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Revising for and Taking Exams

Exams are not mysterious, hit or miss affairs: with the right kind of preparation you can maximise your chances of doing well. MANY students believe that the amount of time spent revising is the key and indeed the longer you spend revising, the better your results. Nothing could be further from the truth it is quality not quantity that counts! Luck doesnt have much to do with exam success if you are well prepared, then you will do well.

Plan of Action
1 Do your very best to get specimen (Past) papers and to make sure that you know the exact format of the exam and the sort of areas likely to crop up. Decide how much of the syllabus you need to learn so that you can safely answer enough questions. Be sure to revise several areas in addition to the ones you hope to see on the paper to cover all eventualities. Make a flexible but realistic revision plan / timetable which includes: Exact dates, times and places for all your exams Time allocated to each subject avoid devoting all your time to the first few subjects and neglecting the later exams Variety make revision as stimulating as possible to avoid boredom, so timetable different topics at different times Time to obtain copies of past papers for practice sessions Time off! Take frequent short breaks either to relax or perhaps to get some exercise (which stimulates the brain) Look after yourself practice relaxation, eat and sleep

4 Work for spells to suit your concentration span. Have plenty of breaks, but make sure that you return to work. Taking regular exercise in between revision sessions helps to stimulate the brain. 5 Practise doing what you will have to do in the exam. If it is writing unseen essays, practise doing those; if it is recalling a lot of information, practise doing that. Avoid passive reading of notes. Be ACTIVE. This means: Summarise to reduce the bulk of your notes down to key ideas or information Formulate practise questions, create a bank of questions with friends to share Write skeleton answers, practise timed answers, and assess your answers

Re-visit topics you dont understand Work with others Having planned your timetable you now need to put it into practice. Some people like to work alone, others may benefit from working with friends. What is important is finding out how you work best and timetable your time accordingly.

Active Revision - some techniques in more detail


Summarising
Make summaries of everything in your own words as you read and revise. Pick out the main points/subjects Remember, information is usually organised so that each main point features per paragraph Draw up a list of the topics or make a diagram (for example, a simple box or spider diagram) Write a one or two-sentence account of each topic concentrate on the main point(s), leave out the detail Write a sentence which states the central idea of the original text Use this as a starting point to write a paragraph combining all the points you have made The final summary should concisely and accurately capture the meaning of the original

Questioning
Developing Questions Listen to clues and hints from your lecturers. Turn these into questions so you can practise. Looking at a page of your notes (or a book) turn the notes into short, sharp questions lots of them. If you build a question bank all the way through your studies, youll have a fuller understanding of your subject and be better able to answer any questions, whether in discussions or exams. Use problems and exercises from relevant textbooks. Select relevant tasks and add them to your question bank (with a reference to remind you where you can find the solution). Collect and store questions from assignments, work examples and past exam papers. Work with fellow students on formulating questions. If three of you sit down for five minutes and each write 10 important questions, then share, youll soon have more than the ten you thought of yours elf.

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Using Questions Practise with your question bank. It only takes minutes to scan 20 questions and find out which ones you cant answer. You can then plan ways of improving your understanding and/or technique at recalling information. Get people to quiz you to find out how much you actually know. Quizzing each other and judging each others answers helps to develop analytical skills and improves memory.

Using Past Exam Papers


Identifying what to revise Get as many past papers as you can, as early as you can it is more useful if you do this during the early stages of your revision. Dont worry if you cant understand most of the subject areas at this stage. Work out what the standards are. For example, use the old exam papers to give you an idea about how much youve got to cover in an answer in half-an-hour, or how much to cover in a complete exam of three hours, and so on. If youre on a new course, ask for specimen papers as a guide to the format and structure of the exams you should expect. Try to work out the marking scheme. As you become able to answer old exam questions, make lists of points which you think may have scored marks. Also, try to work out the most likely causes of losing marks on the questions in order to avoid such things yourself later. Get to know what the questions may be even before you know any of the answers. The more you are tuned in to the nature of likely questions, the more receptive you are to the answers as you come across them in lectures, reading and studying. Do some question-spotting. Note the trends. Note things that come up frequently. Also look for things that havent come up recently and which might be due for another airing. Remember, though, that questionspotting is a gamble dont invest too much in it! Break the old exams questions down. Break them into lots of short, sharp questions because the aim is to be able to answer every part of the question. Find out what questions youre best at. This might help you decide what to concentrate on and how to organize your revision to maximize your strengths.

