Exam & Revision Tips

* !do NOT panic! *

Panic wastes time, makes you feel worse and achieves nothing. Just donít!



Prepare in good time

It is an inescapable fact that everyone will be revising at the same time, the library will be busy and all the students on your course will be fighting over the same books.

Good revision is planned.

Before you leave for the Easter vacation (and preferably much earlier than this) you should obtain, from the library or the departmentís website, copies of previous exam papers for all your courses, and familiarize yourself with the format (essays, multiple-choice questions, commentaries &c.) and the rubric (instructions as to how many and what combination of questions to answer as well as the instructions attached to each exam section and question).

Practise individual questions and whole papers over the Easter vacation, against the clock. Put your answers aside for a few days, then reread the rubrics and mark your answers. At the end, assess whether you have followed the rubrics closely and provided what was asked for.  Ask yourself if you have identified the most pertinent points to discuss for commentaries, and explained or illustrated your points wherever necessary; with essays, have you answered the essay question pertinently or brought in irrelevant material? Might you have approached or answered the questions better or more thoroughly and, if so, how? Then practise on another paperÖ




Acknowledgements and thanks: Iíve adapted these tips, by permission, from Nicola Royanís excellent ĎFinals Workshopí package. First-person advice and comments here are by Nicola.


Ten Tips for Revision

  1. Look after your body: eat healthily, drink plenty of water, get enough sleep. Try not to depend on caffeine, alcohol, nicotine or any other drug to get you through. Their effects may run out before youíve finished writing.

  2. Take some exercise every day. Go swimming or walk for about 20 minutes. Make sure you see daylight and breathe fresh air. Doing this will relax your body, help clear your mind and will also help you sleep.

  3. Make sure that your body clock fits in with the exam timetable. There is no point in doing all your work late at night if it means that your brain is not alert at 9.30 in the morning. Move your sleeping patterns gradually, so that you are at your best when youíre due to sit the papers.

  4. Practice working in three-hour stints, without comfort breaks of any sort (loo, coffee, smoke &c.) to get your body used to sitting still. Within that, consider working on a topic for an hour/an hour and a half, and then changing, so that your mind is used to the time frame of the exam questions.

  5. Donít overdo it. Quality is better than quantity and cramming doesnít usually help. Aim for eight to ten hours a day (for example 9-12.30, 1.30-5, 6-9), less at weekends. This is ample.

  6. Treat yourself from time to time. Read frivolous novels or short stories, watch a soap opera or film, have a long soak.

  7. Organize group revision sessions over coffee or lunch. At the very least, talk to people: you can become socially dysfunctional very quickly!

  8. Practise writing timed answers, and then return to them the next day. Consider how you might have improved them, and bear that in mind for your next practice. It should also help you get your hand into training. Go through past papers and spend five minutes per question drawing up a summary answer.

  9. To get the most out of revision seminars, come with prepared questions. Remember: we canít give you a summary of the entire course in an hour nor can we tell you the exam questions.

  10. As well as reading the texts and your notes, consider reading other works by the same author as well as or instead of secondary material. It might give you a different perspective on the author in question, and a better sense of the period.


Ten Tips for Sitting Exams

  1. Check you know when and where the examinations are being held. And then check again. Turn up in plenty of time: if youíre late, apart from getting some seriously dirty looks from other examinees and invigilators, you will also lose time settling down.

  2. Make sure that you have several pens, a ruler and a watch: the clocks are not always easily visible and invigilators will not necessarily have spare pens. If you are prone to stress headaches, you may wish to carry some paracetamol as well: this should be in a marked packet.

  3. Take time to read the paper, especially the instructions. One of my classmates did four questions instead of three, because she didnít read the rubric; itís far worse the other way round. Plan your paper, not simply each question.

  4. Come to the examination able to answer at least five text questions and two general ones. A broad knowledge will give you more confidence in your answers and make you better able to make choices. Donít try to spot questions: you may be right in the topic, but the question may be phrased in a way not suited to the answer you have prepared. (It happened to me.)

  5. The more you drink, the more likely it is that you will need to go to the loo. Consider whether you are really likely to be dehydrated in three hours and whether you can afford the time to queue.

  6. Time your questions and aim to finish the whole paper. Allow time to check your paper over as well. We can only mark what is there.

  7. Be considerate of your fellow examinees. Take quiet food and wear quiet clothing. I still bear unreasonable animus against a clog-wearer (she dropped one twice and spent the rest of the time swinging it from her foot, just in my peripheral vision) and a serial cruncher of Murray Mints.

  8. If something goes wrong ó if youíre ill or besieged by a masked gunman, if the bus breaks down, or whatever ó and canít get to the examination, telephone the department office as soon as possible, in fact immediately after you have phoned the doctor/police/tutor. Then we can get the paperwork under way, for which we will need evidence (med certs, adviserís letter, police report).

  9. Once the exam is over, resist the temptation to dissect it. First, your recollections of it will be inaccurate and second, itís over and you can do nothing more about it. Put away your notes, take back the library books, and move on.

  10. After all the exams are over, be ready for the almighty loss of adrenalin. This takes everyone differently: I cried solidly for three hours the day after I finished. Lay in treats for yourself (chocolate/cashews, chick-flicks/karate movies), make unstressful appointments, spend quality time with your friends: itíll be the first time youíve been relaxed with them for several weeks and possibly the last opportunity youíll have to see them before autumn; perhaps the last opportunity to see them at all, if youíre a finalist. Above all, take time to recover from the experience.

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Page last updated: Friday January 01, 2016 14:51