Guidance for Candidates: Examination Tips and Techniques

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1 Guidance for Candidates: Examination Tips and Techniques While you will have your own techniques for tackling the exams, this booklet sets out to help you improve your chances of success. Our guidance is based on tips from the BIFM s panel of Examiners, together with techniques drawn from The Manager s Good Study Guide, published by the Open University. Try these positive thoughts: If you have worked hard, failure is more likely to be due to poor exam technique rather than intelligence or memory You only have to gain a pass mark (45%) to succeed so, instead of thinking What if I fail? try What do I have to do to pass? The Examiners want you to pass and will look for what is good in your answers. What do Examiners look for? Whether you have understood the exam questions and answered accordingly The quality and content of your answer The accuracy of your answer Your understanding and application of underlying concepts and principles Evidence of good FM practice and experience Your skill in arguing a particular point of view Your analysis of information The presentation of your work, including spelling What do Examiners not like? Failure to follow instructions especially the number of questions required in each section Failure to interpret questions properly Irrelevant material Spending too long on one question Failure to end with a conclusion Poor presentation The BIFM recommends that you read the Examiners Reports on the BIFM website, which will give you a valuable insight into common errors as well as a wealth of material which can be used to aid your revision. You can find these reports on the BIFM website under Career Development>Education>BIFM Qualification>Examination Route>Part I/II>Examiners reports. Avoiding Common Errors Failure to follow instructions Read past papers: become familiar with the instructions, including how many questions you must answer in each section. 1/10/2007 1

2 Failure to interpret questions properly Exam questions may look very broad and demanding at first sight, but they are all written to point you towards a specific area of the syllabus without answering the question for you. Try to spot which topic area is being raised by the question. Highlight the key words. Note the format report, memo, business case, bullet points or presentation slides that you are being asked to adopt. Pay attention to the action verbs which give you a clue as to what the examiner is expecting to see in your answer. The most common action verbs are: Outline Describe Explain List Define State Sketch Discuss Give the most important features of (less depth than either explain or describe ); implies a basic awareness Give the most important features in slightly more depth; implies a basic knowledge Give reasons for Provide a list without explanation Provide a generally recognised definition A less demanding form of define, or where there is no generally recognised definition Provide a simple line drawing using labels to call attention to specific features Expand upon the points being made Pay careful attention to any mention of the words Operational or Strategic. If these terms are used, the examiner expects the question to be answered in that context. The following example should help you differentiate between the two: Consider a question concerning what points should be included in a Health & Safety Risk Assessment. An Operational answer would include mention of whether fire extinguishers are being used within test date, checks for trip hazards are being undertaken and dangerous chemicals are being stored correctly. A Strategic answer would include ensuring that a contract is in place to test fire extinguishers regularly, that staff training procedures are in place and that the business has a robust COSHH register. In other words, the strategic element is ensuring all these procedures are in place, the operational element is putting them into practice. Irrelevant material As you write, check back regularly to ensure that you are answering the question asked. Avoid expounding at length with personal opinions. Treat each question as an opportunity to show that you have understood and thought about the content of the syllabus relevant to that question. Spending too long on one question Have a planned exam procedure to keep you calm and feeling in control. Find out the weighting of each question and plan your time accordingly. A question worth 20% of the marks is worth 20% of your time. Failure to end with a conclusion A conclusion gives an impression of purpose and relevance. Come back to the question at the end and briefly show how you have attempted to answer it. Poor presentation Show a clear structure a beginning, middle and end. Use paragraphs and headings. Take a short pause if your handwriting begins to deteriorate. You will inevitably lose marks if the examiner cannot read your script. 1/10/2007 2

