It’s that time of year again when the sun is shining, the mercury is rising and the air is filled with the frantic twitter of dawn birdsong. Such a shame that so many undergraduates are still awake at 5 am to hear it, usually from the purgatory of a darkened room while hunched over a pile of books.
Yes, it’s exam time, and for those with finals the summer break can’t come soon enough. For now, though, there’s some serious business. Here are 10 expert tips to help prepare you for the dreaded exam room.
1. Look after yourself
Try to be well rested and well nourished in preparation for exams. “Drink plenty of fluids, eat a good healthy breakfast,” advises Professor Sarah Moore, co-author of The Ultimate Study Skills Handbook. “The fresher and more energetic you feel, the more it will support your ability to tackle the cognitive challenges.”
2. Plan your work
Some people concentrate better at night, others prefer to be up with the larks. Stick to a consistent working pattern so your mind and body can adjust, and take plenty of short breaks.
3. Know your examiner
Unlike GCSEs and A-Levels, where examination papers are formulated by matriculating exam boards, at university, course lecturers often set the questions – which should help when trying to anticipate them. “The strange thing is, the examiner who sets and marks the paper is a familiar figure,” says Kate Williams, editor of Palgrave Macmillan pocket study skills. “It’s the same person who designed your course or module, whose lectures you’ve attended.” Hopefully …
4. Be on top of the practicalities
It is easy to forget practical details, so be clear about simple things like start times, venue, equipment, material you can or cannot bring, and so on. “Being on top of all these can make a huge difference in your poise and performance and will help avoid unnecessary last-minute jitters,” advises Moore.
5. Get hold of recent exam papers
Go back a few years and consider the kind of questions that came up. Don’t assume that these will be on the paper, but look at the relationship between the questions and course content, says Williams. “Is there a question per topic? Are topic areas combined in different ways? What is the style of the question – single focus or direct question, or does your examiner go in for questions with two or more bits?”
6. Try and work out your examiner’s marking scheme
“Maybe it’s an oversimplification to assume that if the question carries five marks there need to be five points, but this isn’t a bad start,” says Williams. “Marks are allocated for something.”
7. Don’t despair
Even if you feel under prepared, you can do a lot with the short time you have left. “Night-before notes can be an active way of capturing, condensing and summarizing your exam material,” says Moore. “Sketching out short signposts is a great way of gaining last-minute command over some of the trickier aspects of your studies.”
8. Tighten up your essay technique
In an exam, it doesn’t matter what you know if you can’t express it clearly and concisely. Essays should begin with a short introduction stating your position, followed by a series of paragraphs that each make a clear point, and a short conclusion supporting the argument outlined in the intro. “The examiner will be reading fast,” points out Williams. “With only three minutes per essay, ease of reading makes for a more cogent argument.”
9. Clock watch
Be aware of what you can realistically do in the allotted time. If you have one hour per question, you might allow around 10 minutes to consider the question and jot down notes, then 45-50 minutes writing time. But don’t be tempted to skimp on one question to lavish time on another, urges Williams. “The first 50% of marks in any question are much easier to pick up than the next 20%,” she says.
10. Avoid postmortems
As soon as one exam is over, move swiftly to focusing on the next one. “Dwelling on an exam that you have completed wastes energy and time, and will drive you crazy,” says Moore. “Remember, be positive, stay calm, and mobilise your energies to do the best job possible on the day.”
Good Luck and Best Wishes to All we are in Exams Preparation.