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1 How To Have A Good Exam Tips for doing yourself justice in the exam itself Photograph: jackhynes (flickr), Creative Commons

2 Contents 1. Preparation To Reduce Exam Nerves Answering Exam Questions Time Planning In Exams Coping When Things Go Bad Preparation To Reduce Exam Nerves In General Prepare a relaxation technique that you can use in the exam. If you know you suffer from exam nerves this is probably the most important thing you can do and it is worth devoting time and effort to it. Section 4 Coping When Things Go Bad includes some techniques which will be much more effective if practised in advance. If you think it will help, check the exam room in advance. Check your route to the exam. Have a fall-back plan if you are relying on public transport. Check all the rules and regulations so that you are completely confident about what you are allowed and not allowed to do. The Night Before Do not revise late into the night. You have probably been told this many times already and the reason is that it absolutely doesn t work. At this point you need to clear your mind so that it is fresh for tomorrow. Make a checklist of what you need for tomorrow and collect everything together. Confirm time and location for the last time. Do everything you can to ensure a good night s sleep. Some suggestions: o Do a relaxing activity before you go to bed, e.g. watch some undemanding TV, read some fiction. Wind down before you actually try to sleep. o Make sure you ve eaten enough. Have a hot milky drink. o Avoid alcohol, caffeine and stimulants. o Avoid conversations with people who are likely to wind you up. o Ask flatmates to respect your need for sleep if you are worried about this you can always put a sign on your door. o Don t try a new product to help you sleep at this stage. It could make you sleepy for the exam. (This includes so-called natural remedies ). 1

3 The day of the exam If you have a morning exam use a reliable alarm clock and make sure you leave yourself time to get ready without rushing. Eat your normal breakfast, but if you tend not to eat much consider eating a bit more than usual to give you energy. If you have an afternoon exam, you could do some brief revision in the morning, but this should be a final review of material you have already revised and it should not tire you. Eat a light lunch which includes food that releases energy slowly, such as pasta. Drink plenty of water to avoid becoming dehydrated, but not so much that you re going to the toilet every half hour. Make sure you have all the necessary equipment before you leave the house. Refuse any unnecessary distractions. Keep your mind clear and focused. You can run through some key points as you travel/walk to the exam, but don t let this turn into a negative experience. Avoid people who you think might disturb your equilibrium. This might involve waiting around the corner instead of queuing with everyone else outside the exam hall. It might involve careful timing for getting there. Plan this in advance. 2

4 2. Answering Exam Questions A common mistake is to start answering an exam question without putting thought into how you re going to answer it. Another mistake is to misread the question. The following method should help you avoid these situations. It is a strategy for the exam paper, though you will need to practise it with old exam questions before you eventually use it in your exams. 6 Step Strategy Step 1: Choose A Question Select which questions to answer and in which order. It s usually best to start with the one you feel most confident about. Don t dither for too long at this stage. Step 2: Underline The Key Points Stick closely to the question. Underline the key words to focus you. There will be the instruction words, such as compare, contrast, analyse, discuss and the content words which indicate the topic. Take careful note of all of these. If the question looks like one you've done before, check carefully that it is! Step 3: Plan Before You Start Think about the parts you have underlined. Which ones relate to areas you have covered on your course? You could try listing down all the items from your course that seem relevant to the question. You could do this in bullet points. Consider the number of sections/paragraphs and write down a few key words or phrases for each. Organise the sections/paragraphs into a logical response to the question and build in relevant examples to illustrate the points you make. Don t make the mistake of writing all you know about the topic - only include relevant information. Shape your information to answer the question. 3

5 Step 4: Keep An Eye On The Time Make sure you know how you are going to divide up your time before you go into the exam. This planning should include time for planning and checking each answer. There are examples of time planning in exams on pages 5 and 6. In the exam, always keep an eye on the time and adjust your answer if necessary to keep within the time limit. This might mean having to reduce the amount of detail for each point made. Tip: Write the most important points that you want to make early in the essay and save the less crucial ones for later. This means that if you run out of time the main points will not be lost. Step 5: Read Through Each Answer Leave enough time to read through each essay and carry out some final editing. Step 6: Practise This Method You need to practise this method several times with old exam papers. It will then seem natural to you when you use it in your exams. 4