Assessing your progress Practise answering some questions. Check how long it takes you to answer try to work your speed up gradually, until you can complete them in the time given in the actual exam. Practise skeleton answers. For example, practise spending 5 minutes mapping out how you would answer a 30-minute question. You can get

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through a lot more thinking by making several skeleton answers than if you simply sat writing one full answer. Using past questions will help you highlight areas you do not need to revise further and also gaps in your knowledge. This is the time to fill these gaps. Work through some questions with fellow students. Find out the things that they think of that you would have missed. Between you, work out what the best-possible answer may be.

Study Groups
Working with others can be very beneficial. When you explain a topic to other members of a group, the person who does the most productive learning is you. Finding the words in which to explain something is one of the best ways of coming to understand it. However, in order for members of groups to work cooperatively, not waste time and learn effectively, the following should be considered: Establish some ground rules. These can lay down acceptable standards for example punctuality, level of contribution to the group, and the constructive nature of critical comments. Make the group task driven. Agree an agenda for each meeting of the group, so there is always a sense of purpose. Rotate the leadership. Its a good idea to have different leaders for different tasks, so that all members of the group take on responsibility for aspects of the groups work. Share out chores. For example, share out the task of tracking down information, or collecting resources for a task (such as past papers). This can help make better use of the time of all members of the group, avoiding each member spending time chasing after identical books, papers and references. Maintain flexibility. Even though the group will normally have an agenda, retain some time at each meeting for the group to address spontaneous tasks or unexpected events. This helps the group develop a proactive ethos, rather than simply a reactive one. Avoid the feeling of competition. The aim of working as part of a group should be that all members of the group benefit from cooperation. The purpose of working as part of a group should not be to make it possible for individuals to do less work. Everyone should contribute in order to benefit. Dividing your revision time between working in a group and revising alone might suit you better than just the one revision method. Remember to take into consideration how much time you have available to you prior to the exam, when you revise best and your particular learning style. These might help you decide how much time to allocate to each revision method and allow for catch up time.

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Taking Exams - steps to avoid last minute panic:


Before the Exam Youd be surprised at how easily and how often simple mistakes occur such as turning up at the wrong place or time! Make sure you know the date, time and venue of the exam AND how to get there Arrive in plenty of time Make sure you take all the right equipment with you During the Exam Make sure you are comfortable Check you are sitting the right paper Make sure you read the instructions carefully take time to do this. You need to know how many questions to answer (e.g. 2 out of a choice of 5) and be aware of any special instructions (e.g. answer one question from part A and one from part B) Read the whole of the paper before deciding which questions you can answer best if any ideas come into your mind, then jot them down immediately youll easily forget them otherwise. Assuming all questions carry an equal number of marks, divide your time between them evenly. Make sure you stick to this. And, allow time at the end for re-reading/editing. Keep an eye on the clock! Consider writing a plan five minutes spent doing this at the start of each question will enable you to produce a much fuller answer than trying to think as you go along. You can also add to it as things spring to mind. Make sure you answer the question. Many students fall into the trap of translating a specific question into write all you know about avoid this and make sure you keep returning to the question in your answer. Remember that a short, clear, concise answer may score far more marks than a long, rambling and disorganised answer. If you panic or forget something you need to include, then leave space and come back to it later It is also an idea to leave space between essays/questions for later additions when re-reading. Answer all the required questions. This is where timing comes into its own. An examiner can only mark whats on your answer paper. If you run out of time and fail to answer the last question you could lose a substantial number of marks. In an absolute emergency (and this is not to be advised if at all avoidable) you could consider bullet pointing a final answer!

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After the Exam Mostly, it is not very helpful comparing your answers with others after the exam; it can upset someone else, or perhaps you. If you have more exams, move your thoughts and energy to the next one. Some people find it useful after the exams are over, to look back and work out what worked well or not so well before and during the exam period. Successful techniques should be used again; anything that made the process more complicated or more stressful should be altered or avoided.

Reference and further reading:


Bradney, A. Cownie, F. Masson, J., Neal, A. and Newell, D. (2010) How to study law. London: Sweet & Maxwell. Mantex (2007) How to summarise. Available at: http://www.mantex.co.uk/samples/summary.htm (Accessed 19 February 2010). McVea, H. and Cumper, P. (1996) Learning exam skills. Oxford: Blackstone Press. Moran, A.P. (1997) Managing your own learning at university. Dublin: University College of Dublin Press. Race, P. (1992) 500 tips for students. Oxford: Blackwell. Tracy, E. (2002). The Students guide to exam success. Buckingham: Open University Press

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