How to manage exams at University Centre Sparsholt (UCS)

This section looks at how to manage exams at UCS. This includes information about what to expect, how to prepare for an exam and practical tips to help you perform well.  It also explains how you can arrange exam access arrangements (like extra time or a smaller room) for your exams.


You will have experience of exams from school/college.  At UCS, there will be modules that are assessed using a traditional exam. Most commonly exams take the form of a set of questions that you need to answer and are a way of measuring your knowledge in that particular subject. Exams are usually timed and will often take place in a controlled environment with an invigilator present.

This type of exam is just one form of assessment that will take place on your course.  At UCS, we are always trying to prepare you to enter your chosen industry and appreciate that developing industrial skills is not just about being able to take a time exam.  Therefore, you will find at UCS that you are assessed in a range of ways which might include spoken or poster presentations, practical assessments, digital portfolios, blogs and vlogs etc.

‘Exams used to cause me to have really bad melt downs. I would turn over the page and my mind would go blank. Now I’ve realised that getting stressed doesn’t really help and I am much better at managing in exams.’

You can expect to sit exams at least once during the year, most commonly in May and June.

How could this affect me?

Many students report finding exams stressful, particularly in terms of preparation and knowing what to expect. It is important to remember that exams are only one form of assessment and that you will be assessed using a variety of methods on your course.

For autistic students one of the challenges relates to organising a revision timetable and not becoming overwhelmed by all of the reading material.

‘I feel like I need to read absolutely everything on the course reading list even though this takes ages. I find it hard to just revise certain topics.’

Many autistic students report feeling very anxious during the exam period particularly in terms of practical arrangements such as where they need to go to sit the exam. It can be helpful to visit the exam venues ahead of the exam to ensure that you know where to go.  Contact the HE Learning Support team if you need help with doing this.

What to do next?

In addition to revising for exam content, prepare yourself well for the exam environment.

Practical tips

These tips are intended as a guide so you can pick out the ones that are most helpful to you.

Before the exam

  • Many autistic students find it difficult to do targeted revision and to take regular breaks when revising. It can be helpful to set a timer to ensure that you revise a topic for a set period before moving on to the next topic
  • Many students report that mindfulness meditation or breathing techniques help them to relax before an exam. There are lots of resources out there that you can try that will guide you through the meditation process.
  • If possible visit the rooms where your exams will be taking place in advance. You will then be able to rehearse the route to your exam room and can find out about any potential distractions. You may also be able to arrange to sit at a particular desk (e.g. near the front of the room or door) as part of your special exam arrangements.
  • In order to revise most effectively it’s a good idea to use a variety of approaches. This could include using recordings, making a mind map and taking notes which you could display in a visible area.
  • Get as much rest as you can, 6-8 hours a night is recommended. Even if you can’t sleep then give your body a chance to rest and make sure that you have a chance to wind down before going to bed
  • Try to eat at least one proper meal a day including vegetables and protein and make sure that you stay properly hydrated. Although some people find caffeine useful in the short-term as a stimulant, it is not always helpful for those that are prone to anxiety
  • Try to exercise daily as this will help relax tense muscles, use up any excess adrenaline and increase circulation.

During the exam

  • If you feel anxious when you enter the exam room, practice breathing exercises to keep calm
  • Make sure you are sitting comfortably. Place your feet firmly on the ground and relax your shoulders
  • Take a few seconds before turning over the exam paper to let the initial feelings of anxiety subside
  • Plan your answers out briefly to ensure adequate time for each question. Before you start writing have a look through the exam paper to see how many questions you have to answer. You can then work out how many questions you have to answer in the time available by dividing the time by the number of questions.
  • Many autistic students report that they become easily distracted by sensory stimuli and this can be particularly problematic in an exam. It is worth discussing this with Student Disability Services as you may be able to arrange to take your exam in a separate room to avoid distractions
  • Stay hydrated throughout the exam by drinking plenty of water take short breaks at the end of each question.
  • Avoid perfectionism – check spelling and punctuation and use sources if necessary but remember that you aren’t expected to produce the same level of writing as you would be in your coursework
  • If you feel unwell during an exam alert the invigilator and ask if you can leave the room for a short while. Taking a few deep breaths and a drink of water may be sufficient for you to calm down.

After the exam

  • Consider what went well and what didn’t go so well. Use that knowledge to inform you on how you prepare for your next exam
  • Don’t be too self-critical if you think you haven’t performed well. Remember that exams are stressful and it’s common to have doubts about your performance after the event
  • Whatever the outcome congratulate yourself for taking the exam and all your hard work!

Additional information and links

Read on to find out about how applying for special exam arrangements can help you to perform your best in the exam.

Applying for exam access arrangements

If you think your autism impacts upon your ability to perform in an exam then you can apply for exam access arrangements.  Universities each have their own process for arranging exam arrangements but for all universities, exam access arrangements must be evidenced before they can be put in place.

Common adjustments that can be arranged are extra time, rest breaks, use of a computer and the opportunity to sit your exam in a separate room. Other more personalised adjustments can also be considered on a case by case basis. Once your special exam arrangements are agreed you will be sent an email to your University email account confirming this and the arrangements will be put in place for the duration of your course.

The UCS exam arrangements process (in brief) is as follows:

  • You must contact the HE Learning Support Team (  The team will then discuss with you (either in person or via Teams or email) your needs and what exam access arrangements are appropriate for you.  Please make sure you contact the team well in advance of your exams.  When students don’t let us know about their needs/required arrangements in good time, it may not be possible to put them in place in time for the first round of exams.
  • You will then be asked to provide evidence for your needs and the arrangements that you would like to have
  • Your evidence is then presented to the UCS panel responsible for exam arrangements (this can be done anonymously if you prefer)
  • You will then be told about the outcome of the panel meeting, usually either that the arrangements have been approved (for the duration of your course) or that further evidence to support is required before arrangements can be agreed.

(This is just a brief guide to the process.  Please ask for a copy of the full exam access arrangements policy if you would like it).  


About the author

This article was adapted from one written by Lucy Balaam, Disability Advisor (Autism Spectrum) at University College London, with additional information by Tash Hobbs, Disability Supportworker Co-ordinator at the University of Bath