A lot of people know their stuff for exams. They spend hours and hours over many weeks to ensure that they know their subject for an exam. When the weighting of an exam is 88% of a final mark, for example, that puts a lot of pressure on.
Exams, however, are the least-best method of assessment, in my view. However, they are the cheapest option for en masse assessment of students, and they have now become an necessary evil of academia and beyond!
A lot of students are let down by inadequate exam technique and exam training. They aren’t told where the marks are, how to read a question properly, how to deal with time management, and most importantly, how to deal with stress in an exam – that same stress and panic that puts those hundreds of hours of revision in peril…
I was fortunate to be very good at exams at school, and at university. So, here are some tips for good exam technique.
1) Mnemonics – loads of books/resources on these. If you’re revising, start using them. Very much well-worth it. If you use them during the course of a teaching session, you actually have to do very little by way of revision. If you use them during revision, it will stick. Peg systems, ‘tall tales’, etc. all work, and very effectively. If you can get good at these, you’ll have a super-charged memory.
2) General points for *all* exams –
- What’s the first thing you do? Write your name on the paper. This *has* been forgotten in ages past…
- What’s the next thing you do? PANIC?!? No… Relax. then…
- read the *whole* paper. This will give you the survey of the next 1.5-3 hours of your life. You will know where the easy questions are, and where the harder ones lie. You’ll see the questions you can answer instantly, and the ones your going to have to think about…
- Once, and only once, you have read the entire paper, begin. The 5 minutes spent doing that will have saved you loads of time. If you were to get stuck on a question, and you know the next one is straightforward, you can leave the current question, and make sure you get the marks from the next question. That’s how it should work.
- Exams are a ‘Show you Know’ type of scenario – don’t be too bold, but certainly make sure you show just what you have spent those hours revising for!
- Once you get to 5 minutes remaining. Stop!! Read through your paper. Chances are, if you are still doing a question, then you’re not going to get much further in giving an answer to it. Go over what you have already done, and make sure it is the best that it can be!
3) Scientific/Q&A exams –
- Read section 1 & 2.
- When reading questions, don’t be afraid to underline important words so that you can see exactly what the question is asking for…
- Give full and clear answers. Don’t scrimp on detail – the marker doesn’t know that you can do calculus in your head. Show them that you can do it on paper too. Then, if there are any errors, they can at least see your thinking.
- Make sure you write the answer in the answer box/on the answer line if one is indicated.
4) Essay-based exams –
These can be horrible if you don’t know how to do them. Read below for some help on how to write a good essay under stress and duress of exam:
- Read section 1 & 2.
- Read section 3.
- Choose your question wisely. Spend time thinking about which one is best to answer, and stick with it!
- Write an essay plan. Sounds like there isn’t enough time, but there is. Take 5-10 minutes to draft a quick essay plan. Organise your thoughts. Get the argument clear, linear, cogent, and easily understandable. Once you have done this, start!
- Remember the rule – new point, new paragraph!
- Quotes – always go into an exam like this with two quotes you intend to use. It looks good, works well, and gives you something to discuss if you get stuck.
- If you remember something whilst writing, finish your sentence, and go back and add to the essay plan. Don’t try and weave it into the current point!
The only point I’m going to re-iterate is this one; RELAX!! It is not worth getting hot and bothered in an exam, so make sure you remove all nerves, and relax into the process.