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Exam preparation

'Success is the sum of small efforts repeated day in and day out.'

Robert Collier

Like sport, exams require knowledge, skills, practice and a positive attitude. Having the right attitude towards your study is very important; your goal is to perform at your peak on exam day. Being well prepared boosts your confidence.

To pass exams students need to:

  • know the subject
  • revise
  • prepare for the exam format
  • follow exam instructions
  • use time-management strategies during the exam.

How do you approach exams?

  • Positive thoughts help.
  • Some anxiety is to be expected ... a little bit is a good thing.
  • Perspective... is it really the end of the world?
  • Visualisation ... picture yourself confidently answering exam questions.

This resource will provide a general overview of how you can prepare for exams.
You can also work through the resource before you attend the exam preparation workshop.

Revising effectively

Revising effectively can mean different things for different people. 

Here are some suggestions to revise effectively.

  • Write practice essays.
  • Use class PPTs to revise.
  • Make your own notes for each topic.
  • Analyse practice exam questions.
  • Use a mind map.
  • Make flipcards.

Language and Learning Adviser, Kate, demonstrates how you can use a mind map to identify, summarise and recall key points for exam preparation.

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Deakin student, Nic, discusses how she uses mind maps to revise for short answer exams.

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Make flip cards - either on cardboard or electronically. Try Study Blue websiteor Exam Time website

Learning Adviser Kate demonstrates how she creates flip cards using Study Blue.

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Exam formats

There are different exam formats including:

  • Short answer
  • Multiple choice
  • Open book
  • Online tests
  • Essays

Find out the format of the exam you will be taking.

Short answer exams:

  • test your knowledge and recall
  • may involve problem solving - application, giving an interpretation or a definition
  • do not require structuring, as an essay does.

Multiple choice exams:

  • may involve problem-solving, application of theory, recall of facts and figures
  • test your skills of discriminating between similar answers.

Studies suggest your first answer is mostly right. Spend time reading all options carefully and look out for words such as always and never, which can often make an option too narrow or restricted to be the best choice. 

Open book exams:

  • may give a false sense of security
  • reduce the number of facts and figures you need to recall.

A higher quality of responses may be expected. The reality is that there is not much time to consult materials, so mark pages with post-it notes.

Online tests:

  • are often progressive assessment
  • could be multiple choice, short answer or essays.

Essays in exams:

  • test knowledge and understanding of concepts
  • assess writing skills - a well-structured response is expected. 

What are examiners looking for?

  • That you have answered the question.
  • That you have produced an organised and structured response – with an introduction, body and conclusion.
  • That you demonstrate reading and reflection.
  • Referencing is usually not required.

Prepare for essay exams:

  • Prepare handwritten notes (in other words practise writing legibly!).
  • Because this will be an essay exam, learn in 'chunks' rather than in dot-points.
  • Practise developing a point or concept into a paragraph.
  • Know how many words you write to an A4 page – practise writing about 500 words in 45 minutes.

The day of your exam

There are a few things you can do before and on the day of your exam.

  • Know in advance where you need to go.
  • Know what you can take into the exam room (don't forget your student ID card).
  • Allow plenty of time to get to your exam room.
  • Engage only in positive dialogue with your peers in relation to your exam (don't get caught up in other people's negativity).
  • Think positively - this is your opportunity to show what you have studied throughout the trimester.

In the exam room

  • Stay focused.
  • Start with questions you feel most confident in answering.
  • Make good use of reading time.
  • Calculate the time for each question.

Nic - a Deakin student talks about how she uses reading time in an exam.

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Having an overview of the marks allocated to each question can help you avoid the problem of spending too much time on some questions and running out of time for others. For example, a typical exam may be 2 hours (120 minutes) plus 15 minutes reading time = 100 marks.

Question 1 = 10 marks (10%) 10% of time = 12 minutes
Question 2 = 15 marks (15%) 15% of time = 18 minutes
Question 3 = 25 marks (25%) 50% of time = 12 minutes
Question 4= 50 marks (50%) 50% of time = 60 minutes

Coping with exam stress

There are many ways that you can help yourself to cope with stress during exam time.

  • Maintain a healthy balance of study and rest/relaxation.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Eat healthy foods.
  • Get adequate sleep.
  • Don't forget to do enjoyable activities!
  • Prioritise your commitments.
  • Identify activities that help calm you e.g. listening to music.
  • Learn relaxation strategies.
  • Seek extra help if you need it.

A Deakin counsellor discusses strategies for dealing with stress during an exam.

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For further advice on effective ways to manage exam stress, please contact Deakin's Counselling Service at Student Life on your campus.


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