexing questions during an exam is not uncommon, and seeking clarification is a valuable strategy. Don't hesitate to engage with your instructor—raise your hand or approach them if permitted. Articulate the specific aspects of the question that confuse you and inquire about any supplementary information or context that could illuminate the query. This proactive approach demonstrates your commitment to understanding the material and can provide valuable insights that guide your response.

  15. Use the Process of Elimination
  16. The process of elimination is a valuable technique when dealing with multiple-choice or multiple-answer questions. Begin by excluding incorrect choices, and narrowing down your focus to the remaining options. This method heightens your probability of selecting the correct answer, even when uncertainty surrounds the question. Employing this strategy strategically minimizes guessing and enhances your chances of achieving accurate results.

  17. Show Your Work
  18. For subjects such as mathematics, science, and technical disciplines, showing your problem-solving process is a rewarding endeavor. Even if your answer is not entirely correct, outlining your step-by-step thought process illustrates your understanding of the subject matter. Instructors often award partial credit for well-presented reasoning, demonstrating your grasp of underlying concepts. This practice promotes clear communication of your insights and thought progression, even when faced with intricate questions.

  19. Stay Positive and Persistent
  20. Maintaining a positive mindset in the face of challenging questions can significantly impact your performance. Recognize that these questions are opportunities to showcase your critical thinking and problem-solving abilities. Embrace them as chances to demonstrate your capacity to overcome obstacles, even if you encounter roadblocks. In moments of uncertainty, a composed breath, a review of your strategies, and a determined attitude can guide you to breakthroughs and solutions.

  21. Practice, Practice, Practice
  22. Repetitive practice is the cornerstone of mastering challenging questions. Engage in regular exposure to complex problems through practice exams, sample questions, and real-world scenarios. By consistently subjecting yourself to demanding inquiries, you progressively refine your skill set. With each endeavor, you cultivate not only confidence but also the adeptness required to address even the most formidable questions with confidence and poise.


In the realm of academics, navigating difficult exam questions is a skill that not only tests knowledge but also underscores the power of effective strategies. From maintaining composure to unraveling question complexities, and identifying relevant concepts to employing the right problem-solving techniques, these strategies act as guiding lights through the labyrinth of challenging inquiries. By mastering time management, practicing active recall, seeking guidance when needed, utilizing the process of elimination, showcasing your analytical journey, embracing positivity, and dedicating yourself to relentless practice, you empower yourself to not only conquer exams but also cultivate enduring skills that transcend the classroom. As you embark on your educational journey, remember that while difficult questions may appear as obstacles, they are, in truth, stepping stones towards honing your critical thinking, problem-solving, and resilience—qualities that will serve you well far beyond the examination hall.

No comments yet be the first one to post a comment!
Post a comment