Merlin Helps Students
UK student
information & resource portal
Home | Student Life | Resource Centre | Colleges | Universities | Lifestyle | Forum | Parents Guide | Glossary | About Us | Site Map | Useful Links

Resource Centre

Study Guide - Exam Preparation

Introduction

For the majority of students, are the be all and end all of education. They represent a means of assessing the level at which you understand key concepts and work covered during the . Ultimately exams will serve as a clear indication of whether you have gained an appropriate level of understanding in that particular or subject. This section is primarily concerned with exams and how you can get the most from them.

The Purpose of exams

The first thing that you must remember is that exams are not written with the intention to catch you out, or test you on things that do not appear on your . In fact nothing could be further from the truth, an exam is only meant to assess whether you have a concise understanding of the work that has been covered during your . Experienced teachers will write exams carefully, in order to ensure that they test your understanding of only those concepts covered as part of the syllabus. Thus in theory, if you prepare for your properly by thorough revision of the topics in your syllabus you should not encounter any problems during the exam.

Types Of Exams

Generally there are three types of exam, each will be discussed as follows:
  • The fortnightly test
    This type of exam is carried out every two to three weeks as a means of preventing you from falling behind in the workload. The purpose of this type of exam is to enable you to consolidate and understand your work before you begin subsequent topics. This type of exam is usually undertaken within a half-hour time period. Normally marks awarded will not count to any unit or module result.

  • The exam component
    This type of exam actually counts towards the final mark that you receive in a particular , generally 5 to 10% of the final mark, in some cases more. An exam of this nature requires knowledge of much more material than that of the fortnightly test, and thus requires more preparation. An exam of this type may last between one or two hours, but it may last longer than this depending on the number and size of topics covered.

  • The final exam
    This type of exam is undertaken as a means of assessing your progress throughout a whole or even . The final exam must be taken seriously, and revision for such an exam will need preparation. Such an exam can last anything from two to five hours long, with break intervals in between in the case of some long exams.

The Purpose of Revision

is the technique used to retain and understand work encountered during the academic year prior to undertaking an . Revision involves revisiting the topics in your syllabus and working through them for a second time. Revision is essential to successfully completing an exam. Often students find revision a daunting task, but it need not be if you plan it properly. The revision guide below will aid you in planing your revision.

Planning your revision

Before you can even think of revising, you must first go through the list of topics in your , and check that you have either learnt or been taught each topic at least once, so you are semi-familiar with everything on your syllabus. After all, you can't revise something that you have not learnt in the first place, remember that revising means reviewing what you have already learnt.

You should then think about locating all your notes together along with any books that you will need to look through. You should also gather past papers or questions from the last 2-3 years. This will allow you to see which topics in your syllabus come up frequently, and which come up rarely. You should now be able to identify topic areas in your syllabus that should be revised first. Prioritising your topics in this way will make much more clear and concise in your own mind because you will know what you have to do.

Next, you should make a . First decide at what times you work best and plan to work most during those times. For example some students find it easier to start early in the morning, on the other hand some students prefer to start in the afternoon. Whatever you decide, you must consider sleep by starting and finishing revision in away that allows for at least six hours sleep. In addition to considering sleep when making your revision timetable you should also consider your job if you have one, this needs to be thought out carefully otherwise you can become very tired as well as stressed out if you attempt to push yourself too far.

Split each day into small time periods of 40 minutes to 1 hour, with small breaks in between. The length of these periods depends on the individual's concentration span. If you think your concentration dwindles quickly, then you should look to have short revision sessions with short breaks in between so that overall you will still be doing the same amount as a person who has longer sessions (but can also afford to take longer breaks in between). For those who believe that their concentration does not suffer, make sure you take breaks in between however short. Using your syllabus you should be able to identify topics that are difficult and those which are not so difficult and allocate revision time accordingly.

Revision strategies

There are many different techniques students can use to help them revise. In order for to be successful you must find the technique that suits you best. The different techniques are outlined below:
  • Note making
    This is revision in its most common form. You must remember that just making notes is not enough to get you through the exam. But it does help in view of the fact that you will often find it easier to learn and understand something that is written in your own particular style, than something written in a more complex way in some book. To help you remember certain concepts or keywords you should use different coloured highlighters in your notes, as you can implicitly remember a concept or keyword by associating it with a particular colour.

  • Revision Cards
    This is practically the same as making notes, however, the size of a limits the amount of notes you can make. This means that any notes that you do make are in a condensed form and therefore much easier to remember.

  • Diagrams
    Visual aids help like colours do, because they allow key points to be absorbed more easily. A typical example of such a visual aid is a . Many people use spider diagrams when they are generating ideas. However, they have been proved to be a very effective technique.

