Exams and Assessment
Speak Confidently, Marian Bourke
Know what to Expect in an Exam
Know the following before the exam:
• How long is the exam?
• How many sections are there?
• How many questions from each section am I expected to answer on?
Time Management and Navigating Examination Papers:
• Allocate the appropriate amount of time to each question,
• Read all instructions carefully,
• Decide on a plan of action.
How to Prepare for Exams
Different people memorise things in different ways:
- Repetition: Repetition involves repeating the information until it is stored in
the long-term memory.
- Images/Text: This involves drawing a diagram or picture of the information
that you need to learn that triggers your memory of the information or facts.
- Mental Picture: This is often referred to as a ‘photographic memory’, some
people with this skill can mentally picture what it is they wish to remember and
draw on it when they are doing their examination.
- Linking: This means making connections between the new material you are
learning and what you already know. You can chart this using a Mind Map or
- Mnemonics: You can make up a word to help you remember a group or list
of facts facts e.g. KISS – Keep It Simple Stupid
How to Structure Exam Responses
Account for: Give reasons for, explain why something might be the case
Analyse: Explore, investigate and examine in very close detail; identify
significant issues and important features. This is very common so be aware
Comment on: Specifically note and discuss the main issues, giving your
response based upon what you have read in primary and secondary sources
and what you have examined in lectures. You must avoid purely personal
Compare: Demonstrate clearly the similarities between two points/theories/
events etc. Make sure to highlight the importance/significance/consequence
of these similarities in a wider context.
Contrast: Draw out the differences between two or more arguments/theories/
events etc by setting them in opposition to each other. Are these differences
significant? You must indicate this in your answer as well as giving reasons
as to why one argument may be preferable to the other, if the question
Critically Evaluate: Balance arguments for and against a particular point by
assessing the strength and validity of the evidence available on both sides.
Use particular criteria (which are often provided in the question) to influence
your assessments of which items are preferable.
Define: Provide the exact and most detailed meaning of a particular topic.
You may also be asked to illustrate that you understand why that particular
definition may be problematic, limited or inaccurate.
Describe: Outline the main features or characteristics of a particular topic, or
outline significant events.
Discuss: Write about the most significant aspects of the topic; give balanced
arguments for and against; debate the implications of the topic.
Distinguish: Explore and explain the differences between two items.
Evaluate: Using evidence as support, assess the significance, importance or
usefulness of a theory/topic. You will probably have to make a case both for
Examine: Investigate the subject by approaching it in detail. Put the
subject ‘under a microscope.’ It might be necessary to ‘critically evaluate’ it if
the question requires it.
Explain: Outline the reasons behind a particular event/theory. Make clear
why something is the way it is.
Illustrate: Clearly and explicitly explain or outline a theory using particular
evidence or examples.
Interpret: Provide the meaning or relevance of supplied data or other
Justify: Show evidence which supports an idea; illustrate why decisions or
conclusions were made based on this evidence; consider possible objections.
Outline: Provide the main points only, illustrating the main structure.
State: Provide the main features, very clearly.
Summarise: List out the main points only, omitting unnecessary details or
To what extent: Explore and investigate how far something is or is not the
case, or how it contributes to a final outcome.
Trace: Follow the particular order of different stages in a process or an event.
5 Memory techniques
5.1 Reading to Remember
Use the SQ3R (survey, question, read, recall and review) reading strategy to check that you have understood the main concepts of what you have read. This is also a helpful strategy for exam revision as it helps to develop memory and learning skills simultaneously.
- Get an overall understanding of the text. Do so using techniques such as finger-tracing or skim-reading, quickly read the introduction, conclusion and intervening paragraph topic sentences.
- If headings and sub-headings are present, focus on these.
- If diagrams and graphs are present, study these for key features.
- What do you already know about this topic?
- What in particular would you like to gain from reading the text?
- Specifically, what do you need to find out?
- Having already skim-read or finger-traced the text, give important sections a more careful reading will have been identified for more careful reading.
- Read these more selectively; be guided by your purpose in reading and the questions you need answered.
- Specifically look for keywords, statements or signpost words.
- Do not look up unknown words until later.
- At regular intervals (approximately every twenty minutes), close the text and try to recall as much as possible.
- Make headings/notes/maps/charts to outline key patterns or themes.
- Open book again and check for accuracy of recall.
- After a break, try to recall the main points of the text.
- In your own words, briefly summarise or review what you have read.
- Did you get the information you needed from this text?
- Were your questions answered?
- What were the strengths and weaknesses of what you read?
5.2 Writing to remember
Some people find it useful to write out notes to develop their memories. If you use this technique, try to refine your notes down as you memorise your notes. What you write the first time as a paragraph, summarise as a sentence the next time you write it. Can you summarise that sentence with one word?
Other people use anagrams alongside this technique or on their own. Can you remember the first letter of each point you need to make? Make a word of those letters so ensure you cover each point!
End of Semester Exams
End of year exams:
- The Month of May: For the majority students end-of- year examinations are held in May, after the study month. It is vital to make a longer-term plan for the end of year exams.
