4.1 The exam paper
Check the instructions:
Check the instructions first to make sure that they are what you expected from looking at the specimen paper. Misreading instructions can lose more marks than poor revision!
Read the whole exam paper through carefully:
Students often describe feeling that everyone else starts writing confidently, straight away. Make sure you allow yourself at least 5 minutes to read calmly through the paper. It is tempting to grab at familiar questions, possibly even misreading them and turning them into the questions you want to answer. If you carefully and steadily unpack the questions, you will inevitably make a better selection.
Choose the questions and order them:
During your first read through the paper, put an asterisk or star sign (*) in pencil against the questions you think you could possibly answer. Then read through your starred questions and put an additional star against the ones that you prefer. Choose the questions with the highest star rating.
Plan your time:
When planning to use the time available, you should:
- make sure that you are answering the right number of questions
- divide your time according to the weighting of the questions
- write down the finishing time for each question
- try to allow for 10 minutes checking time at the end.
Stick to your plan. Evidence indicates that two half-answered questions obtain more marks than one completed question and one unanswered one. This is especially vital where you have to answer a certain number of questions from different sections of the exam paper. If your timing goes wrong, you could end up with less time than you would wish to finish the last question. If this happens, plan your answer as described below, and write out the main points in note form. This will earn you a few extra, valuable marks.
Plan your answers:
Using the ideas outlined in Section 3, mark the key words in the question to make sure you identify the topic correctly. Then mark the process words to help you to understand the instructions within the question.
Jot down the main points you can recall which might be relevant, along with examples and evidence you can use. Work fast and uncritically at this stage, possibly using a mind-map. You can always cut out unwanted material later. Be ruthless about cutting out material you know well but which doesn’t really answer the question. If you have jotted down points just as they occur to you, you can then number them to indicate the order you want to put them in.
Using the format of introduction, main body and conclusion outlined in Section 3, write up your answer to the question.
Read through to check your answers:
When the end of the exam finally approaches, use the last few minutes to check you have numbered all the questions, crossed out rough work that you do not want the examiner to mark, and filled in all the details required on the front sheet.
If you have time before these last few minutes, you may like to reread the answers, tidying up some words, making the meaning a little clearer or rewriting the occasional word that is very hard to read. If you decide to add brief comments, use a numbered asterisk (*) in the body of your writing and write the additional comment, with a similarly numbered asterisk, at the foot of the page.
After the exam:
When you come out of the exam try to forget it. Going over what you have written with other students can make you worry about areas you haven’t covered. Go and enjoy a planned treat as a personal reward for all your hard work.