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Examination strategies

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Examination strategies

Before the exam:

Focus on revision, not re-learning

  • Listen for verbal clues offered in lectures and tutorials.
  • Use the unit guide to create an overview of themes and topics.
  • Prepare a pre-examination study timetable. Share your time between subjects, according to available marks.
  • Identify problem areas and work on these first.
  • Aim for understanding, not just memorising the material.
  • Study actively – verbalise and visualize your revision. Pose questions before you start.
  • Use concept maps/diagrams.
  • Revise tutorial problems.
  • Work in groups (be creative and challenging) and individually.
  • Do past exams (under exam conditions, including handwriting) and discuss your answers with your lecturers and tutors (where possible), or use annotated answers.
  • Take effective breaks (planned and limited) – regular exercise is good for this.

Get organised

  • Get enough sleep - synchronise your body clock with exam times.
  • Prepare your exam resources - pens, calculators, ID card, etc.
  • Check the day/time/place for your exam.
  • Check your transport and, if necessary, parking arrangements.
  • Know what you are permitted to take into the examination room, especially if the exam is open book.

During the exam:

During reading time

  • Read the entire paper thoroughly.
  • Check instructions (optional/compulsory; short/long answers, etc.).
  • Allocate time proportionally to the value of each question.
  • Decide on the order of your answers and organise plans (mentally if writing is not permitted).

After reading time

  • Tick and order the questions you plan to answer.
  • Re-read the questions and underline key words and phrases.
  • Write notes/brief outline answers in your exam booklet.

When answering questions

  • Make sure you answer ALL questions - one excellent answer will not compensate for a missed one (= zero).
  • Keep to pre-set time limits for each question.
  • Find the themes, relate these to the course objectives.
  • Number answers clearly and accurately.
  • Write on alternate lines and leave space at the end of each question.
  • Work thoroughly but rapidly.
  • Answer the hardest questions first, particularly if they are worth the most marks.
  • Use other questions for clues.
  • Notice where words/figures are emphasised.
  • Identify formulae and equations presented in words.

Multiple–choice questions

  • Examine the sequence of questions. Does that give you any clues?
  • Read all the alternatives before choosing the answer.
  • Make certain you are choosing the ‘best’ answer to the question.
  • Be aware of the wording: “always”, “never”, “mostly”, “rarely”, double negatives (e.g. “not unknown”), the passive voice.
  • Remember that wrong options are often based on common misconceptions.
  • Make an educated guess for unknown answers unless you are penalised for wrong answers.

Essay/short answer questions

  • Keep time allocations proportional to marks.
  • Provide definitions where necessary.
  • Identify key concepts.
  • Give examples.
  • Write clearly and simply.

Problem solving questions

  • Write down any formulae needed first.
  • Label all working stages clearly.
  • Check computational accuracy.
  • Show your working unless told not to.

Before the exam finishes

  • Re-attempt questions you found too difficult at first.
  • Make sure the examiner can read your answers and diagrams.
  • Never leave the exam early.
  • Use spare time to thoroughly check your answers.
  • Make sure your name and ID number are marked clearly on all papers.
  • If you are running out of time never omit a question completely. Give the examiner an outline of how you planned to answer a question/the remainder of the question.

After the exam:

  • Review your exam paper if necessary and discuss it with your lecturer.
  • Consider how you could improve your exam performance. Make it a learning experience!