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Sitting Exams

This section provides you with some tips on how to improve your performance on the day of your exam.

Remember, examiners want you to PASS, to give you marks. The exam is an opportunity (not a torture) for you to demonstrate that you have engaged in and with the course material, come to understand it and are able to show that in writing your exam.

Before the exam

  • Arrive at the exam venue at least 40 minutes before the exam to get yourself comfortable.
  • Take time before the exam starts to write your personal details (e.g. Student ID) on exam answer booklets.
  • Make sure details such as your student number are recorded correctly on each sheet.
  • Make sure you have all the materials you need such as student card, pens and calculator (if appropriate).
  • Try to avoid talking nervously with other students about what might come up.
  • Focus on remaining calm before you go into the exam.

Read instructions carefully

First things first

Be clear on instructions as a common error for students under pressure is to answer more questions than required.

  • Underline what you are to do. A common error for students under pressure is to answer more questions than required.
  • Read over whole examination before you start to answer
  • Start with your best question as it will help build your confidence.

Use time wisely

  • Be aware of time limit.  Plan your time accordingly, making sure to proportion time per question based on marks and that you allot time for all questions required - PLAN!
  • Allow time for review       
  • Use the first few minutes of the exam to plan your answers using a draft outline and key points.
  • Before you do anything read the exam paper carefully so you understand what you are required to do.
  • If you are running out of time at the end of your exam put down bullet points with your answer or finish in note form

General Tips

  • Answer all questions required even if the last one is not as elaborate you will still get points.
  • Keep your answers relevant to the questions you are asked as going off on a tangent, padding or adding irrelevant material will not give you extra marks.
  • If an idea comes into your head about one question while you are answering another just jot down your ideas and continue on with your original question to avoid becoming distracted.
  • Remember someone has to read your work so keep writing legible and use good spelling
  • Demonstrate that you have engaged with and have a deep understanding of the material you have learned and are not just regurgitating information and facts.

Essay-type questions

For essay type questions consider the following:
  • Give main points and important details clearly and precisely.
  • Provide structure and organisation to your answer, e.g. headings etc.  When you have decided on a question, jot down a brief outline:
  1. it keeps you on track
  2. it lets the reader know where you are at
  3. it alleviates a little pressure as you can note down facts, quotes, examples etc. before you need them
  • Look for key words like discuss, compare, define.  Do only what you are asked.
  • Answer all questions, even if the last one is not as elaborate, you will still get points.

Numerical or Problem-type questions

For numerical or problem type answers show each step that you carried out so the examiner can clearly see how you arrived at your answer.  You may get marks for demonstrating correct steps along the way even if the final answer is not correct.

If the examination is problem-solving consider the following:

  • Understand what is being asked. What is required, what is the unknown? Pay attention to key terms. Draw a sketch if appropriate.
  • Find a method to solve for what is unknown:
  1. write down all knowns
  2. use good and consistent notation
  3. try to estimate the answer first if appropriate
  4. do neat and careful calculations so the reader can follow
  5. write down relevant formulae
  6. try to recall other problems with a similar set up
  • Actively check your answer - Does it make sense? Check for simple errors

At the end

  • Use time at the end to actively check and review your paper.
  • Make sure you check your paper before leaving.  It’s easy to miss questions or forget to label diagrams and so forth

After the Exam

  • Try not to pick over the exam paper with students afterwards.
  • Take a break, reward yourself
  • At some point after the exam (give yourself time!) try to evaluate how effective your revision and examination strategies were.  Learn from your exam performance.
  • When you do get your results make sure the feedback is clear.