  • Group based revision
    This is another useful technique because you can push each other to do more work. Also you can test each other, which will highlight topics or areas of weakness. The other main advantage with group based revision being that if you encounter a problem, it is more likely to be solved as the problem can be tackled as a group. However, there is a danger that you will not do any work at all.

Revision stress

It is common for students to feel the stress of revision during exam time, but the worst thing that you can do is get so anxious that you spend more time worrying than revising. In order to avoid becoming over stressed you should make time for yourself to relax, and do something unrelated to like reading a favourite book, or going to the park. The best way to beat exam stress is to talk to a friend, often you feel much better for talking to a friend because the fact that you have talked about your problems has a remedial effect.

Another common thing to happen is that you will spend a long period of time over your books and not feel as though you have done anything constructive. Remember, if you worry about how much progress you are making, you will not be able to concentrate enough to get any real work done.

Preparing for the exam day

Double-check the time and location of your exam

This is extremely important you must be certain of the time and location of your exam before you take the exam. It is not uncommon for students to misread the date, time or location of the exam and take this to be the actual date, time or location. When they turn up they find that they have either missed the exam or they are in the wrong location.

Get equipped

A day before the exam you should decide on all the equipment that you will need for the exam and locate them. Generally you should take two of each item of equipment and check that they work correctly before you decide that they are fit for use. You should use either an elastic band or a clear plastic bag to keep your equipment together.

Get a reasonable amount of sleep

The day before the exam you must make sure that you go to sleep early. If there is a film or program that you are tempted to watch, resist the temptation. You can always record it and view it another time. Set your alarm a good half an hour earlier than usual, in this way you can leave earlier.

Eat properly

You must eat a proper breakfast. You may think that not eating breakfast does not affect you but it will leave you with a lack of energy if you do not. Should you get hungry before the exam resist the temptation to snack on foods like chocolate bars or fizzy drinks in view of the fact that they give you a sudden surge of energy that will run out as quickly as it came. Instead you need to snack on food like a bananas which give you a slower release of energy as and when you need it.

Travel carefully

Check the availability of the or if you need them. It is not uncommon for a bus or tube strike to be taking place on the day of your exam. If possible plan an alternate route or means of travel in the event that something unexpected happens.

Last minute revision

Don't overload on the last minute , in theory you should only need a small amount of time to quickly check that you are ready for the exam. You should not however, be learning whole new topics so close to the exam. To do this indicates your lack of preparation for the exam.

During the exam

During the , be calm and listen carefully to the . Follow any instructions that he/she gives you. Make sure you manage your time well, so that you won't run out of time ensuring that you have time to check your answers, and proof read what you have written.

Strategies for Answering Questions

There are a number of strategies that can be employed when answering questions they will be addressed as follows;

Answer all questions: - You should always answer all questions, regardless of whether you know the answer or not. The chances are that you can gain a few marks from an attempted answer to a question to which you do not know the answer. At the end of the day one mark could make the difference between a pass and fail.

  • Answer all questions
    You should always answer all questions, regardless of whether you know the answer or not. The chances are that you can gain a few marks from an attempted answer to a question to which you do not know the answer. At the end of the day one mark could make the difference between a pass and fail.

  • Go for the question or questions with the most marks
    This technique ensures that in the event you do run out of time you will have hopefully already secured enough marks to pass. If you do miss out any questions they will only be those questions with a minimum amount of marks.

  • Do not spend too long on one question
    The reason behind this is that if you spend too much time on one question you will not have enough time to answer the remaining questions, and you could loose a large number of marks.

  • Allow time to double check your answers
    By double checking your answers you ensure that you still have enough time to correct any errors that you find. Such double-checking is essential in view of the fact that it can mean the difference between loosing or gaining some marks.

  • Dealing with difficult questions
    If you encounter a difficult question and you have other questions remaining, leave it, you can always come back to it later.

  • Completing the exam
    Subsequent to answering all questions, you should check the details on the front page of your answer booklet to ensure that they are correct. Gather your equipment and sit quietly until the exam is over.

After the exam

The feeling you get subsequent to completing your will be different for everybody, and really depends on how well you believe you have done. Most people will generally wish that they had done more revision, but you should not feel guilty, at the end of the day what's done is done, you cannot turn back the clock, therefore it is not worth beating yourself up about. It is more beneficial if you enjoy the relief of finishing your exam, take some time to relax, go to the student bar for example. Try to forget about the exam you have done and if you have another exam to take, focus your intention on it.

Additional Information

If you are very nervous regarding your forthcoming exams, please remember that it is very likely that every other student is as well. It can be very helpful talking to you friends, especially those taking the same exam, as well as family.

Your lecturer is also available to help before the exam and can suggest other techniques for revision as well as providing guidance on what to revise. If you are unclear about an area you are revising, sessions held by are an invaluable source of information.