Exam Preparation

Exams are an integral part of the university experience, and with the pressure of wanting to perform your best, you might notice healthy habits start to fall by the wayside. While caffeine-fuelled all-nighters are a last resort for some, they can often be counterproductive and wreak havoc with your sleeping pattern. As well as booking onto one of our Effective Exam Preparation workshops we propose the following to get your mind and body in tiptop shape for when it counts most…

Why Set Goals?

  • Setting goals can help you to see the bigger picture.
  • Goals can be long term (the future) or short term (the now).
  • Goals allow you to determine what you want to achieve and by when.
  • Writing a goal down and listing the steps you need to take to achieve that goal, helps to make you accountable to complete the task.
  • Goals can keep you motivated, as you experience the satisfaction of ticking off completed tasks on a to do list.

GUIDE: If you are new to setting goals or would just like a refresher around the key things to consider, then take a look at our guide on setting SMART goals.

Staying Motivated

You’ve written the goals, you know what you need to do and by when, but once the initial excitement has worn off how can you keep the momentum going?

 

  • Speak your goals out loud. Tell others what your intentions are and when you hope to complete them by. You are then accountable to others, who will be able to check your progress along the way.
  • Work with others. If you’re finding it difficult to complete or even start a certain goal, think if there are other people who could help you along. Working with others can make completing your task/goal more enjoyable and less isolating.
  • Reflect on the progress you have already made. This could be reading previous positive feedback or acknowledging something new that you can now do. Reflecting on what you still need to achieve can also help if you need to revise your goals.
  • Keep a to do list. There is nothing more satisfying than being able to tick off your tasks once they have been completed.

Effective Exam Preparation

Exams can be a daunting part of university life, and it is only natural that you will want to be as prepared as possible to perform at your best. When it comes to revision there are no right or wrongs, so you might find what works for your course mates, doesn’t work for you.

  • Clearly mark the date, time and exam location in your diary or calendar.
  • Speak with your tutor well in advance if you are unsure of what to expect or to clarify content you do not understand.
  • Consider attending a Uniskills Effective Exam Preparation workshop.
  • Ensure you get a good night’s sleep and eat a brain-fuelling breakfast in the morning.
  • Revise what you can bring with you. Most exams will allow for a bottle of water, but you will need to check about dictionaries, source texts and notes.
  • Take a look at our Exam Preparation Checklist and start building your unique revision intentions to keep you motivated.

 

Doing your best during the exam

  • Arrive comfortably in advance. It is a good idea to do a trial run or review your transport options before the day if you are travelling to an unfamiliar location.
  • Write your name and student number on all the answer sheets as required. Remember that the invigilator is there to help you, so do not be afraid to ask for extra sheets or materials.
  • Ensure you are not missing any questions on the reverse of the page, or that any pages are stuck together.
  • Read the question carefully (twice!) to avoid any misinterpretation.
  • Check that you clearly understand what is expected of you – how many questions do you need to answer, and in how much depth?
  • Keep an eye on the time. If necessary, consider how many marks each question is worth and distribute accordingly. Try and stick to the time you set yourself for each one.
  • If you’re struggling, focus on the questions you can answer first to boost your confidence and help you to relax.
  • If it is an essay-based exam it is important to make a plan and have a clear structure to your writing.

Common Exam Mistakes

  • Having poor time management and spending too long on one question, or too long on questions that are not worth many marks. Make sure you can see the clock and be strict with yourself when it is time to move on.
  • Not answering the question set and simply regurgitating everything you know or have revised about a topic. Ensure your answer is focused and relevant to what you are being asked.
  • Not turning the page to find there is a question printed on the back of the paper. It is a good idea to flick through all the pages before you begin.
  • Letting stress and nerves get the better of you. Take deep breaths and remember you can only do your best. Your tutors are not looking to catch you out.
  • Not looking at past papers or other resources available to you. By familiarising yourself with the format in advance, you can spend more time on the all-important questions.
  • Leaving the exam room as soon as you have finished. Make the most of any extra time you have available by checking, or even improving your answers.

What to do when…

You run out of time

Assess which questions offer the most marks and divide your remaining time accordingly. While it is advisable to try and get an answer down for everything, depending on your time constraints you may also wish to consider the questions you feel most comfortable answering. If the clock is really ticking, it still might be worth attempting a ‘skeleton answer’, where you jot your response in note form to try and score at least some marks.

You go blank

If moving on and coming back to the question later is not an option, have a pause (put down your pen if it helps) and try and think back to your lecture or visual revision aids. To jog your memory, you may find it useful to make a mind map, or write down everything (on a scrap piece of paper) that you can remember about a topic.

You have a panic

Stop and take a few deep breaths or a sip of water. If you’re struggling to compose yourself, let your invigilator know how you’re feeling so they can offer their support. If you have a tendency to panic in exams, it is best to let your tutor or the Inclusion team know well in advance to be informed of any options available to you.

The question you have prepared for doesn’t appear

Take a moment to consider whether what you have revised is ‘hidden’ in another question, or whether you can apply the knowledge you do have by thinking about how it relates to the wider subject area. While ultimately you can’t control what appears on your exam, you can control how you prepare. If given a set of 4 possible questions, for example, it is sensible to study so you can at least say something for all of them.

Exam Revision Tools & Techniques

Research has shown that students tend to employ the least effective techniques when revising for exams (Dunlosky et al., 2013).  This may be a legacy from earlier educational experiences, or to do with the feeling of security re-reading and highlighting sometimes gives us. Now is the time to break these habits and work out the most effective and active strategies for your learning.

What type of learning do I need to do?

University level study asks you to perform a difficult balancing act of recall and understanding: to learn specific information or memorize facts to build your subject knowledge on the one hand, whilst on the other, being able to synthesize this information, place it in context, and draw out connections, new ideas and the wider implications of what you have learnt.

When revising, make sure your strategy matches the type of learning you need to do: memorising a list of vocabulary, for example, requires a very different approach to preparing for answering an unseen essay question in a written exam.

This is another reason why it is really important you are clear on the format of any assessment you are due to take and set aside time to familiarise yourself with what is expected.

GUIDE: Have a look through our guide on using Effective Tools & Techniques for exam revision.

Finally…

Remember these quick top tips:

  • Eat a well balanced diet of colourful fruit and vegetables to fuel your brain!
  • Get a good nights sleep!
  • Make a plan, good time management is paramount to peak exam performance!
  • Study with a friend (or two!) – it can be a brilliant way to ease the exam-season burden!
  • And if you’re feeling particularly nervous, anxious or overwhelmed about your upcoming exams, don’t forget our Student Wellbeing Team are on hand to support you.

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