6 3. Time Planning In Exams THE BENEFITS: Planning your time in exams has several advantages: It helps to ensure you spend equal time on all the questions (if appropriate). It may prevent you running out of time. It may help you to keep on track with your question plan. TWO EXAMPLES: Time planning in exams includes time for planning, writing and checking your answer. You may prefer to do this in one of two ways: 1) 40 minute questions i.e. 3 questions in 2 hours: Start time: 2.00 pm Question 1: Question 2: Question 3: 2.05 Plan 2.10 Write 2.35 Check 2.40 Plan 2.45 Write 3.10 Check 3.15 Plan 3.20 Write 3.45 Check Finish time: 3.50 pm or: 2) Planning: Question 1: 2.05 Question 2: 2.10 Question 3: 2.15 Writing: Question 1: 2.20 Question 2: 2.45 Question 3: 3.10 Checking: Question 1: 3.35 Question 2: 3.40 Question 3: 3.45 Finish:

7 For 60-minute questions, add an extra 5 minutes for planning and an extra 15 minutes for writing, thus: 1) Question 1: 2.05 Plan 2.15 Write 2.55 Check (X3) Finish: 4.50 PRACTISE! Practise both methods before choosing between them or make up a method of time planning which suits you better. The advantage of method 1 is that you tackle one question at a time in a logical way, focusing your full attention on it. The advantage of method 2 is that your mind is fresh at the beginning of the exam and you take advantage of this at the right time, before exam fatigue sets in. 6

8 4. Coping When Things Go Bad 1. Mind going blank Go to another question and come back to this one later. Try to relax your mind briefly by taking some deep breaths. Then go back over the last few things you wrote and see if they bring back the missing information. Search for associations/connections that will bring back the information you need. Work up from basics that you remember. Cast your mind back to the lecture where this topic was covered you might be able to remember some of the things your lecturer said, or some of the visuals you saw. It could be that you read this information in a book try and visualize it on the page. This could bring back the missing information. 2. Upset stomach If this tends to happen to you when you are nervous get some over-thecounter medication and take it on the morning of the exam. Make sure you eat something but choose something bland that won t irritate the stomach like rice, rice krispies, bananas or porridge. Drink mint tea and take water into the exam with you. 3. Really bad exam questions If your exam questions turn out to be the ones you most dreaded, there is only one thing you can do accept the situation and make the best of it. Do NOT let yourself become negative or overwhelmed, but be as positive as possible. These things happen in life and our attitude is really important at times like this. It can make the difference between passing and failing. Resign yourself to not doing as well as you expected, but do not get carried away with telling yourself what a fool you are or wishing that things were different or blaming the University for being so unfair this will not help you in any way. 4. Energy levels going down Try to avoid this by eating well before you go in, but if you have a tendency to run out of steam after a couple of hours take in some glucose sweets to keep you going. 7

9 5. Panic If you feel your anxiety is likely to get out of hand in an exam situation and develop into panic, it is worth practising some relaxation techniques in the weeks leading up to the exam, so that you can call on them when you need them. Some techniques you can use in the exam room: Try breathing deeply and slowly. Do not strain, but notice the movement of the air in and out of your nostrils and listen to the sound it makes. You might also notice your ribcage moving. Count for 5-10 breaths, keeping your focus on the breaths. When you have finished bring your attention back to the paper in front of you. Try switching off from what you are doing for a minute. Look out of the window and imagine what you will be doing when the exams are over. Think of some nice things you will enjoy that you haven t had time for recently. Practise some positive affirmations that remind you of past successes and achievements, or things that make you feel good about yourself. Make the affirmation personal and meaningful, not just an empty phrase. Do some gentle muscle stretches. Stretch your legs and feet under the table or stretch your arms. Move your head gently from side to side and ease the neck muscles. Make your movements slow and deliberate. Readjust your posture to feel more comfortable and positive. Close your eyes for a few seconds and put your head down. This brings your energy back inside and can centre you and calm you when you feel you are losing focus. If none of these techniques work for you, it might be worth putting up your hand and asking if you can go out of the exam room for a short time. Sometimes the movement and change of scene can make you feel better. 6. Time running out Do your best to keep to time in the exam. If you find that time is beginning to run out do not let this put you off, but reassess what you can do in the time you have left by prioritizing. Answer the questions that will bring you the most marks or the ones which you feel most confident of answering correctly. Be practical and make the best of the situation. Do not let it throw you off course. It is surprising how much you can do in 5 minutes when the adrenalin is working. Don t give up. 8

10 Make the most of every second. If it is an essay just write key points in a list. 9

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