Preparing for and taking exams
Much exam stress can be alleviated by being preparing adequately beforehand.
Know the vital information
You must know:
When it is
Where it is
How long it lasts
The number of questions you must do
The marks allocation
Find out exactly what is required for the test/exam.
What will be covered and what will be omitted (refer to course outline).
List the things that you must know and rank them in importance.
Know what types of questions to expect (essay, short answer, or multiple-choice).
Find out how many questions, total time, and how marks are distributed over the questions.
Check whether past exam papers are available in the library or online and practise answering questions.
Check equipment needed, for example, mathematical equipment, calculator, or texts for open book exams.
Get copies of previous exams if possible.
Talk to friends who have done the course before for advice on what to expect.
Form a study group and practice firing questions at each other.
Allot study time in proportion to how much the test/exam counts towards the final grade.
Check you have the right equipment
Check you have:
Enough pens, pencils, colours, rulers, maths equipment.
Any texts you’re allowed such as a dictionary.
Your lucky mascot if you have one.
Make sure your watch works and is accurate.
The day before the exam
Don’t revise late.
Don’t try to learn new material.
Check through (skim/scan) notes / typical questions.
Relax before going to bed.
Avoid others who are ‘panic people’.
If the exam is being held in an unfamiliar place you may want to have a ‘practise run’ to find out where it is and how long it will take you to get there.
On the day
Check where you need to go and your travel arrangements to get there.
Get up early enough to wake up properly.
Eat sensibly – don’t go to an exam without any breakfast, have something filling and slow-burning such as porridge or cereal
Arrive in good time; too early and others may panic you but exactly on time can feel too late
Have a bottle of water that you can place on your desk.
The exam room
Try to remember all the advice your lecturers gave you.
Listen carefully to what the exam invigilator tells you.
Check that you have all pages, questions, answer sheets and scrap paper.
Read ALL the instructions on the paper….even if you think you know them….because they can change.
Check your desk/chair is comfortable.
Put your watch where you can see it easily.
Relax, calm down….take a few deep breaths.
Think positively – believe in yourself.
Make sure you check how many questions you need to answer and at least attempt all of them. If in doubt, ask the invigilator or examiner.
If you have been awarded extra time, check that the invigilator knows
Planning, timing & technique
Before you start writing, read the questions 2-3 times….slowly. Don’t rush at this point, it is really important to know exactly what you have to do.
Use a highlighter to highlight key words in the questions.
Remember how you’ve been advised to plan.
Consider the weighting of marks each question carries, don’t spend too much time on areas that carry few marks and then have to rush areas with more marks.
Estimate how long each part will take to finish.
Expect to work quickly if there are many questions.
Allow time for choosing, planning, writing, checking and proof-reading. Leave 10-15 minutes at the end of the exam to read through and check your answers.
Consider starting with answers you know best. This may help your confidence and leave time for answers you’re more worried about.
Check the time after each part is completed to make sure you are on track.
If you are short of time, it’s better to write an essay in note-form than write nothing at all. Write an introduction, outline the argument in bullet-points, and then write your conclusion.
Multiple choice exams
If there is a penalty for guessing, leave a blank instead of guessing.
Do not choose too soon. Read all the options and pick the best and most completely correct, e.g., ‘all of the above’, rather than one correct alternative.
Check the terms used to make sure you have understood what is being asked.
Do not spend too long on any one question – if you are not sure, move on and come back later.
What happens if…..
Your mind goes blank and you panic
Breathe slowly and think of success. Leave a question if you’re not sure of the answer and go on to the next one, or begin with what you know best.
Imagine yourself at home with your books and remember that you DO know the information.
Try to answer one question. This will give you confidence to move on to other questions.
Don’t spend too long trying to remember a point – leave a space and come back to it.
Write any ideas or thoughts on rough paper. Ask yourself questions. Then try the question again. Panic only makes remembering harder.
See the examiner if it becomes worse and ask for a glass of water.
You are running out of time
Don’t panic – reduce each answer time.
Write in note form if necessary.
Look at the questions that carry the most marks and answer those first.
A good answer
Comes from a well-revised topic
Is the result of a well-understood question
Is often anticipated in revision
Is planned carefully
Is relevant and sticks to the question
Is clearly written and makes sense
Is presented well
Is produced in the way you’ve been taught
Is checked once completed
And most of all – answers the question
Is a ‘post-mortem’ a good idea?
Should you extensively think about the exam immediately afterwards to analyse your success rate? There are advantages, as you’ll gain plenty of reassurance if you think you’ve done well. However, there are also disadvantages. If you discover that you haven’t done as well as you thought, you may become de-motivated. This could affect your other exams and lead to high anxiety levels. Concentrate on the future not the past – you can’t change it! Remember there is more to life than just examinations. Tomorrow is another day.