3 If you usually use a word processor, get some practice in handwriting at speed. If you have a disability such as dyslexia, which may disadvantage you in some way, please contact the BIFM at least two months in advance. This will help us to organise extra provision, if necessary. How to tackle the case studies Case studies are set at Part I Module 3 and Part II Module 1. These notes will help you to prepare for these papers. At Part I, the key to a good answer is showing you have understood the question and can relate your answers to the case study. It is therefore important to plan your outline answers and make sure you include all the relevant information. To do this: Read the case study carefully 2 or 3 times, underlining key words and phrases Jot down key points (5-10 words) Look carefully at what you need to do with the information (outline, explain etc) Think about how the key points you have written relate to the questions Order the key points Write up your answer, making sure you relate it clearly to the question If you overrun on time, jot down rough notes while the ideas are fresh in your mind and move on to the next question. If you have time, return to the question later. At Part II the exam is based on a scenario. Remember that the case study and questions relate closely to the syllabus area covered. Remember too, that your answer needs to be at the appropriate level for Part II, which will often involve taking a strategic view. You will receive the case study for Part II one month before the exam and you are encouraged to discuss the scenario with other candidates, your tutor and work colleagues. The idea is to give you the opportunity for further study and thinking and to apply this knowledge/understanding when you answer questions under exam conditions. You are allowed to take notes - a maximum of two sides of A4 - into the exam to help you. Revision The act of revising pulls together all of the studying you have been doing and sorts out your ideas. The key to successful revision is to make it an active process: planned, focussed and purposeful. Aim to make best use of your limited time and make all your efforts count. A possible revision plan might look like this: About two months before the exam, sketch out a revision timetable Go through your course material, sorting and ordering The BIFM exam syllabus can be found on the BIFM website and should be the basis of all your exam preparation Identify the central questions at the heart of each course area Condense each area into headings and key points, displayed as a diagram Test yourself to see how much you already know; go back and add missing data Take every opportunity for contact with other students tutorials, telephone and support Past Papers Practice of past exam papers, available on the BIFM website, is the single most useful revision activity you can do. Over a few months, regular practice of questions can potentially move you up a grade. 1/10/2007 3

4 Practise writing 10-minute outline answers. This will test your recall and ability to adapt material to the set question. Check your answers against your notes, highlighting any missed information. Practise writing a full answer in the time allowed and ask your tutor for feedback on your answers. Analyse your answer to see how it could have been improved. Did it need more information? Did it have a logical structure? Did you interpret the question correctly and did you stick to the question? Ask your tutor to organise a mock exam. This will give you a feeling for writing under exam conditions, especially if you have not taken exams for a long time or have concerns about your stamina, handwriting or time management. Try thinking up exam questions yourself and exchanging questions with other students. This is a useful exercise to help you to step into an Examiner s shoes. Practical details before the Exam Mark the day, time and venue clearly in your diary. If the venue is unfamiliar, practise making the journey. Take contact numbers for the BIFM and your exam centre, in case you experience travel delays. Refer to the confirmation letter for further instructions. Tactical Plan Having a plan for tackling the exams will improve your performance enormously. Read the instructions carefully, highlighting key instructions. Scan through the paper, finding questions you are well prepared for. Tick possible choices; cross out others. Don t gamble on questions you are not well prepared for. Remember you may take the questions in any order as long as they are clearly numbered. Start with your best question first or second. This boosts your confidence and gets your brain into gear. Follow the analyse, plan and write procedure: o Analyse the wording, using a highlighter pen for key words o Plan - use the rough paper provided to quickly list relevant points from your course (draw on the summary sheets you made for your revision); sketch an outline o Write your answer, checking at intervals that what you write is relevant to the question. Draw up a time plan and be sure to stick to it. Consider planning out all the later questions when you ve finished writing your first question. Leave a few minutes at the end of each question to check your work for any obvious errors of expression and leave a few minutes at the end of the exam for a final check of spellings, numbering of questions etc. Day of the Exam Arrive in good time. It is best to walk around if you have to wait. Don t let the other candidates distract you remain aloof if you need to. Settle yourself at your desk, setting out your materials. This activity can help calm your nerves. Listen carefully to the invigilator s instructions. Stress and Exam Nerves This is an important part of exams, as you need an element of stress to help you perform. However, to cut down on stress: While revising, keep in contact with your tutor and fellow students: talking releases tension. Try visualising yourself in the exam room, opening the question paper and calmly beginning. Make sure you are well prepared. 1/10/2007 4

5 Leave yourself plenty of time to get to the exam centre. If you get stuck on one question, go on to a question you feel more confident about. You can return to the other question at the end and see if you can add any more to get extra marks. After the Exam At the end of the exam, avoid discussing your answers in too much detail with other candidates if this might panic you. The important thing is to clear your mind and focus on the next exam. 1/10/2007 5

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