Guidance for examinations

To be successful in examinations you need just two things:

What’s the best way to study for exams?

Students sometimes ask: ‘What’s the best way to study for the exams?’ That’s a difficult question to answer as there isn’t really any one ‘best way’ to study.

The right way to study is the way that works best for you. But what if your old way of studying isn’t working for you?

This guide offers advice on effective strategies for the day of your exams. It includes:

Different ways to study

Once you know what sort of questions to expect, try to predict possible questions

Work out model answers to your questions

Practise writing your answers

Summarise, using key words

Summarising reduces the amount of material you have to remember while helping you to learn

Reciting aloud

Read key sections aloud – listen to yourself

In the exam room/ writing the exam

Read the instructions carefully – Before looking at the actual questions, read the instructions.

Exam format:

Work out the timing – Divide your time according to the number of questions to be answered.

An example might be: ten short questions each attracting 10% of the total marks in a three -hour exam = 18 minutes per question = 2 minutes planning, 16 minutes writing. Allow checking time for reading over.

Read the questions carefully. Read through the paper once and then re-read each question. You might think a topic you’ve revised hasn’t come up, when it is there but the wording is unusual. Alternatively you have revised the topic, but the question is obtuse and you do not fully understand it.

Choose your best questions – Mark any questions you might answer, and then check that you fully understand it. Do you have some relevant knowledge, ideas and evidence for the ones you choose to answer? Do not answer a question that you do not understand.

Maximising your marks

Think about what the question is actually asking.

Short answer questions

Short answer questions usually require a briefer and more descriptive answer than essay questions, which ask you to discuss and expand on a topic.

Decide on question order. Some people like to start with the topic they know best to give them a good start. Others prefer to do their best question second, because with one question completed, they can relax and expand on their best ideas and gain extra marks.

List of key words in questions:

Essay-type questions (long answers)

These are questions that require an essay-type answer (i.e. structured in the same way as an essay or a report). Essay-type questions can be anything from a few paragraphs to a few pages. You don’t have to include a reference list but you should acknowledge the source(s) of your information. The mark allocation will often give an indication of the length required. An essay overall structure is simple consist of the following format:

When studying for essay questions:

Tips for answering essay questions in the exam

Plan the timing

Work out exactly what time you should finish each answer and write the times down.

For example, for a three hour essay-style paper starting at 2 p.m, the following plan will allow you 45 minutes for writing each essay:

Finishing the essay and aiming for high marks

To get the highest marks make a further development, linking your point to further evidence that backs up your point, or ending with a link to the next point. Your conclusion is very important even if it’s only a couple of sentences, now summarise the main points from your essay and avoid saying anything new at this point. Finally, finish with a sentence which answers the question which was asked, having a strong conclusion will leave the examiner with a positive impression of your work.

MCQs (multiple choice questions)

Multiple Choice Question tests should be approached differently to exams that ask for essay-type or short answers. MCQs consist of a question or the first half of a sentence and provide a number of possible responses (usually between 3 and 5). You have to choose one answer – the most correct – from those provided. The answers required are usually more concerned with terms and definitions.

When studying for multiple-choice questions, concentrate on:

Tips for answering multiple-choice questions

Answer all the questions even if you have to guess – if you don’t answer a question, you definitely won’t get a mark; if you fill in something, you may just be right. However, marks are sometimes deducted for wrong answers; this making scheme is known as “negative marking”. If this is the case and you’re not sure of an answer, leave it out. (Remember to find out before the exam if marks are going to be deducted for wrong answers and read the instructions very carefully.)

Remember DON’T change your first answer unless you’re really sure – your first, instinctive, choice is usually right.

What an examiner will look for in your answer:

Oral Exams

Studying at the Academy you’re unlikely to encounter an oral examination. However, an oral exam tests your knowledge as well as your presentation skills. The exam could follow a list of questions in a prepared format, or it could be a more informal and open discussion.

Before preparing for an oral exam you need to be clear about the format it will take and whether you will need to submit any supporting written work at the same time. It’s likely that there will be more than one examiner present in the room, and your performance may well be recorded. Practise answering questions with your classmates and practice in a similar setting to the exam room.

Some people deal with public speaking best by putting on a ‘disguise’ – dressing more smartly than usual or wearing glasses if you usually wear contact lenses, for instance. Others feel better if they are more casual and can pretend it’s an ordinary situation. Think about how you would deal with this best.

After the exams

Beware the post-mortem – it’s natural to want to discuss how it went with your friends, but keep it in perspective. Exams are dramatic events, and the temptation is to describe them dramatically – “The easiest/hardest/fastest exam I’ve ever done!” No two exam experiences will be the same – that doesn’t mean you are wrong and they are right, or vice versa.

Between exams, you might find it helpful to practise writing exam answers using past papers. However, it may be more beneficial for some students to relax and rest between exams, than cramming in last minute revision for the next one.

This guide can also be downloaded in a pdf format here.

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