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Dealing with Hand Pain in Exams

Hand using a pen

These days most of us are so used to working on computers that doing a written exam is like running a marathon after a month spent eating donuts in front of the TV.

If you always seem to end up with a bad case of 'exam hand', here are some solutions...


A bit of 'training' in the lead-up to exam time will help to reduce discomfort in exams. Practice writing past papers under timed conditions to help you to get into the swing of things.

You can also try putting some plaster on the part of the hand that usually ends up hurting the most in the exam.

Do it Right

Most of the hand pain or cramping you experience in exams comes down to not holding a pen properly. I know this from personal experience. If you can re-train yourself to hold a pen correctly, then it will make a huge difference.

Unfortunately, during an exam is probably not the time to learn new skills, but it’s something to get onto. If you want to practice, you can buy special pen grips from stationery stores to help you get into the habit.

Pen Friends

Your choice of pen can also play a role in how comfortable you feel in an exam. A pen that is too thick/ thin or too heavy for your hand will cause your hand to strain.

Choose pens with a good ink flow. If you have to press really hard as you write with that old biro you’ll not only hurt yourself but you’ll also write slower.

Often pens (particularly biros) have several flat sides instead of being rounded and can be more uncomfortable to hold. You’re probably better off to go for a pen that is rounded and has a gel grip.

If you find a pen that works for you, buy a packet of them. I usually go through several pens around exam time and it’s always good to know you’ve got backup.

In the Exam

Try not to stress too much as this will cause you to hold your pen too tight (and we all know that’s a bad thing). In exams most people write with their elbow close to their body. Try to extend your arm a little as you write. You’ll feel more comfortable and increase blood flow to your hand.

When you’re reading questions and checking your notes, put your pen down and give your hand muscles a chance to relax.

If your hand does hurt, consider shaking your wrist or opening and closing your hand between questions. I’ve also found that massaging my sore hand can also help.

If Pain Persists…

There’s a difference between exam hand pain and a medical problem. If you’re worried, go see your doctor. If there is an issue, your university can grant you special consideration for your exams.

FROM THE ARCHIVES: This story was first published on Survive Law on 16 June 2010.

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