Let's look at a few exam strategies that you might find helpful. Work through the module below for a series of strategies to help you before and during your exam.
Exam strategies FAQ
This is usually a symptom of stress or anxiety, which can be managed using calming strategies. First, approach the anxiety on a physical level by taking some long, deep breaths. Then let your mind relax – close your eyes, if you like, and give yourself an opportunity to calm down.
If your mind goes blank just as you start answering a question, wind back and think about the topic more broadly, scribbling down anything that comes to mind. This should jog your memory. If not, skip the question and come back to it later. You will eventually remember as your mind is prompted by other material on the exam, and you don't want to waste time worrying.
If you find this happens regularly during exams, you might want to contact the Monash University Counselling Service for advice on managing stress and anxiety.
Consider these four strategies for dealing with multiple choice questions:
- Use your reading time to read the exam instructions carefully and work out how long you should spend on each multiple choice question.
- Read each question carefully, underlining key words or phrases. Options in multiple choice questions are often designed to make the choice difficult, so make sure to read all of the options before answering.
- If you get stuck, double check the wording of the question and the answer options. Take special note of words such as “always” or “never”, as these can sometimes allow you to eliminate certain options. Also take note of subjective terms, such as “choose the best answer”, and negative terms, such as “choose the statement that is not correct”.
- If you still can’t answer the question, skip it and come back to it later. Make sure you don't spend too much time on each multiple choice question, as this can waste precious exam time.
Here are three key steps in answering short answer questions:
- Read. Read the question carefully to understand it fully. Identify the direction words, as these explain what the examiner expects in your answer. Short answer questions often ask you to provide a definition for one of the terms or concepts covered in your subject, or present a short argument in response to a question.
- Plan. Short answer questions usually require paragraph-length answers. It is best to plan your response before writing it, thinking through your main argument and the evidence or examples you will use to back it up. You should structure your response the same way you would structure a body paragraph of an essay, as follows:
- Begin with a topic sentence, clearly stating your response to the question.
- Follow this up with one or two explanatory statements, which clarify your argument or response.
- Next, provide evidence and examples to support your statements.
- Finally, conclude your answer with a sentence that summarises your response.
- Write. Write your response following the structure above, remembering to write in full sentences using standard academic conventions, just as you would in an essay. Also try to use subject-specific terminology and concepts to demonstrate your knowledge and understanding. Make sure you read over your answer afterwards to check the clarity of your writing, spelling and punctuation.
Consider these four steps in answering essay questions:
- Read. Read the question carefully to understand it fully. Identify the direction words, as these explain what the examiner expects in your answer. Also identify the content words, which specify the topic of the question, and any limiting words (such as "always" or "since WW2"). Consider the question's assumptions and your stance on the point of view it implies.
- Plan. The most important feature of a high quality essay answer is a logical argument supported by high quality evidence. This means you need to spend a few minutes planning your response. Jot down your overall argument and several (usually 3-4) key points, along with what evidence or examples you will use to support each key point.
- Structure. Outline your essay structure before you begin writing. An essay in an exam follows the same structure as an essay assignment, as follows:
- Begin with an introduction, setting the context of the question and clearly stating your response to it. You should also briefly outline the structure of the essay – the main points it will cover – in a statement such as, "This essay will discuss..."
- Several body paragraphs will follow and each will develop a different key point in your argument. Remember, each paragraph should contain a topic sentence, explanatory statement(s), evidence and examples, and a concluding sentence that links it back to the overall argument of the essay.
- End with a conclusion that summarises your key points and clearly re-states your overall argument. Consider using phrases like "to summarise" or "in conclusion" when re-stating your argument.
- Write. As with any academic essay, you are expected to write in full sentences using appropriate academic language conventions (avoid contractions, slang, informal language, and so on). Remember to use technical terms and concepts relevant to your subject to demonstrate your knowledge and understanding. Make sure you read over your essay after to check the clarity of your writing, spelling and punctuation.
Markers need to understand your answers in order to give you a fair mark. In your answers, pay attention to:
- Clarity. Write in short, simple sentences to avoid word order mistakes. Read over your sentences to check they make sense.
- Tenses. If you are unfamiliar with all the English tenses, stick to the simple present, simple past, and future tenses.
- Subject and verb agreement. Make sure that the form of the verb matches its subject for example, “the scientists who wrote the paper agree”; “the lecturer of the unit agrees”.
- Articles ("a", "an", "the"). Concrete objects need an article (for example, "a table", “the table”), while proper nouns (names of places or people) do not require articles. Abstract nouns or concepts sometimes require an article (for example, “the theory of relativity”).
- Spelling and grammar. Working under time pressure it is easy to make mistakes. If you have time, check your short answer responses and essays for correct spelling, punctuation and sentence structure. You can always make edits to fix mistakes.
If you are concerned about your English language skills, consider attending some of the English Connect programs or peer support sessions during semester.