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B Ed Hons Exam Technique
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B Ed Hons Exam Technique

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  • 1. Exam technique Options: Print view The first thing to do if you have exams coming up is to demystify the process. Exams are commonly considered a mammoth test of memory and stamina under highly pressurized conditions, where, having revised until you drop, you answer impossible questions for cloven-footed examiners. In fact, these are all myths:  Exams are more a test of how you can apply knowledge, and organize your ideas, than just of what you know.  Exams offer you the opportunity to show what you have learnt on the course in a definite amount of time, during which, if you can assume the right mental attitude, you will be performing at your peak efficiency.  Examiners are not looking for the opportunity to catch you out – they will mostly just skim through your answers and spend no more than a few moments on each. In this article, we shall look at techniques that will help you do your best on the day. Revision is obviously important to exams (provided it is done in a planned, rather than last minute and rushed fashion), and so please look at the revision guide in conjunction with this one. For the purposes of this article, we shall be concentrating on exams with essay-type questions. Before the exam You need to revise, certainly, but it’s also important to ensure that you arein peak form mentally and physically on the day of the exam. An athlete doing a marathon does not spend the last few days running as often as he can: he prepares mind and body in other ways, and that’s what you should do. In the weeks before the exam Make sure that you know the practical detail of the exam(s): how many, when, where? s Get as much practice as you can – are there mock exams? What can your tutor tell you about the exam? Where can you get hold of past exam papers?
  • 2. Find out (either from past exam papers or from your tutor) about the format of the exam, including how many questions you are expected to answer, whether they carry equal weight etc. Practice writing under exam conditions, perhaps with friends, then you can compare your answers. In the days before the exam This is the time when you will need to build up to your peak performance!  Make sure that you get plenty of rest and exercise.  Eat healthily and drink plenty of water.  Try and stay positive – avoid people who are negative or who panic.  Make practical plans – your route to the exam, any cover arrangements you need to make for home or work. According to Northedge (2005, p. 341) the mind under pressure is better at focusing on concrete matters than on abstract thi king. For this reason, it is best to do the broad n planning about how you are going to tackle the exam and revision well in advance, and devote what time you have in the last few days to practical preparation.Any revision should be ‘overlearning’ or reading through ‘summary notes’ if you have created these – see revision. The last 24 hours The night before, make sure that you re read the details about the exam (where it’s being held, time etc.) and that you have all the equipment necessary(pens, also any tools, such as calculator). Try and get plenty of rest – if you can’t sleep, don’t worry too much as tiredness may be compensated for by nervous energy. On the day of the exam, eat well – slow releasing carbohydrates are good for giving you energy. Allow plenty of time for the journey. And make sure you have your exam ID! In the exam The first few minutes When the invigilator utters the magic words, ‘You may now turn over the page’, avoid the temptation to rush in and adopt a calm, methodological approach. 1. Read the instructions, and make sure that you understand them (e.g. how many questions from how many parts, how many questions in total, do the questions attract the same proportion of the marks?). 2. Write out your personal detai s. l
  • 3. 3. Read the whole paper, checking both sides of the page, so that you don’t miss anything. 4. Put ticks beside the questions you think you can answer. Selecting questions Look for questions that relate to those parts of the course that you have revised. Read the questions carefully before you attempt to answer - what exactly is it asking? Does the question have more than one part? Make sure that you underline key words. Having done all this is the question about what you think it is and do you still want to answer it? Writing essay type questions in exam conditions Answering essay type questions in an exam is as much about organizing your ideas as it is about reproducing knowledge. The easiest way to look at writing exam answers is to see them as cut-down versions of course essays. You need to adopt the same approach as for an essay but you will not need to write as much, as the time scale is obviously much shorter. Thus:  You need to have a structure, with a proper introduction and conclusion, and cover points in an organized way, BUT you can say less on each point and leave out some of the background.  You need to include critical analysis, and show that you understand different (and perhaps opposing) points of view. Read the question carefully – is a particular viewpoint hinted at?  You need to demonstrate RELEVANT knowledge – bring in terms, ideas and concepts from the course, as well as evidence and examples, BUT you will need fewer examples than for a course essay. AVOID bringing things in just for the sake of it – always ask yourself, is it relevant to the question?  Quote key thinkers in the field as part of your evidence, BUT you don’t need to include a bibliography and references.  Use proper sentences (not notes) and paragraphs BUT minor grammar and spelling errors are probably less important than in a course essay. You can adopt a concise style, but spell out words properly and AVOIDusing ‘texting’ abbreviations! Above all, don’t fill your answer with names and facts just for the sake of it. Make sure that everything you include is relevant to the ques tion. Padding is out! The importance of planning As with a course essay, you need to spend time planning in order to ensure that you have an organized framework and write a disciplined answer. Northedge (2005, p. 363) suggests spending between five and 10 minutes on planning each question (assuming a three-hour exam with four questions equally weighted). Jot down a series of headings with key points, including concepts, theories, names, examples. Then decide what to include and what to leave out.
