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


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