Sunday, July 4, 2010

Exam tips and Tricks

Preparing for an Exam
Planning the revision.

Write a good revision plan, and stick to it. Don’t do just one subject a day, you’ll get tired of it; then again swopping too often means you don’t get the chance to get deep into anything.
Revise actively.

Just reading through your notes is the worst possible way to revise. Well, OK, perhaps not the worst possible, but it’s really not very good. The more of your brain you can engage in the revision, the more you will remember. Memory is not a box in one part of your brain that things are either in or out. Memory is spread out everywhere: there’s verbal memory, visual memory, audio memory, muscle memory, all sorts. The more your brain does with the information, the more you will remember.

Do past papers.

With a good revision plan you should be doing nothing in the last week before the exams except working through exam papers and examples sheets making sure you can do them.

I can’t emphasise the importance of this enough. Anyone who doesn’t work through past papers has very little chance of doing well in an exam.

Oh - and do the past papers, and the examples sheets, against the clock. Time is short in an exam, you need to get used to thinking, and writing quickly. Get your hand trained up so it can write fast. (but legibly, please).

This can be risky, but if you're playing the percentages it's worth a try. Look for any topic that was in the exam two and three years ago, but not last year. If you can get hold of papers from further back, try and spot patterns: does any topic come up every other year, for example?

Another good tip is to make a very careful note if the lecturer says at any point "this is new in the course this year". If he does, there's an above average chance that this will be in the exam - it gets harder every year to come up with new questions about the same old subjects, and putting a new topic in the course is an easy "new question" for the examiner.
Study in Groups, if possible.

Study groups work well, provided you don’t think this will mean other people are doing your studying for you. They can’t – that doesn’t work. You have to go and study a subject, or attempt an exam paper by yourselves first, then meet together to discuss your answers. Don’t work through the past papers in the group – the temptation to let other people do the work is too strong. You need to learn to do it yourself. Always remember, exams are not a team exercise.

Failing that, make an appointment to come and ask the lecturer. Lecturers are usually perfectly happy to answer questions of the form “this is how far I’ve got, but I can’t see how to do the next bit – is this right?” However, anyone turning up and asking for the worked solutions to an exam question having made no apparent effort to try themselves first is likely to be told to go away and do some more work. This is for your benefit – if we just tell you how to do a problem, you won’t remember it very well. If you really struggle to get through it yourself, and then with some help finally succeed, you may remember it for the rest of your life. The more effort you put into it, the better it will stick in your memory.
If you just can’t understand something, learn it parrot-fashion.

This really is a last-ditch solution. But it gives you at least something to do with the questions on subjects you really don’t understand. Even questions on these subjects usually start off by giving you a few marks for “describing XXX”. Even if you don’t understand it, you can get a few marks by writing down the descripttion straight from the notes.


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