As exams quickly approach we often find ourselves in modes of panic and stress trying to figure out the best way to prepare ourselves for exams and figure out what exam techniques we should use when presented with our exam papers. Consider the following advice in relation to your study:
When should you study?
Ideally you should spread your study out throughout the course duration. I’d suggest studying in 30-45 minute segments each night. If you do this one evening a week you total up over 3 hours study a week. This is invaluable and allows you to transfer the knowledge from your short term memory into your long term. When coming up to exams additional time should be allocated for study but remember to take a break every 30-45 minutes to help retain the information.
How should you study?
There are different approaches to study you may wish to take. Everybody learns differently and there’s a whole wealth of theory on visual learners, audio learns and kinaesthetic learners.
If you like text based facts I would suggest the use of cue cards to write down the main points for a topic. The more condense you can make the information the better – it’s easier to learn off they key points from a chapter if there on two or three cue cards. When doing this stay keyword focused to help guide you in your learning.
If you like visuals I suggest the use of charts, diagrams and mind-maps. Bubbl.us is a great free online mind mapping tool which you may find useful for your revision. Visual learners may also find themselves interested in watching documentaries based on their subject material – if you can find a YouTube clip related to the subject material your studying it may help you in your study. Lecturers will often refer to YouTube videos in their lessons for you to refer to. (This is great for audio learners too!)
If you like kinaesthetic learning i.e. moving around and being active, you can attempt to structure your revision in a more creative way. Simple exercises such as matching cut out words and definitions or even associating specific definitions by the movement of your hands can yield great results.
The SQ3R Method
The SQ3R method is a popular approach people take to help focus them when reading through a long article or chapter:
Survey the chapter or article, read the introduction, the conclusion, look at headings
Question what you need to learn from the material
Read each section looking for answers to your questions
Recall what you read, be able to summarise in your own words, make notes of key points. Use spider grams or other diagrams to outline the main points on a blank sheet of paper.
Revise by going over the material a number of times which deepens learning and shifts what you know from your short term to your long term memory
Three Time Method
This technique is something my father taught me as a young lad. Read the question, read it again, and read it a third time before attempting to answer it. A lot of mistakes made in examinations come down to students misinterpreting the questions – it may also be helpful for you to highlight or underline the key questioning words you are being asked. Consider the following:
Outline, Describe, Explore, Examine, Discuss, Explain, Briefly….
Each of the above asks you to attempt the question in a particular way. Outline means literally to give the key points and some back up to each point made. Describe means to give an account or explain a particular concept or topic. Explore means to bring in the basic concepts/understanding and add in some new topics based on any other reading you may have researched.
Examine is to be precise in your analysis as what the question is asking. Discuss normally takes place after a quotation, e.g. ‘Inflation is a problem for economies’. Discuss. This type of question allows you to bring in your understanding which should be supported by facts and also express opinion. Briefly means to quickly cover each of the main points without going in to too much detail.
If unsure about how to tackle a specific exam keyword ask your lecturer to advise you in relation to it.
Day of Exam
On the day of your examination try not to stress out. Plan your day and your transport to the examination centre. Always aim to be 15-30 minutes early as there is nothing worse than arriving to an exam hall late. You should think about the structure of your exam paper before you enter and estimate how much time you plan to spend on each question.
What should I bring on the day of the exam?
Here’s a handy checklist of items you should bring with you to your exam
- Pens – Black/Red/Blue but be sure to abide by the examination bodies rules and regulations – certain awarding bodies require only black pen, some require additional information.
- Calculator – if required be sure to bring one! You can’t use your phone on the day and it is usually at examiners discretions to allow you to borrow a fellow person’s calculator.
- Water – Usually you will be allowed to bring bottled water into an examination, this is a good idea as it will keep you hydrated and focused at the task at hand.
- Notes – You may have a few minutes to prepare before the exam so its not harm to bring along a condense version of your notes. Be sure to place them away before the exam starts as you don’t want to be accused of cheating!
Before I finish there’s a few basic pointers I’d like to provide you with in relation to your examination answers. Be sure to label your answers clearly in the margin so the examiner will know what questions you are answering. When structuring your answers in an essay format always start with an introductory paragraph, a body of your paragraph hitting on all the questions key points, and a conclusion paragraph summarising what you have discussed in the body of your text. When you receive your exam paper spend a few minutes reading over all the questions and select the ones you plan to answer, and above all else be sure to keep a cool head – it can be very easy to let the pressure get to you but if you have studied and prepared as best you can all you can do is apply yourself and do your best. Best of luck in all your future examinations.