  • 4. The other reason why it’s important to plan is that under the stress of the exam, it’s easy for the mind to go blank in mid-question. If this happens, you will find it easier to bring your thoughts together again if you have a plan of what you are going to say. Using time productively Exams are highly time-pressured events, and it’s important to use the time productively and to avoid the common trap of having far too little time for the last question. Plan your time strategically – look at the weighting of the marks, and allow proportionally more time to questions with a larger weighting. Assuming four questions of equal weighting, and time spent at the beginning reading the paper, allocate the same amount of time to each question. If you find yourself running out of time on a question, draw it to a close, and go on to the next question. If you are likely to freeze up under pressure, it’s probably best to start writing fairly soon (although not before having done a proper plan). Attempt your ‘best’ question close to the beginning of the exam, when you are at your freshest. Once you have done the first question, rough out the plans for your other questions, so that you will avoid having to plan close to the end of the exam, when you are feeling under pressure to finish. It will be beneficial if you can finish early, and allow five minutes to readthrough your answers. If you do run out of time, write part of your answer to the last question, and write notes, keywords or short sentences forthe rest. Most examiners will give some credit for this. Techniques to avoid going blank Having a plan means you are less likely to go blank in the middle of a question, but should this still happen, go on to the next question and come back to the one you were tackling later. Another way of avoiding these blank moments is to allow yourself to jot down notes whenever ideas come into your head, even though these concern another question (although obviously in a place separate from the question you are currently answering, perhaps on a separate piece of paper from the exam book). Presentation Although there will be some tolerance for this, and no examiner will expect perfect handwriting, it’s important to be as neat as possible under the circumstances. Start each question on a new page, and make sure that you number questions correctly. Write your plan in your exambook, but make sure that you cross out any notes so that they are not confused with your answer.
  • 5. Reference Northedge, A. (2005), The Good Study Guide, The Open University, Buckingham, UK A revision strategy Options: Print view Because of its association with exams, the word revision often evokes doom and despondency, nights spent on last minute cramming of notes that can be regurgitated under timed – and hence stressful – conditions. Quick links  Planning a revision timetable  Creative revision strategies  Using past exam papers  Maintaining a positive attitude However, effective revision has little to do with either cramming or rote learning. Rather it should be part of a planned and creative process that consolidates course learning, and helps you see how different parts interrelate, giving you a holistic knowledge of your subject. Planning a revision timetable Revision should not be done piecemeal and haphazardly, but as a series of planned activities. It should be seen as a project, with a series of distinct but interrelated tasks, linked by a timeline. Ideally, you should approach your studies throughout the year with a ‘revision mentality’, having regular reviews of topics as you study, but you should start seriously thinking about the revision two months before the exam date. Analysing the problem You first task is to analyse what it is you have to revise. For example, if you have an exam for a marketing course, it does not mean that you necessarily have to revise every part of the course. Your first task should be to find out as much as possible about the exam. You can do this by:
  • 6.  Getting hold of past exam papers and looking at the types of questions and how they are organized. How many sections are there, how many questions per section? Are the questions and sections weighted equally in terms of marks? How do the questions relate to the course content? What are the types of response that the questions dictate? Are they multiple choice (requiring selection out of a choice of predetermined answers) or do they require essay type answers? If the questions have different parts, what is the mark weighting?  Talking to your course tutor, who should be able to give you information about the exam. Many course tutors provide revision sessions as part of the course. Sorting out your course notes You may be the sort of organized person who has all your coursenotes neatly filed in one folder, separated by tabs for different parts of the course. But then again you may not, in which case your first task is to assemble all your notes for one course and then sort them out into topic (this may well fit into particular weeks, for example, week 1= what is marketing, week 2 = market segmentation etc.). You should include lecture notes, notes from books, journal articles etc., assignments, handouts etc. Overall this exercise should give you a good idea of the overall shape of the course, and how bits of it fit together. Deciding on priorities You will not be able to revise the whole of the course; you therefore need to select particular topics and revise them well, rather than attempting to memorize everything. You should make sure that you revise sufficient topics to enable you to answer a range of exam questions – for example, five topics for three questions (don’t just revise the topics that didn’t come up on the exam last year.) Preparing the timetable Once you have decided what you need to revise, you should make yourself a timetable. You can do this using your computer, using the ‘Table’ facility in Word, Excel or (perhaps the best as the months are laid out for you) your Outlook calendar. The exam(s) should be the first date(s) you put in, together with any important coursework that may be due in the time. Equally important, however, is that you take account of your personal, work and domestic commitments. If you are in full-time work, and/or have child care responsibilities, you should note the times when you will not be able to work. You should also plan in adequate time for relaxation, as well as perhaps opportunity to study with others. If you have a busy life with a lot of commitments, try and make use of ‘dead’ time – for example when commuting, during lunch breaks etc. If you do this, it will be especially important to break tasks down into manageable chunks. Memorizing the whole ofKotler would need a long bus journey!
