Know your exam enemies

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We all know that revision is an important part of preparing for exams. But it’s not just about knowing your content well – it’s about picking the best strategies to avoid common exam traps on the day. Here are four strategies from the Learning Skills Unit to ensure you maximise your marks:

1. Have an attack plan

Before the exam, decide on the order you are going to complete the questions. Starting with the questions you feel most confident about increases confidence, starts your thinking and triggers your memory.

2. Organise your timing

Allocate time for each exam question based on the following:

  • How many marks questions are worth (e.g. if a question is worth 40 marks out of 100, then it should be allocated 40% of your time)
  • The type of exam question (e.g. short answer)

Avoid spending too much time on a difficult question, and note your time allocations on the exam paper so you don’t forget your deadlines.

3. Be prepared

Avoid any nasty surprises! Read through all the exam instructions and all the questions in your reading time and before you start to write.

4. Understand your questions

For multiple-choice and true-false:

  • Read each question carefully several times.
  • Try to come up with the answer before you read all the options (this will help you pick the correct answer).
  • If not negatively marked, answer all questions even if you have to guess.
  • Don’t spend too long on any one question. You won’t get any more marks!
  • Be alert for specific wording, such as
    • Negative phrasing – (choose answer which doesn’t…)
    • Subjective questions – (choose option that best …)
    • Judgement questions – (choose the most correct)
    • Multiple answers – (choose more than one…)
    • Generalising words – (all, none, always, never)

For short answer questions:

  • Keep to the point.
  • Provide your answer in the first sentence then use the details and facts to demonstrate your understanding.

For essay style questions:

  • Take some time to plan your answer first.
  • Understand what the instruction words (e.g. discuss, compare, evaluate) are asking you to do.
  • If the question has several parts, answer them in the order they are given.
  • Put each main point in a separate paragraph.
  • If you are running out of time, use dot points to outline your ideas.

For open book and take home exams:

  • Know your texts and notes well so you can find the information you need quickly.

Interested in more ideas and information on exam strategies? Check out:

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