Exam season is imminent in our house. My oldest is in Year 9 and he has end of year exams coming up and the youngest has 11+ in September. Nails are being bitten down to the quick and there is both preparation and procrastination happening. Likely more procrastination than preparation but my head is so firmly in the sand that I dare not think about it!

We’ve been talking a lot about exam techniques and strategies how to do your best on the day. And as we’ve talked about this it has become apparent to me how much there is in common between taking exams and freelancing:


On the surface it’s easy to consider that exams are there to test your knowledge of a subject but there is much more to an exam than merely testing knowledge. It’s the same with freelancing; you need the knowledge to perform the work but there is so much more to freelancing also.

Time pressure

The clock is ticking in an exam and there is a finite time for a student to complete the paper.

Freelancers have their own time pressure – many are trading [their] time for [client] money. Spend more time on a client project than you’ve quoted for and it’s akin to giving £50 notes to your client. Like the exam student, a freelancer has a finite amount of time to work and they need to manage it wisely.

Difficult questions

Examiners will often place a difficult question part way through an exam as a test. This is more than a test of knowledge. It is a test of your strategy and approach. They are looking to see how you deal with a big, chunky, difficult question mid-paper. This is where you as the student have a choice

  • Will you methodically work your way through the paper doing each question in order?
  • Or, will you put that question to one side, work through the rest of the exam and come back to that one with the time you have left at the end?

The savvy student does the latter and completes the exam paper. Back in my school days I recall many students coming out of exams saying “OMG I didn’t have time to finish I got stuck for AGES on question 3”.

Again, the parallels with freelancing are strong here too – you are mid project with a client and a challenge occurs.

  • Do you stop in your tracks and try and solve this challenge?
  • Or do you look ahead and tackle the parts you can and then return to that challenge later on?

The savvy freelancer, a creative problem solver, does the latter. Often finding the knowledge and insights gained from the remainder of the project enables them to find a way through.

Stretch questions

Exams can also contain stretch questions. Questions which test a student’s application of their knowledge and offer an opportunity to shine.

For freelancers stretch questions come in the form of clients who offer challenging work that stretch a freelancer’s knowledge and experience, and develops them and their offering.

In an exam the student who can answer the stretch question well will gain additional marks. For freelancers the client who offers the stretch work not only enables the freelancer to develop their skills and knowledge, but also, it’s a sign of a strong client-freelancer relationship that’s worth investing in.

So whilst I may wave my son off to school with a cheery “good luck in your exams”

I know that there it’s much more to it than luck.