Friday, January 16, 2015

The end is in sight...

As the exams draw to a close, here are some useful reminders...

  • The library will open from 9.15am - 5.00pm next week, 19-23 Jan.
  • Remember to drop your library books back on time so that you don't face overdue fines.  You can renew your books online or contact us at:

Student Information Desk:

Thursday, January 15, 2015

A beginner's guide to writing in English for university study

Academic English, or the English we use in assignments and college work, is different from everyday speech.  It can be a challenge to adjust!

Do you speak English as a second language?  Would you like to improve your academic writing?  If so, the University of Reading have developed an online course, via FutureLearn, that may interest you: A Beginner's Guide to Writing in English for University Study.

This free online course lasts for 5 weeks and should take approximately 3 hours per week.  A mix of video, on-screen examples, discussions and quizzes are used in the course which starts on January 19th.  Read more here:

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Dealing with exam stress

Feeling stressed at exam-time is natural, but letting exam stress get the better of you can hinder your ability to concentrate, recall information and think clearly.

A simple and effective way to help relieve stress is to close your eyes and take a few slow, deep breaths. This helps calm your entire nervous system.

If your mind "blanks", don't panic! Take several slow, deep breaths. On a separate piece of paper, jot down related bullet points.  If you still can't recall the information move on and come back to it at a later stage.

Take a small bottle of water into the exam with you. Keeping hydrated will help with concentration.

Invigilators are there to help, if you have a problem with noise inside or outside the exam hall, if the sun is shining on your exam paper etc.

Image: "Exam Stress/English Project" by Nahh via Flickr

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

What question are you being asked?

Monash University have an excellent guide to help you understand questions that are being asked of you. They deal with six broad categories of questions:

1. Knowledge questions.

These questions examine whether you are familiar with particular facts, definitions etc.
They are often who, what, where, when, why, define.... questions.
This information is usually vital to understanding the topic and is often learned by-heart to ensure accuracy.

2. Comprehension questions.
These questions examine whether you fully understand the information you have learned.
They are often describe, explain, compare and contrast... questions.
These answers often contain a lot of detail. You must show that you understand the significance of the information when answering these questions.

3. Application questions.
These questions ask you to find a specific answer to a question by using a particular formula, technique or rule.
They are often questions such as if 3x=27, what is x? or what is the latitude of Melbourne?...
These questions usually have one correct answer that can be found by applying the correct technique.

4. Analysis questions.
These questions ask you to look at the data and interpret it or draw conclusions based upon it.
They include questions such as why certain trends occur, what conclusions can be drawn by x, what evidence is there to support y...
These questions demonstrate that, as well as understanding the information, you are able to use it to draw evidence-based conclusions.

5. Synthesis questions.
These questions ask you to create solutions for a problem based on information taken from a number of sources.
They include questions such as how a specific dilemma could be solved, how a situation could be improved, your predictions about the future...
These questions demonstrate your understanding of a subject as a whole. Rather than repeating data that you have learned-off, these questions require you to use your whole body of knowledge and apply it to a specific question.

6. Evaluation questions.
These questions ask you to give your opinion or judgement on a piece of information. You will be expected to back-up your opinion using evidence.
They include questions such as do you agree with x, what is your opinion on y, design a way to do z...
These questions demonstrate that, as well as reading other people's ideas, you are able to create ideas of your own. Evaluation questions demonstrate your ability to do original research and/or add to the body of knowledge that exists for the subject you study.

For a full explanation of these categories, see the Monash University guide and take the test!

Image: "Question mark" by the Italian voice via Flickr

Monday, January 12, 2015

Adapting to handwritten exams

In our everyday lives, most of us type more than we write. Students, in particular, often do most of their coursework on computers. So, how can we adapt to hand-written exams?

Here are four things to remember:
  1. Hand-writing requires a little more planning. Typists often starting working straight away; they know that they can edit the document later. It is more difficult to edit hand-written scripts. Therefore, writers must be organised! Before you pick up a pen, take the time to plan your answer. Jot down your ideas on rough paper and structure your argument before you start.
  2. Hand-writing can be a slower process than typing. Rest assured that your marker is aware of this! A written exam probably won't resemble a typed assignment, so don't expect it to. However, the slower speed of writing gives you a little more time to think as you write, which allows you to edit-as-you-go.
  3. Some of us have ferocious hand-writing! Although most markers are understanding of poor hand-writing, they must be able to read and understand your work in order to mark it. As you write, ensure that your writing is legible. Bring a couple of pens into the exam hall in case one leaks.
  4. In exams we need to correct our own spelling and grammar. As part of the planning and edit-as-you-go process, we must be conscious of our spelling and grammar as we write. If you are unsure of a spelling, jot it down on rough paper; sometimes correct spellings are more recognisable when written down. And leave a little time at the end of the exam to re-read your paper; this is a great way of catching obvious errors.
Best of luck to everyone sitting an exam today!

Image: "Philosophy" by Michael Biech via Flickr

Friday, January 9, 2015

Will you be revising this weekend?

