The Nine Types of Exam Takers

Having done extensive research over the last three hours while proctoring my OChem final, I have discovered nine basic types of exam takers, listed below.

Which one are you? 🙂

The Shape Shifter

This type of exam taker cannot get comfortable in their chair, with the postage stamp-sized thing they call a desk.  Legs crossed.  Legs uncrossed.  Slouch.  Sit up straight.  Pull hair back. Let hair down. Shift right. Shift left.  This type of exam taker just cannot sit stil.

The Infirmary

Bottle of water, OJ, tissues, cough drop, banana, and air sickness bag just in case.  Bonus points if tissues are loose and all scattered and not in a travel pack.

The Bridge of Sighs

Very nervous and anxious about the exam… and very audible about it.  Loud sighs accompany every page turn, glance at the clock, or frantic erasure.

The Whites of Their Eyes


These students spend about 20% of their exam time looking at things that aren’t their exam.  They constantly glance at the clock, the periodic table, their watch, the ceiling, their neighbor’s exam (!), the professor, back to the clock, the hallway, and finally their watch again.

Note to students: This type of student is realllly easy to spot.  Remember the demolition scene in Ocean’s Eleven? When everyone’s looking one direction and all you see is hair, and when one or two people are looking a different direction, it is so easy to spot.  You’re not fooling anyone.  It’s also really easy to tell when you’re just surfacing to take a breath and when your eyes are wandering.  Trust us – you’re not fooling anyone.

The Star Gazer

Related to the Whites of Their Eyes, the Star Gazer searches the constellations in the pattern of the drop ceiling while thinking deeply about their answer.  Maybe they’re hoping for divine inspiration.

The Nervous Tic

We all have different ways of biding our time while thinking about the answer.  The nervous tic attempts to incorporate all of them into the exam time.  Tics include: cracking knuckles, twirling hair, that piece of voodoo where you flip your pencil over your thumb, shaking legs, biting pencils, biting nails, biting shirt collars, biting neighbors (just kidding), stretching arms, legs, or backs, rapping fingers on desk, running hands through hair, and many many others.  May also be a Shape Shifter

The Quicksand

This exam taker will manifest in one of two ways.  Either the exam taker will slouch lower and lower into their chair, until by the end of the exam only their eyebrows are visible above the desk and most of their spine is actually on the seat of the chair.  Alternatively, the Quicksand may hunch further and further over their desk.  First resting their head on their hand, then on their forearm, then in their elbow, and eventually they are laying their head directly on the desk while they write their exam.

The Trail of Tears


Like Bob in Fight Club: their eyes already shrink-wrapped in tears.  Before the exam begins.  May also be a Bridge of Sighs.  Should sit next to an Infirmary to borrow tissues.  Often does not do as bad on the exam as they feared.

The Zen Master

Cool, calm, and composed, this exam taker is oblivious to the world around them.  Oh, there’s a clock?  Never looks around, never changes position in their chair, sometimes will surface for air and stretch.  The professor could catch on fire at the front of the room, and the Zen Master won’t even look up while they turn to the next page of the exam. Professor often forgets they’re taking the exam.


  1. Hey! I had a reason for that orange juice. Water kept me hydrated, but the OJ gives you a burst of energy, for the 2hr mark.

    …I may have taken snack breaks on occasion.

  2. And which type were you?

    I’d describe myself (honestly! I would) but it’s been so long since I took a written test that I can’t remember.

    • Oh… I think everyone wants to be the Zen Master. But I’m probably more a Nervous Tic. Knuckle cracking, nail biting, and leg shaking.

  3. I remember being the shape-shifter…minus the hair part. It’s especially bad when you have to fit an equation sheet, the exam paper, a calculator and the answer sheet all at once.

  4. Is it possible to be a mix? I was a Bridge of Sighs and Nervous Tic, depending on the day.

    Come to think of it, the frequency of sighs and knuckle cracks would quickly triple after the first person handed in their exam an hour into the test (I tend to be among the last three to finish the exam).

  5. As a subset of The Bridge of Sighs is…

    The Emoticon
    This exam taker wears their emotions on their face, will sometimes talk to themselves, and is quite amusing to watch during an exam.

  6. I am a combination of zen master and the unlisted category: eater. I usually ate a sandwich at the halfway mark through my exam during my undergrad.

  7. Great list! Really enjoyed it.

    I’m The Zen Master with a few obsessive-compulsive components: must have at least two colors of ink. Scratch paper must have lines. I also use ear plugs so those pen clickers don’t get offended when I turn around and glare.

    As I am finishing an exam my thoughts drift back to the room. The most apprehensive moment is usually looking up to see who all is still in the room. (Once it was just me and the professor and I was humiliated wondering how long I had sat there in my own world while he waited to leave…)

  8. I’d say I’m more of a Shapshifter/Trail of Tears.

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