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Exam readiness: During the exam

Remember to check the paper: When you receive your paper make sure it’s the right one. It should have the course name and code on the front cover.

Read the instructions: Underline the key words in the instruction to make sure you focus on them. If there is any confusion or there is something you don’t understand about the instructions, ask the invigilator to explain.

Plan: When the invigilator officially starts the exam flip through the paper and choose which questions you will answer first. It’s not always best to answer the questions in the order they appear on the exam paper, but you have to make sure that you number the questions in the same way they’re numbered in the paper. You could start with a question you feel really confident about.



a. Don’t underestimate MCQ’s or multiple choice questions. They test true understanding by giving you a list of possible answers which often seem very similar. You have to know your work well.

b. Read the question very carefully. Sometimes drawing a graph or diagram helps. Check how long you have for each question based on the marks and make sure you don’t exceed the time limit for each question. If the answer is a calculation, make sure you do the calculation before looking at the available options.

c. Practice is key. Keep all your tutorial MCQ’s for practicing before exams and if necessary ask you lecturer for more examples to practice.


Short answer questions

a. Short answer questions require an answer that is shorter than an essay. You don’t need to do the kind of planning for them as you would for an essay, but writing a short paragraph does require some degree of thought.

b. Be aware of the marks allocated to short questions so that you devote the right amount of time to them. A question asking you for a list of 6 properties for 3 marks requires less time than a paragraph on the advantages and disadvantages of something for 8 marks.


Exam essays

These are some tips for writing exam essays. You should begin by circling or underlining several of the key words or phrases in the question. This helps you simplify the question by getting rid of some of the distracting and scary sentences that make the question seem longer and more complex than it probably really is. It also helps you focus on the precise details of the question.

Key words to mark include:

- the words which give instructions about what to do (for example, describe, explain, analyse, compare, discuss)

- the key terms used (for example, factor, principle, reason, issue, and other important vocabulary words that are part of the course itself)

Make a quick list of your ideas. You can use the back of the test page or the top of the paper. Jot down the key ideas that you think could go into an essay. 

If you’re having trouble thinking about what to write, try to follow this 4 step pattern:

In this example the student is writing about the benefits of public transport.

1) Make a general statement or take a position.

One benefit of switching to public transport is time to relax while leaving the stress of driving to the bus driver.

2) Explain the statement in more words, with specific details, or give some background/context.

Driving during rush hour causes a great deal of stress as the driver tries to feed into congested roads, think ahead about how and when to get into a different lane to be ready for the next turn while listening to the traffic report to hear which bridge to avoid today.

3) Provide evidence–specific details, examples, or expert opinion (quotations) as evidence of your point.

Many commuters on trains or buses can be observed catching up on their reading, doing crosswords, reading newspapers, chatting with friends. On the other hand, drivers in rush hour tend to be alone, one to each car, with foot on brake or accelerator, hands on steering wheel, waiting impatiently for a light to change or the car in front to move more quickly.

4) Explain your evidence – show how your example or evidence demonstrates the point you started with.

Riding on buses or trains provides opportunities to relax whereas driving a car in rush hour requires concentration, attention to details of navigating, and readiness to respond quickly, all of which are hardly relaxing.