Developing a professional attitude
Exams require knowledge, skills, practice and a positive attitude. Start studying early in the term, have clear goals and organise your time. All this will help you develop a positive attitude and perform at your best. Negative self-talk, such as, 'My life will be ruined if I fail' will not help. Instead, try to imagine that you are in the exam and feeling confident and terrific. Success!
Being organised and managing your time is crucial; a timetable is essential as exams approach. Revision should start early in the term, but it's never too late to start. Use a term planner to map out what tasks have to be completed in a term. Be sure to include exam study time throughout the term. You also need to consider what tasks are most appropriate for each of the times you have available. For example, reading a difficult text might best be done when you are mentally alert. Leave simpler tasks to study periods when you work less effectively.
- Find out as much as you can about the exam. How much is it worth to your overall mark? What type of exam is it—multiple choice, essay, open-book or take-home exam? Will there be a choice of questions? How much will each question be worth?
- Use old exam papers to familiarise yourself with the structure and format. Your teacher should be able to let you know where you can get some. Your school library might have past exams on file, too. Practise answering the questions within the specified time limits and check your answers against your notes.
- Don't cram. To remember information you must revisit the material many times. If you regularly review throughout the term, by exam time much of the memory work will have been done. Don't try to learn new things the night before the exam—you won't remember them and will only get confused and make yourself nervous.
Have a good breakfast, wear comfortable clothes and check that you have several pens and everything else you are allowed to bring with you into the exam.
Re-read your summaries, but don't cram new information. Leave home in plenty of time so that you will arrive early and avoid last minute panic. Expect to feel a little nervous; nobody is immune from exam anxiety. Some adrenalin is actually useful if channelled!
Use your reading time to get an overview of the structure of the paper. Read all instructions very carefully. Know what sections and questions are compulsory. Read all of the questions carefully and select the questions you will answer.
Plan the amount of time you will spend on each question. The time should be proportional to the allocated marks—if a question is worth 30% of the marks, you should allocate 30% of your time.
Decide on the order in which you will answer questions, making sure that you do not leave compulsory questions until the end. Answer easier questions first as these will boost your confidence and may even allow you to pick up some extra time that you can spend on more difficult questions.
To do well in essay exams you must answer the question precisely and concisely; be sure to present your arguments and ideas clearly—your marker is not a mind reader!
Essay questions usually require more than just facts. You may have to give an opinion, develop an idea or discuss a position. You need to explain your ideas clearly and produce specific examples. Before writing, make a quick plan, as you would for an assignment essay.
In multiple-choice exams the chance of getting an answer correct by guessing is not very high. Your best strategy is to know your material well.
- Read all the alternatives, even if you think the first one is correct.
- Eliminate answers you know are wrong.
- Eliminate answers that contradict commonsense or are illogical.
- Answers you cannot understand are likely to be incorrect.
- Use general knowledge.
- Be wary of options with absolutes, such as always or never; they are often false.
- Be very careful of negatives, i.e., Which of these is not …? All of these except …
- Watch your time very carefully. Do not spend too much time on one question.
Open-book exams can lull you into a false sense of security, but you need to be thoroughly prepared. There is no time to read or find new information in an exam, so text books can be a handicap unless you know your way around them very well. Be very familiar with the texts and know where to find sections you may need to refer to. Coloured post-it stickers are very useful for this purpose.
After the exam
After the exam, be sure to reflect so you can build on strengths and learn from mistakes.
- Were you able to keep to your exam revision timetable?
- As you revised, were you an active learner?
- Were you surprised by the type of exam questions on the paper?
- On the day of the exam did you use the reading time effectively?
- Did you manage your time in the exam efficiently?
- Did you answer the questions asked?
Exam preparation - Tips from PASS leaders