Exam fever – how to rock the Danish exams

So, it’s that time of the year again. It gets almost impossible to score a seat in the library. The canteen assortment gets empty much faster than usually and everybody is stressing out. You guessed it! Exams.

If you are among the lucky ones who already finished their exam marathon, I salute you! But for the rest of us, here is a couple of exam-survival strategies – or in other words how to do well on exams in Denmark.

Before I moved to Denmark

I am currently doing my Master studies at Aarhus University, so exams are not a new thing for me. Or so I thought… During my Bachelor studies in the Netherlands, a student could expect 3 types of exams: multiple-choice test (which is very deceiving as it appears easy, but usually is very tricky), open question exam, and an oral exam (which was extremely rare option, usually reserved for people who couldn’t attend the exam the first time).
Unless it was an oral exam, most of them took place in a huge empty sport’s arena with chairs evenly spaced, so you couldn’t peek at your neighbors resultat. You (and around 200 of other students) would leave your phones and books behind and pray for mercy.

Exams at AU

During my first year as a Master student in AU, I got acquainted with a completely different type of examinations – the exam paper and the oral exam. Let’s talk about both of them.

Exam Paper

You should have seen me when I find out that I can write my exam AT HOME and I have 2 weeks to do so! Can it get easier than that? Little did I know, it was a devil in disguise. Here are my 6 tips if you a rookie in this Exam Paper challenge:
  1. Read the exam regulations and the course outline.
    I know it’s incredibly dull and boring. However, it represents what is expected from you and what kind of knowledge you should show.
  2. Plan, plan, plan.
    Set your deadline a day or two before the actual deadline (although this never worked with my procrastination-prone nature). Set your agenda – decide on where and when you will write, when you will read or do research and if necessary ask somebody to keep you in check. Then, decide what will be your chapters and how much words they should include. Create headers, sub-headers, and sub-sub-headers. (Personally, for me, this is the essential step to ensure that I succeed in this type of exam).
  3. Reflect on your course. 
    In this type of exam, sometimes you will be given a specific question, sometimes you have the freedom to choose the topic yourself. In either case, don’t forget that this is an evaluation of your efforts throughout the course. So, reserve some space in your paper to make the connection to the concepts you learned during the course (because in Denmark your entire grade often depends on that final exam).
  4. Structure. 
    Structure, or lack of, can immensely influence your grade. Make sure that your paper has a clear and easy to follow structure. Don’t stop there! Create a continuous structure throughout your paragraphs. For instance, make sure that each paragraph starts with the main argument, then it’s followed by the supporting evidence and finally the concluding sentence.
    Bonus tip: Be explicit – at the end of your introduction prepare the reader by letting him know what will be the structure of the paper, e.g. first part will focus on carrots, which will be then compared to tomatoes and finally the case of lettuce will be presented.
  5. Do references as you write.
    If you are not doing it yet, this is the best lesson you will learn. Don’t postpone references for later. Do them correctly straight ahead. Good news is that you can use a lot of smart programs to do it for you. Even better news are that AU provides these reference management tools for its students.
  6. Leave time for general proof-reading.
    Here is where that one day extra will come in handy. Allow yourself to take a good night sleep after all the writing and read it again with your fresh, well-rested, critical eyes.

Oral exam.

The first time I was preparing for the oral exam, I felt so confident, as I read everything and all rehearsal sounded beautiful in my head. Little did I know, however, my mind has its own super-power, which is going blank when I need it the most.


  1. Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse.
    Out loud! Even better if you could rehearse out loud in front of the mirror. It is very awkward at first, but don’t give in and resist to stay in your comfort zone! Try to listen how you formulate your arguments.
  2. Get help.
    Want to ace that exam and get 12? Take a friend to a pub, give a little introduction to your subject or project and promise him/her a beer for every time he/she can think of a question you don’t know the answer to.
  3. Know your do’s and don’ts.
    Find out whether you will have a preparation room. Ask if you can bring your book or notes with you to the preparation room. Can you bring some bullet points to the examination room? Can you bring a bottle of water? This knowledge can help you create an environment where you will be the most comfortable.
  4. Don’t underestimate a good night sleep.
    Your brain has to have enough time to digest all that information you were cramming a day before. A well-rested head can come up with great insights and on-spot connections, a tired one cannot.
  5. Know your enemy – stress.
    Stress is not inheritably a bad thing. If you perform better under stress you have nothing to worry about. However, for many people, stress is not their best friend. Chronic stress can manifest physically and mentally. If not managed well it can negatively impact your grades and your well-being. If you feel that you are suffering from chronic or severe examination stress or anxiety I encourage you to contact very friendly people of The Student Counselling Service or visit their website.
    A few more tips on that:
    Make sure you know when to show up for the exam. If you come to early, waiting can make you anxious. If you come late, it will definitely make you stressed. Try to find the perfect timing.
    Don’t underestimate the power of deep breaths. Sometimes stress can result in hyperventilation (when you start to breathe in fast and shallow breaths). Fill your lungs and belly with air as much as you can, then count to ten and SLOWLY let go.
  6. Structure and ability to refer back to lectures.
    Although this is not a written assignment, the structure is very very important. The examiners will look not only at the facts you are presenting but also your ability to structure your argument as you speak. Practice makes perfect. Moreover, you should not forget to refer to the lectures or concepts presented in the lectures as you speak.

Finally, leisure time is also a part of your success formula. Choose well how are you going to recharge and gain back your energy. Making breaks is very important, but also what you do during those breaks. Try to take up a physical activity, listen to music or socialize with people who can positively recharge you. Choose well.

Good luck!

My name is Aukse and I am a Master student in the Human Security degree programme at Aarhus University. I am from a tiny Baltic state called Lithuania. Besides my studies, I am working as a student assistant in a very cool (quantum kind of cool) project called ScienceAtHome, where we use gamification in research and building (you guessed it) a quantum computer! Other than that, you will also see me among the TEDxAarhus team of organizers, working hard to deliver a very best TED event for our lovely Aarhusians. If you would like to hear more about me or my work, you can follow me on Twitter or Instagram.

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