Exams in the Netherlands

The mere mention of the word “exam” may cause sweaty hands, mind blanks and a sense of dread, but having information about the process of evaluation and the rules of the university can help students stay calm and study focusing on what is most important: learning.

Posted by Laura Keidann at Jul 02, 2018 12:20 PM

In this article, I share my experience with exams at Leiden University and compare it to what I was used to in Brazil. It is important to keep in mind that different universities and courses might not share the same characteristics, but, hopefully, my reflection on exams can resonate with your experiences too. 

Planning ahead 

The first thing I noticed about exams at Leiden University, before even coming here, is that there is a university-level exam period, which appeared in the academic  calendar. The university has examination periods, and before those periods there are study weeks. This way I already knew around what time the exams would fall - and I could be relieved because all other weeks were exam-free. This kind of organisation and planning was new to me.

With those dates in mind, it was up to me to organise my schedule and prepare myself. This points to one key aspect of my Dutch experience: autonomy. Study weeks meant no lectures, but then it was up to me to develop a study plan and make good use of that time instead of just sleeping in and enjoying leisure activities. The Leiden University website has tips for studying and taking exams, and I found them very useful.

The exams 

I found the exams setting slightly more formal than in Brazil. For some courses, the exams took place in different buildings, instead of in the regular classroom. As in any exam, cheating is not accepted. We could bring books and texts for a last-minute revision, but they had to be put inside our bag when we sat down for the exam.  


  • Find out where the exams will be taking place and how long your journey will take.  

  • Remember to take your ID, pen and pencil, and water. 

  • Revise your answers before handing it in.

I have had both multiple choice and essay questions. For multiple choice, I think the secret is to keep a clear mind, since the answer is already written there. We had worked with some mock questions during lectures and tutorials, and that helped us understand how the questions would be structured and what could be expected.

For essay questions, I try to focus on what is being asked and I find it helpful to write an outline of my answer on a draft paper - or even in a small empty space if there are no draft papers available. Some of the essay questions were actually a three or even four-part question, so it was necessary to make sure I did not forget any part. Sometimes I forgot the exact terms I needed, but I used my own words to explain what I understood of the concept.


Our anxiety can keep us from thinking clearly and doing well during an exam. You cannot make up for lost time minutes before the exam, let alone while you are doing it. The best you can do is work with what you have learned. You probably know more than you think you know, and there is no point in being angry with yourself for not having studied more. So try to take a deep breath and to see the test as a simple assignment.

When all is written and done 

We all know the relief of finishing an exam and the dreadful wait for the results. If you did not pass, it is not the end of the world, since you can take a resit. Try to figure out what were your strong and weak points, and to learn from your mistakes. Even when you do well, I would recommend taking a look at the feedback or asking to discuss the exam with the professor, because then you get a better understanding of the course and of your performance, instead of simply a grade.

Exams are a part of student life, and it is better if we can learn to see them as good moments of self-reflection, which can help us improve. If you can see the task in front of you as a learning opportunity, you might learn not only about the subject itself, but also about yourself as a student - and then you can work on the way you approach your studies. Hopefully, with time, exams will not make you nervous anymore, and you might even enjoy taking them! Believe it or not, I do find some exams to be quite fun.

Laura Keidann

Posted by Laura Keidann at Jul 02, 2018 12:20 PM