I was fortunate enough to never fail a University exam. In fact, I was very good at them, generally. I also sat all types of exam – multiple choice, essay-based and problem-based exams. For my friends who still have to endure exams, here’s a guide.
General Tips for Exams:
In general, there are two challenges in exams. Train of thought, and writing out ideas. The writing out is easy and straightforward, but takes time. Therefore, you need to have highly efficient methods of getting your thought processes going. The faster you think, the more time you can spend writing up.
- RELAX!!! As soon as you get in, if you are nervous, take 2 minutes to relax. Concentrate on breathing slow deep breaths, and ask questions about the room you are in. What is that poster about? Why is the invigilator wearing those clothes? Is your gf/bf in the room? These questions will make you aware and get your mind out of worrying. (Well, they did for me!
- Plan. Formulate a timetable, and stick to it!If you have 10 questions then allow 11 minutes each, giving you 5 minutes each side for points 3 and 4.
- Read the Exam Paper, in full, first!! Take 5 minutes, and read the entire paper. Make sure you understand the exam in full, from the first moment you begin. This is an invaluable step. You will now know exactly which questions will take a few minutes, which will take longer, and which order you do them in. Do not just believe that you have to do the paper in order – the post-grad marking it might not like it, but unless it’s written in your exam rules, you can do the questions in any order you wish.
- At the end, take 5 minutes to read your answers in full! This has allowed me to catch so many simple/baby mistakes that I would have submitted had I not read my answers. If you haven’t finished a question, then chances are you’re not going to do so in the time. Check that the others are as good as they can be, then go back if you have any chance to. Sometimes, you have to cut your losses, and this is no bad thing.
- Once you’ve read the paper in full, go to the back page of an answer booklet, write ‘DO NOT MARK’ at the top of the page, and get your ideas out. Write out definitions, plans etc. If you write anything wrong, they cannot mark you down, but you have a chance to get some thinking space, which can be so difficult to get. I have never been provided with scrap paper, so this method really helped me organise my thoughts – ok, you will generate utter scrawl, but you will know exactly what you need to say in your actual answer. Invaluable again.
Problem Question Exams:
These are the most common. Some tips from the ones I have sat:
- You need to make sure that you have memorised the correct definitions/formulae/methods/techniques. If you have any problems, use mnemonic techniques to memorise things – the ‘peg method’ is easiest. In a nutshell, you create a fantasy or a story about an idea where you substitute important parts for slightly absurd, easily memorable objects that get ‘pegged’ to the central object. Once you are proficient at this, you can create whole warehouses/palaces of these objects where they are all stored for retrieval later. This ‘memory palace’ and ‘peg’ techniques are well-known, and there is a lot of literature detailing techniques, hints, tips, and advice on how to memorise lots of information.
- Ensure that you are comfortable with the language. Beware using the wrong word in the wrong place. If you forget a technical definition, then you can still get marks by using the correct technical description. Also, this method means that you can work out a method as long as you know the words.
- Get some quotes together. You will likely have been told by your lecturer what the subjects of the questions will be. If not, ask. They will be more than happy to help. Once you know this, find quotes, memorise them, and use them in the essay. Choose the right quotes, and they will give you reams to think and write about. Easy.
- Write an essay plan – as in the back-of-the-book method above, use that space to write a quick essay plan. Takes 5 minutes, but it organises your thoughts, gets you into the flow of writing, and means that you do not have to add paragraphs/points out of place of the cogent argument.
- Keep to the Paragraph Rule – new paragraph, new point/argument. Are you making a new point? Next step in an argument? Start a new paragraph. Yes, you might have 25 paragraphs in 300 words, but the argument/response to the question will be very clear to read, so you will get all the points you can.
- Do not waste time re-writing the question in 100 words. Just write the question out, if you must, next to the question number, and get on with it. The marker knows what the bloody question is.
If you have a multiple choice exam that is worth more than 2% of a 15 credit module (150 hours of study inc. lectures), you should ask yourself the following question; why am I doing this course? This question is much more important than the test itself. Else, complete the test and write an essay on the back entitled ‘Multiple choice Exams as Ipsative Personality Tests – non-normative, and an incomparable method of assessment.’