Exam Ergonomics

This webpage gives tips on how to practicing good posture during exam time. While it may not be the first thing for you to think about in an exam, good ergonomics can make the exam less painful – physically in any case!

Posture and movement

The trouble with exams is that they require the same position for a number of hours, with little or no opportunity to walk around or take proper breaks. Added to this, the tables and chairs are not going to be perfectly designed for each person, and there is a lot of stress and tension.

In an exam, the most likely posture is sitting.

In the ideal sitting posture:

  • the back and neck are upright, as if a cord attached to the top of your head is pulling you upwards, but with the natural curves of the back maintained;
  • the shoulders are relaxed, not hunched up;
  • the weight is passed through the pelvis (the ischial tuberosities), not the lower back;
  • the hips are at between 60 and 90 degrees;
  • The knees and ankles are at about 90 degrees.
  • And, ideally, there is support at the back.

If possible, move your posture slightly during the exam, try to check your posture and perform simple, discreet movements (such as rolling your shoulders) on occasion. You could associate gentle shoulder movements and checking your posture with times when you read the exam paper or review your answers.

When we are stressed, we tend to tighten our muscles. That includes the muscles of the hands. Consider getting a couple of pens with thicker grips or easy grips to make it easier to hold the pens and write for longer, without needing to hold a thin pen tightly for a long time.


Environmental factors

The environment of an exam is strictly controlled; it is likely to be light, and quiet. The difficulties are that chairs and tables are not going to be perfect, and it is unlikely that you will have all of the space that you need. This makes it even more important to be careful of your own posture, and manage your time and materials well.

Before the exam:

Make sure that you have all of the information that you need before the exam, such as the format of the exam paper, how many questions there are to answer, where your exam will be, and who the examiner/s is/are. If required, contact the examiners for clarification. When studying, draw up a plan for your time in the exam. When you practice answering questions or revise material, also practice good posture and ergonomics.

Make sure that you have all the equipment that you need - such as pens, rulers, calculators etc. and that it is all in good working order, and that you know how to use it. It is a good idea to get pens with wider grips and pens of different colours.

During the exam:

Follow any advice given to you about how to approach the exam. Preparing rough work, highlighting and writing with different pens (on rough work) can be helpful.