Creating study notes, as you revise, can be helpful for a number of reasons:

  • to highlight important information
  • to focus the mind as you read
  • to allow someone else to test you

Creating flash cards is easy. If you don't have cards, just cut a piece of paper up into six equal pieces (like power point slides). Use your flash cards to record important definitions, key points and lists.

Remember, flash cards don't need to include all of the information in your text book. Use keywords that will trigger the information that you need to remember.

You can type or handwrite your cards - handwriting has the benefit of allowing you to add illustrations, to highlight points, to write in different colour pens - anything that helps you to remember!

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Before you go into the Exam Hall...

Sitting exams can be a stressful time!  So having a plan, before you go into the Exam Hall, can help.  Here are some of the things you can plan for:

1. Read the exam paper slowly and carefully.  Ensure that you understand the instructions before you start writing!

2. Look at the points available for each question, or part of a question, e.g. if there are three questions - worth 20%, 20% and 60% - you need to plan to spend most of your time on the last question.

3. Answer the question that was asked.  Sometimes it can be tempting to write down everything you know about a topic.  It is important to read the question carefully and answer what was asked.  Look at directive words, e.g. are you being asked to list information, to describe a theory or an idea, to evaluate a concept & give your opinions...

4. Plan your answer before you start writing.  Jot down your ideas, on a separate sheet of paper, and consider how you are going to structure your argument.  What order will you put your ideas in?  Does your introduction include all your main ideas? Is your argument clear and logical?  (if you must submit this piece of paper, write "rough work" at the top of the page and the marker will understand that it is not part of your answer).

5. Leave time to re-read your answers.  Leave 10 minutes or so to re-read your answers before you finish.  This will allow you to catch any obvious mistakes.  Reviewing your work reduces the number of spelling & grammar mistakes and allows you to change any obvious errors.  This makes a good impression on the marker.

... and if you "blank"?  Don't worry.  First of all, this happens to lots of people!  Take a deep breath.  On a spare piece of paper, jot down any relevant information no matter how basic it seems.  Jotting ideas down often reminds you of how much you know and stimulates related thoughts!

Image: "Exam Hall" by non-partizan via Flickr

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

If you can't explain it simply...

Revision Week usually involves a lot of reading!
Some information takes a little longer to understand, and fully take in, than other information. Unless you understand a text properly, it will very hard to remember and re-use it effectively in your exams.
SQ3R helps us to understand and remember the information we read.  SQ3R stands for:
  • Survey : pre-read or scan the text to get an overview of the topic.  Look at headings, diagrams, bold and italic type etc. to see the highlights of the text.
  • Question: after surveying the book or website, jot down some key questions about the content (who, what, when, where, why, how...)
  • Read: go back to the beginning and read the entire text.  Answer your questions as you read.
  • Recite: put away the text and look at your questions.  Can you answer them without looking at the text?  
  • Review: reread the answers to your questions to ensure that they are accurate.  These answers, or notes, should be a useful revision aid later in the semester.
SQ3R allows us to be active readers.  It helps us to understand the information we read and to be able to retell that information in our own words.  This is helpful for remembering and reusing information in assignments and exams.
Read more on our Moodle page:
Image: "Albert Einstein Picture Quote" by Kris Olin via Flickr

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Preparing for exams

Are you preparing to write answers to your exam questions?  Have you had a look at the past exam papers to see what questions have come up in the past?

Exam questions don't just test how much data you can remember.  They can allow you to show how the different topics you have covered, in a particular subject, fit together.  They show how your own opinions and conclusions fit in with the theories and concepts you have been studying.

Exam questions show that you can apply what you have learned to the question that you are being asked.  They show how you can plan, and organise that knowledge, in order to write a coherent answer to the question that is being asked.

(1) Start by being clear about what is required of you:
  • check how many questions you need to answer on each paper
  • know how many marks are available for each question
  • decide how much time you should spend on each question

(2) Create a brief schedule for yourself:
  • jot down how much time you have for each question, e.g. a question worth 40 marks should get about twice the time that a question worth 20 marks would get
  • leave at least 10 minutes at the end to re-read each question so that you can pick up any obvious spelling mistakes, unclear writing or other problems

(3) Don't start writing until you have a plan:
  • read each question 2-3 times.  Be sure that you understand what is being asked of you, e.g. are you being asked to describe something in detail, to list elements, to reflect on a statement with opinions of your own etc.
  • you must answer the question that is being asked even though it can be tempting just to write down all you know on a topic!  You will only be marked on the question that was asked; don't expect the marker to seek out relevant information or to try to figure out what you meant to say.

(4) Jot down a brief outline of your answer before you start:
  • in exams, you have a limited amount of time and a limited ability to edit. So, it's vital to plan your answer before you start to write. Using bullet points or mind maps is a good way to decide how to structure your ideas
  • your opening paragraph should state the main premise of your argument and briefly describe what the essay will include. The body of the essay consists of paragraphs; each paragraph should focus on one idea or topic. The paragraphs must flow together, so spare a little thought for how you will connect these ideas. The concluding paragraph should recap your argument and may include your own concluding opinions
  • be sure to back your opinions up with evidence from the material that you have studied during the year