- Christmas/Spring: You may also have end of year exams at Christmas, or in the Spring if you are required to go on placement as part of your course. It is imperative that you check with your academic department as to when your exams are scheduled. Do this at the beginning of the year and it will form the basis of your study plan for the year.
- Weekly Revision Plan: If you are following the weekly revision plan outlined above, then is it useful to use the Study month as a marathon revision session.
- Preparation: Your personal work space is very important. During exam time in particular, it needs to be free from clutter, with everything within easy reach for you (pens, folders, notes, paper). It is essential to have a comfortable chair and that you have enough space in which to comfortably learn.
- Blocks: Study in blocks, or you will meet a block! Your brain can only take so much. Study for two hours and then take a short break. During one of these breaks it is useful to go for a short walk outside, drink a glass of water or have a chat with a friend or family member. Just remember to return to study after your break! Be disciplined, it will be worth it in the end.
- Plan: The Month off is particularly challenging. It is easy to lose track of time and let your study routine slide. This results in cramming, which is incredibly stressful and often does not work. Instead, consider planning each of your days for studying during the month off. Use your exam timetable to help you plan the priority. Be precise. Think of revising for your exams like a job you are committed to – you work from 9 to 5pm every day and use the evenings to rest, exercise, cook yourself a wholesome meal and get organised. In this way you can perhaps take weekends off, depending on your workload.
- Be realistic and honest with yourself: Indentifying your strongest and weakest subjects can be empowering. By being honest about this with yourself you have a real opportunity to address the balance. Balance is the key to exam preparation. Make sure you give all subjects/courses/modules adequate time. Allocate time according to your comfort levels with each module. Also be realistic about your timetable and schedule in commuting times, meal times, relaxation etc.
- Beware of time wasting: Limit some or all of the following during exam preparation time:
- Phone calls
- Day dreaming
- Is there something else eating up your time?
End of Year Exams:
- You will be told the venue of the exam in advance of the exam. Make sure you plan how you will get there a few days before the exam. Your exam might be in Neptune Stadium or some other off-campus location. Check bus timetables etc. if this is relevant.
- You will be expected to leave your bags and other belongings outside the exam venue so only bring in what you need. These might include: Student ID, official timetable, pens, pencil, eraser, sharpener, ruler, a drink, a small snack, a watch/clock, approved calculator if required.
- You cannot have a mobile phone on your person in an exam hall, turn it off and leave it in your bag outside the exam or turn it off and place it face-down under your exam table.
- The exam hall will be laid out with numbers assigned to each desk.
- Your exam number will have been assigned to you and can be found on your timetable.
- Find your seat and sit down.
- Lay out your pens etc. within easy reach.
- Ensure that your timetable and ID card are visible to the invigilators.
- Listen to the announcements on the fire exits.
- Occasionally there may be changes to the exam paper and this will be announced at the venue by the senior invigilator. Pay attention to these and if you aren’t sure put your hand up. An invigilator will then approach you and you can ask for the information to be repeated.
- You can ask an invigilator for more paper, to visit the bathroom, if you are feeling unwell; if you have left anything in your bag outside that you now need, for clarification on a certain question etc. Don’t be afraid. Invigilators are there to help you. Just raise your hand!
- Leave all notes/study materials outside the Examination Hall. You will be accused of cheating otherwise. You do not want this! Open-book examinations are the exception to this rule.
Exam time is stressful, knowing what to expect can reduce this stress considerably.
- These are usually held during your lecture time.
- Your lecturer will inform you if this is not the case
- Turn up at your lecture as normal, earlier if possible
- Turn off your phone
- You may be asked to spread out across the lecture hall.
- For MCQ exams be sure to have a pencil and an eraser at hand
- Lay out your pens/pencils and any other equipment you may need
- The papers will be distributed and you will be asked to begin
- Do not communicate with other students in your class during the exam
- Hand up your exam when the invigilator expects you to do so, you should not talk or leave until the Senior Invigilator instructs you that it is acceptable to do so
- Leave in an orderly and quiet manner
- Try not to pick over the exam afterwards with fellow students!
- Record: Record in your in-class exams in your calendar as soon as you are made aware of them. Then, make sure that you build sufficient revision time for these exams into your weekly study timetable.
- Review: At the end of each week it is useful to review your notes for the week. You can use this time to fill-in any gaps, or to formulate questions you may want to ask at the next class. Use this time to summarise the main points of your notes and collate this with any additional points that you have made from your reading. This is your weekly revision plan.
- Examine: A few weeks before your in-class exam, examine past exam papers. If it is an MCQ exam, you can request past exams from your lecturers. Be sure to find out if there is negative marking in your MCQ exam. Negative marking in exams is part of evaluation process wherein marks are deducted from the actual score for every wrong answer. This is most common in Medicine.
Plan Your Study
Organisation is the key to succeeding in examinations!
- Calendar/Planner: Check your schedule regularly and update your calendar.
- Bulletin Board: Consider using a bulletin board to post “To do” lists, because they are in sight you will be less likely to forget important information or events. Checklists: Introduce checklists into your day-to-day life. Use them to list things that you need to do today; things to do this week, etc.
- Organise: A tidy workspace lends itself to more successful studying.
- File: Make a regular habit of filing your notes into a ring binger. Use one ring binder per module, and file your notes in chronological order.