  • 7. You should by now have an idea of the slots of time available for revision. Go back to your list of topics, and slot them into your revision time (you will probably need to do this fairly roughly at first, until you get a better idea of how long things take). You will need to do a certain amount of prioritizing at this stage, deciding on the most important things you need to revise, and concentrating on these first. Try to give similar amounts of time to your main priorities. Creative revision strategies A common mistake with revision is to see it as a reading and memorizing activity – it is more creative and active, and will certainly involve writing and organizing. The whole object of revision is to gain a whole picture of a branch of knowledge. To achieve this, it’s important to understand not just the bare bones of topics, but the theories, models and concepts that underpin them, as well as they way in which topics relate to one another. As such, you need to develop revision strategies that encourage you to connect ideas and to think creatively. Creating condensed notes Northedge (2005) suggests that a good strategy is to ‘boil down’ your chosen revision topics so that you have the concentrated essence, bearing in mind that exam questions demand short answers and therefore there’s not room for a lot of detail. In order to do this you need to:  Take your notes from books, articles, lectures, plus handouts etc., and make condensed notes.  From your condensed notes, create summary sheets for each sub-topic.  Summarize the main points from your sub-topic summary sheets onto one topic summary sheet. You could also use index cards to record essential information, such as dates, formulae, legislation, components of models (e.g. what does SWOT stand for) etc. Other strategies Here are some other strategies you can use, all of which call for creative and interactive techniques.  Find the essence of a topic – for each topic, select and make notes on the main theories, models, evidence (as relevant). You can use the Table facility in Word for this. – seek the key questions at the heart of the topic, and make notes around these.  Look at topics from a different angle.  Use your senses and your creativity – Make your notes creative and visual, using mind maps, different colours etc. (You will benefit if you use these techniques throughout the year, but if you have not,
  • 8. start now!) – Revise by ear – record your notes, and listen to the recording.  Create hierarchies (as in the condensed notes referred to above). – Use the ‘outline’ view in Word for your notes, which allows you to cut and paste easily, rearrange things, and view in as much or as little detail as you want. – Mind maps are also a good way of organizing your thoughts. All these are active strategies, designed to help you recall information under exam pressure. You will probably also want to check back over your notes several times, and check that the information has sunk in. Using past exam papers We have already said that it is important to get hold of past exam papers, in order to get a good idea of the sort of questions you are likely to be asked. You need also to use these papers as part of your revision strategy, to ensure not only that you have the knowledge, but that it has sunk in. The peculiar thing about exam questions is that you are required to write an answer in a given time frame. The upside of this is that you will not be expected to give a long answer. You do need however to practice thinking and writing for these types of questions. The important thing to remember that for an essay type answer, the examiners are looking for some sort of structure, just as in a course assignment. So you need to test your ability to think quickly and organize your knowledge coherently as opposed to writing down everything you know. Look at the question carefully and decide what it is asking: what are the key words? What topics in the course does it refer to? What are the themes, concepts and ideas that you need to draw from the course? What order do you need to put things in? You also need to practice your ability to write under timed conditions, in handwriting – neither of which you may be used to. It’s probably best, because of the time involved, just to do this with a few questions. Maintaining a positive attitutde Maintaining a positive attitude, keeping calm and getting adequate rest is very important when you have exams coming up. When working on your revision schedule, avoid the temptation to cut down on sleeping time, and plan time for relaxation. Give yourself short-term goals, plan for short breaks and include rewards, such as watching a favourite programme on television.
  • 9. It’s a good idea to revise with other students – you can test one another, and discuss ways of answering exam questions. You will learn a lot through discussion as well as by explaining things to people. However, avoid spending time with people who don’t have a positive attitude – this will only make you feel worse. If you find yourself getting very stressed, seek the advice of a counsellor (your university may well have its own counselling service). However, if you revise in a planned and active way, remember that you are giving yourself the best possible chance of success in the exam. Reference Northedge, A. (2005), The Good Study Guide, The Open University, Buckingham, UK