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Author: ADMIN (ukstudent at gmail dot com)
Published: Fri, 18-Nov-2005
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EXAM PREPARATION. Article by Greg Armfield, University of Canterbury, Te Whare Wananga o Waitaha


Work out a revision plan. Set targets to be met by certain times.
Begin revision at least three weeks before the exam to give the information time to go into the long-term memory. You need to do something with the information you have collected; reading over only once will not lead to retention.

Put your information together visually with posters, diagrams or mindmaps.
It is a lot easier to remember a picture than a list of sentences. When you put together mindmaps, you have to digest and process your notes. This is a check to tell you if you understand. You process material until it makes sense, and this makes it more memorable. (Students who use mindmaps for revision get better results than students who don’t.)

Divide each course into topic areas.
Use the Course Outline or Lecture Guides first to determine the main topic areas. Next, identify how the main topics and the sub-topics relate to each other. Finally, add any comments to the sub-topics that are important or that will help you understand and remember.

Choose the topics you wish to study.
You can’t study everything in depth. Select topics or sub-topics from the mindmap that you want to study in depth and make more mindmaps. Use past exam papers, information from the final lectures, or any other material handed out by the lecturer to help you decide which areas to focus on.

Be aware of what the lecturers expect.
Most examinations are assessments of students’ abilities to solve problems. But, in order to be able to solve problems, you also need to know the basic theories and concepts of the subject. Make sure you go into the examination both knowing these and being able to apply them practically to solve the set problems.
In maths you will need to solve mathematical equations, in philosophy you will need to present arguments. For problem solving, you need to remember the information and learn and master the skills and methods that are presented in lectures, tutorials, laboratories and assignments. It is up to you to practise them.

Practise the methods you need for the exams.
It is important to have a number of methods you can use in exams. You should have a method for analysing exam essay questions and coming up with a plan. And, you should have methods for carrying out the instructions in the essay questions such as analyse, argue, critically examine, discuss, etc.


Analyse the past exam papers.
Note what sort of questions keep recurring -- perhaps rephrased or with a slightly different slant. Analysing these questions will give you an idea of which topics are most commonly examined.


Analyse and prepare each essay topic.
If you have been given a rough guide to the essay topics, make a mindmap for each. Refine them to the point where you can sit in an exam an redraw each mindmap in a few minutes. Once you have drawn the three or four simple mindmaps, start reading the exam essay questions.

Answer the essay question in the form of an argument.
Your exam script should be structured exactly like a university essay, but in miniature and without specific references. An exam essay needs to be a logical, clear and intelligent response to the question. It should not be a list of facts about the topic.

Plan each exam essay.
To do this effectively it will be necessary to make a plan for each answer. Follow the method for analysing an essay question and writing an essay and come up with an essay plan. This can then be made into a mindmap so it becomes easier to remember.

Follow the expected academic structure.
If you’re aiming for an A, a structured answer is the best. Your essay should have a thesis, an argument, and support. You should put the essay together in the expected academic structure. This means you should first have an introductory paragraph containing general to specific statements to introduce the topic and then a thesis statement. You follow this with the body paragraphs, which are where you present your argument along with your evidence/support. Finally, you should have a concluding paragraph where you briefly restate your main points and then your thesis in the form of a conclusion.

Practise beforehand under exam conditions.
Select a past examination question that relates to your topic area and answer it -- under exam conditions. Set the alarm for 50 minutes – phone off the hook, no notes, no coffee, no interruptions. Do it! Analyse the question. Make a plan. Write your A+ essay. At the end of the set time, stop, then read your script back – judging it critically as the marker would.

Take note of what you do not know!
You will immediately see where the gaps in your knowledge are and you should then go back to your revision material and insert the missing bits.


Work out your timing beforehand.
Find out what you will be doing in the exam and come up with a time schedule beforehand. Jot down this schedule as soon as you can start writing in the exam and follow it fairly closely.

Answering exam essay questions:

1. Read ALL the questions first. This gives the brain time to recollect the information you have stored on the subject. This does not always spring straight to mind, so the time spent reading all the questions is used by the brain subconsciously to dredge up the information you need.

2. Start with the easiest question or the one that will give you the most marks. Questions have numbers, but you do not have to start with Question 1. Start with the easiest question. Or, start with the question that will get you the most marks for the least work. As long as you write the number of the question clearly, you can answer in any order. Read, reflect, and then answer the questions in the order that will get you the best results.

3. Make sure you understand the question. Read and highlight important words. Then, use the STIR method to make sure you are clear about the topic of the essay and what you are being instructed to do.
ST = Specific Topic I = Instruction R = Restrictions
Analyse the question, make a rough outline, write the essay & check
a. Pull the question to pieces by writing smaller questions
b. Put these questions in a clear and logical order
c. (Change the questions into statements)
d. The questions (or the statements) are the essay outline
e. Come up with a thesis
f. Write a brief introductory paragraph stating your thesis
g. Write the rest of the essay following the outline
h. Check


The following are some ideas for answering multiple choice questions. These ideas will not suit everyone. If you already have a method that has been successful in the past, keep using it.

1. Cover the multiple choices, and then read the question

2. Come up with an answer to the question

3. Then uncover the choice and decide which choice best matches your answer

4. If there are four choices, one is usually a nonsense answer, one is a distractor, and two are fairly close. The problem is which of the two fairly close answers is the correct one. There are a few hints for deciding which answer is most likely (if you cannot find one to match your first choice) in (4) below.


Study Guides and Test-Taking Strategies (Marquette University)
Suggestions for Coping with Multiple Choice Questions on Introductory Psychology Tests and Exams (University Of Toronto)
How to Answer Multiple-Choice Questions (Houghton Mifflin Education Place)
Writing Multiple-Choice Questions that Demand Critical Thinking
Writing Multiple Choice Items that Require Comprehension (Park University)

Greg Armfield
English Language Support Programme
Academic Skills Centre
University of Canterbury

© Copyright for this article belongs to Greg Armfield, University of Canterbury, Te Whare Wananga o Waitaha

This document was re-printed with the kind permission of Greg Armfield. Original Source of the article is located here: http://www.canterbury.ac.nz/student/elsp/lecturenotes2005/ExamPreparationLecture.doc

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