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Exam Techniques

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As exams begin next Tuesday for our Year 12 students, and the following week for Year 11 students, a key issue to be addressed at this time of year is some of the common-sense tips on what to do, and what NOT to do, during exams.

What should you do on the day of the exam?

  • On the morning of the exam, make sure you eat something, but not so much that it makes you sleepy;
  • Wear a watch in case there is no clock in the exam room;
  • Make sure you allow plenty of time for things like traffic jams or parking problems, but don’t arrive so early that you make yourself nervous;
  • Quietly read through your notes. If you can, avoid talking to others about the exam. Statements such as “… there’s bound to be a question on…” or “… most people failed this exam last year…” are all guaranteed to panic you.

Tip: Read each question carefully, and in the second reading, go back over it and underline the key words. Many students have misinterpreted questions or overlooked things due to anxiety at the start of the exam, because they are racing through hoping to find the things they have studied.

What should you do during the exam?

Normally, you will be given reading time to read the instructions before the exam starts. Make sure that you know all of the following:

  • The number of questions and whether they are arranged in sections
  • How many questions in total you must answer, and how many from each section
  • Are there any compulsory questions? Clearly mark these
  • Are you asked to answer questions in any particular order?
  • How many marks is each question worth?
  • What types of questions are there?
  • How are your answers to be recorded?

Plan your time carefully and accurately and stick to your plan

Work out how much time you should allocate to each section/question. Not doing this can result in questions being left out or rushed through. Try to leave time at the end for checking. You will receive no marks for questions you have not attempted. If you do run out of time, write short notes outlining your answers. It will at least give the examiner some idea of your knowledge.

Tip: Never spend too much time finishing one question at the expense of not starting another question. The first marks are easier to obtain than the last few.

Carefully read the questions

  • If there is a choice of questions, choose those you are best able to answer.
  • Make your decision quickly. Tick those that you think you can do. Do the questions you find easiest first as this will give you confidence.
  • Make sure your choice of questions accurately follows the instructions. For example: “One question from Section A and two from Section B.”
  • Ensure that you number your answers correctly.

Tip: Plan your response before writing.

Answer the questions

Essay/short answer questions:

  • Analyse the question carefully. Underline the key words etc.
  • Make an outline (include the major arguments, minor points, examples etc). Before you start your answer, make sure you know how it will end.
  • Write clearly and succinctly.
  • Take care with handwriting, spelling and grammar.
  • Does your answer meets the specified length (if there is one)?

Tip: You can’t get more than full marks for any question (and rarely that), so don’t go overboard on any one question.

Objective questions (e.g. multiple-choice):

  • Check the method of response, e.g. tick, cross, circle the number, blacken a space. If you fail to do this accurately in a computer marked paper you may not get credit, even if you know the answer.
  • Read the question carefully. Do you have to choose the “best response” or the “correct response”?
  • Be careful of negatives. For example, “Which of these is not …” or “All of these except …”
  • Read ALL the alternatives, even if you think the first one is correct. There might be a better answer further on.
  • If you don’t know an answer, eliminate the answers you think are certainly wrong, and make a calculated guess.
  • Answer ALL questions, unless the instructions specify that marks will be taken off for incorrect answers (as in the Westpac Competition).
  • Answer all questions as you come to them, even if you are not sure of the answer. If you leave a question you may forget it or not have time to return to it. If you are unsure about an answer, write the answer you think is the most likely, then note its number (put an asterix next to the number) so that you can check it later.
  • If you change your mind about an answer, alter it, but only after careful consideration.

Tip: Your first answer is more likely to be the correct one.

At the end of the exam

  • Never, never, never leave the exam room before your time is up. Continual checking/proofing can only help.
  • Make sure that you have attempted all the questions you’ve had to do (it is easier to get the first 5 marks for a 20 mark question than to get the last 5, i.e. to go from 15 to 20).
  • Check all your answers. Look for words that are misspelt or illegible.
  • Re-read your written answers for spelling, grammar, tense and sense.
  • Avoid going through your exams afterwards. It is too late now and almost always depressing. You have other exams to prepare for.

Tip: Don’t waste time on post-mortems. When an exam is finished, focus on the next subject.

This excerpt is taken from the Rehoboth Christian College Handbook ‘How to Achieve Excellence’ – Year 11 and 12 Study Guide, 3rd Edition. Copies are available from the Secondary Office upon request.

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