imminent exam advice and love

with exams imminent and nearing, some past finalists and prelimers pass on learnings from experience! much love. with just a few quick lines so you can get back to studying much relieved and of course to SELF-CARE and hexing spells left and right and beyond the political spectrum and hand signals:


Make sure you have nailed anything that you know will come up. If there’s a certain theory/view/objection/example that you’re likely to use, write the perfect paragraph about it and basically memorize it (of course will have to tweak to the question). That way, you don’t have to waste time in an exam phrasing something you knew would come up.

Go through past papers and plan out what your approach to the question would be. Get a friend/fellow phil queen (or maybe a tutor) to check it through and make sure the argument is really solid.

Sleep lots! Eat good food! Make sure you’re fueled and ready to go.

Breathe! Plan your essays. Answer the question! Kick ass!

Use a fountain pen – far less pressure on your wrist and hand.


At the end of the day, you need a 40 to pass- these exams are kind of pointless, and doing well in them is an added bonus but *never* should be done at the expense of your mental or physical health. They are a great period of time for bonding with your peers who are also doing them, so take the time to look after each other as well.

Choose 4-6 topics that you want to revise. Make sure you’re on top of all the core readings for those, and make sure to ask questions in revision classes if anything doesn’t make sense!

As a PPEist, my advice follows the format of PPE phil prelims:


– Read the SEP and look at your own notes/essay to take some time to sketch out the general landscape of the debate: what are the key issues? What are the different stances you could take? Where do they conflict? Then fill these out.


– Bang out loads of proofs. Get used to the tricks and shortcuts.

– Know your definitions

– they seem straightforward but will get you lots of marks on Q1/2 when very precise

– Online: do the natural deduction pack


– Be smart: pick your topics. Selective revision. They’re usually the same split every year.

– Form your own opinions on the text. Look at a q, read the relevant passage of Mill, think about what you think it means and what you think the implications are and whether you’re convinced before looking at secondary readings.

ESSAY PLANS ARE GOOD. But also don’t try and just learn as many facts as you can- learn what you want to learn and are interested in, this will show when you write about it.

Look through past papers and make outlines of the questions you would have answered on that exam. Did you answer the question? Do you need some more discussion points for certain question types?

GENPHIL (and to some extent Mill)

– Write out concise explanations of standard things (Nozick’s account of counterfactuals/Gettier eg) that you can then stick in an essay when needed; come up with your own examples if this helps you. V important to be clear

– they’re looking for precise, coherent arguments, not necessarily breadth.

– When writing practice essays, spend ages gathering material and planning, and just time your writing for the practice of actual timed writing. You want to get the best essays you can to revise from.


literally just keep practising Generally, figure out which section you might want to take the 4th question on (sorry if the format has changed in the last 2 years and this sentence doesn’t make sense!)

Drink water, eat breakfast/lunch, walk to exam schools with your friends, take photos in front of your college with your carnations on- find the fun in it!

Sleep! Eat! Give yourself lots of time to get to exam schools and do what prep feels best for you the morning of (it might not be the same as your coursemates/friends)

Relax!!! Make sure your head is clear when you go in to the exam.

Write with confidence. No one ever got any marks for writing that it ‘might be the case’ or that ‘one could say’. all the points you make should be part of an argument- if you are unsure of something, either come up with a counter argument for it or assert it with vigour. This is how, on the whole, successful men write; write like a man.

Original thinking is highly encouraged and absolutely enjoyed by the examiners. If you are stuck, actually think about the question yourself and put that down on the page- even if you have spent the essay outlining and examining other people’s arguments, you can never go wrong by suggesting your own, alternative solution or criticism. It doesn’t matter if an professor might pick it apart using logic, show that you can think for yourself.

For logic, just learn the rules. Learn then and stick to them- it doesn’t matter if it seems weird, for prelims all you need to do is follow them and their application like a robot.

Breathe! Take time to plan your essays well, and do make sure you answer the question 😉

Answer the question! Don’t just regurgitate material from your reading, but really narrow it down to what the question wants. Take a good amount of time (I rec ~10min) to plan. Focus on presenting a clear argument.

If you get stuck on logic, take a few deep breaths and refocus. Attempt all parts of the question. Sketch out what you think you should do if you really think you can’t do it. Good luck! x

thank you to all the baf students who contributed feedback! some good reminders nestled among the bullets. remember to take care of you for you to perform best in the context of your life. you are not a mark. you are much more, and you create it.

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