So, how do I even start answering an exam paper?

This blog post aims at giving you (student) one tip on how you can quickly get started at improving your exam techniques. Exams can be nerve wracking experiences and they have been known to crack even the most confident people, so we are not surprised if you find them scary and stressful. But here is what you can try to to help you improve things and make you feel a bit more positive and confident about sitting your next exam.

Read the whole thing!

reading exam paper

Yes, it’s as simple as that! A really useful thing to do as you start your written examination is to read the whole paper. You might think we’ve lost our minds completely.

“I can barely complete a paper with the limited time I have, where will I find the extra time to read the whole thing and then go back to read and answer each question again?”

That is what you might be thinking now, but read on and let us explain why this could actually make a big difference in your performance. Here are some good reasons why this method could work for you.

- By reading the whole paper first you get an overview of the entire exam and you will locate the questions you know you should be able to answer, as well as those you might struggle with. So, draw a star next to the “easy” questions and a question mark (?) next to those that might take more of your time to fully answer. This information will come in handy later.

- Knowing where the questions you feel confident about are will increase your confidence and you will not see the paper as a big scary monster. It might actually look more like a fluffy kitten now. There could be a double face to this coin though, if you are not careful. Make sure you do not dwell on the “hard” questions and start thinking “Oh my goodness! This paper is impossible! I’m gonna get a U”

- As you read each question, you are already thinking about the solutions, so your mental gears are already working and you might not be wasting time in this process, as you might have originally thought. But if you are still not convinced here are some more advantages for you.

- As well as having identified “easy” and “difficult” questions you will have read a bunch of keywords that will help you in your answers later on and reading through those a second time will strengthen your answer.

- Once you have started answering the questions make sure you start from the ones you’ve identified as being the ones you feel more confident about. Get those out of the way quickly. This will not only allow you to score more marks, but it will also give you more time to concentrate on more demanding questions and get marks there too.

Try a little experiment

girl preparing for examsBeing STEM specialists we like scientific experiments, so we suggest you try the following.

Since you are going to try a lot of past papers in preparation for your exams anyway, or at least you should, because if you don’t you are not very likely to get a very decent grade, why don’t you test our tip? Try a past paper in your usual way, i.e. answering each questions one by one as you read them, from number one to the last question. Make sure you do not cheat and that you only use the time allocated for that exam script. Use the mark scheme to score yourself, or ask your tutor to mark your paper for you.

Now try another paper of similar difficulty (most papers are likely to be of similar difficulty from year to year), but this time read the whole paper first and follow the tips above. Give yourself only the time allowed for that script again, mark it and then compare the scores.

Did you notice any difference? Was there any improvement? Which method worked best? You should try this experiment a few times to check its repeatability, but if our tip makes a difference for you, you have found a quick and simple way to improve your exam results!

We will post other tips and trick in future articles, so watch this space :-)

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