Do you think you know how to pass exams and reach your true potential exam success? From the experiences of marking thousands of exam papers, and sitting rather more than I care to remember, I’ve realized that few people really know how to pass exams and achieve the degree of exam success of which they are capable. I’ve seen plenty of students make all the same mistakes I did, and invent quite a few that never occurred to me!
Mistakes that are quite avoidable if you know about them in advance and prepare yourself well.
It sometimes seems as though people are expected, as if by some magic, to know just how to approach revision and exam techniques. They are taught their subjects: mathematics, English, history, science or whatever, but not when to revise, how to revise, how to prepare for exams or what techniques to use in exams. Often students are given few exam tips or guidelines for achieving exam success. Work hard and you’ll get there simply doesn’t cut it! Work hard at doing what?
And yet exams influence so much of our lives, and so much importance is placed on them! Exams pervade our lives: at school, college or university. At work, and sometimes even in our hobbies and pass-times! Exam success can be like a magic potion for getting into college or university, or luring employers into taking you on, or giving you a promotion.
That anything as important as exams should be left to chance is amazing, and certainly not a good idea! Do not leave your future to chance: learn what to do.
As an experienced author, teacher and examiner I can give you help in learning how to achieve exam success. I’ve been through a ton of exams myself, at school, university, through the Open University and also through other distance learning courses. My last two results were both distinctions, but at school I had little clue of how I ought to be revising, or approaching my exams!
Start by reading these exam tips below, and think about how they compare with what you do, or are planning to do, look at the resources below for some much more comprehensive advice on revision and exam technique.
Well before the exam:
- If you’re struggling with your study tell your teacher without delay.
- Know what the format of your exams will be.
- Obtain copies of past and/or sample exam papers as early as possible.
- Check what tools you’ll use in your exam and learn to use them.
- If you have any special needs take advice about making arrangements for these.
Throughout your course:
- Start your revision as soon as possible. Read around your subject. Revise regularly and test yourself regularly. Use a revision timetable.
- Revise subjects you’re less keen on at least as much as those you like.
- Revise in an atmosphere conducive to study.
- Compile revision summaries and use them to help you answer exam questions.
- Practice answering questions with and then without your notes, then to time.
- Take an active approach to learning. Use whatever memory tricks work for you.
- Lots of short sessions are much better than few marathon ones! Research shows that about 40-45 minutes is optimal, after which you should take a break before starting the next session.
When you need motivation:
- Remember why you’re doing your exams and that your study won’t last forever.
- Keep a record of the revision you do, for when you need cheering up.
Specific exam types:
- If you’re allowed to take texts into the exam (open book) become familiar with them before the exam.
- Use a “cover-up” strategy when answering multiple-choice questions: cover the answers up and then read the question. This way if you know the answer you won’t have the alternatives there to confuse you!
- Answers to short answer questions should be brief and succinct.
- Essays should be a continuous piece of prose, with an introduction, main body and conclusion.
- Show your reasoning and workings when doing problems and calculations.
- If you’re taking a practical exam find out exactly what’s going to be assessed and how. Practice your skills, aiming to become as proficient as possible.
- Prepare the structure and content of oral presentations carefully. Practise talks and be aware of how long they’ll take you.
Just before the exam:
- Prepare what you need for your exam in advance.
- Know exactly when and where your exams will be.
- Get a good nights sleep before your exam.
In the exam:
- Read the exam paper carefully and answer the questions set.
- Answer the right number of questions: this is essential.
After the exam:
- Don’t fret about what’s already done.
- If you’re pleased with your results – congratulations!
- If things didn’t work out as hoped for remember it’s not the end of the World! Decide how important this exam really is for you and your future. If you need to repeat it then try to work out how you can improve next time.
With best wishes for your exam success!