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Revision and examinations
Revision and examinations

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3.1 Stage 1: Finding out about the exam paper

As a first step, it is a good idea to find out as much as you can about the exam paper for your course. Find out how your exam paper is set out, the way the questions are organised, and what weight each question carries in terms of marks. Different papers adopt different formats. Some require multiple-choice answers. Others ask for essay or short paragraph answers. Some require technical or numerical answers. Reading the instructions on the exam paper is particularly important, as the following quote from a student indicates:

‘I could have kicked myself… as I walked out of the exam room, I looked again at the instructions and saw, to my horror, that answering a question from Section 1 was compulsory and not optional, and I had left that section out! I just think that sometimes reading simple instructions can be hard when you have that knotted up feeling at the beginning of an exam!’

Activity 3

Timing: Allow approximately 25 minutes.

Find a past exam paper and answer the questions listed below. You might find these in your university library or online in your course materials. It will be a good idea to write your answers down.

  1. Are there sections to the paper?
  2. Are any of the sections or questions compulsory?
  3. How many questions are there, and how many must be answered?
  4. Do the questions require short or long answers, and how are they weighted in terms of marks?
  5. Are there any multiple-choice questions?
  6. How much time is allowed for the exam, so how much should you allow per question?
  7. Do questions relate to particular books, blocks or course, or do they draw from all parts of the course and relate to the key course themes?
  8. If you are able to look back over several exam papers, do certain topics appear year after year, albeit in a different format?
  9. Is there an oral element to the exam paper?
  10. Are any of the questions available to you before the exam (these are usually referred to as ‘seen’ questions)?


It is helpful to sort out exam paper details beforehand so that, in the exam, you can get on with the important business of answering questions. If you become familiar with the presentation of the exam paper, it can be reassuring. This activity can also help you to decide which topics you might want to revise.

Once you have an idea of the style and format of your exam paper, you are ready to gather together the materials from which you will need to revise.