Tips for Exams (Mostly Mathematics)
So it seems I’ve taken a fair few exams. I’ve had a variety of different types. I’ll try and give some pointers on what works best for me but generally how you tackle exams is a personal thing.
-Beforehand, know how long your exam is, how many questions there are, whether there is a choice of questions and whether you are allowed a calculator (and of which type).
-Know your bookwork. Well, as much of it as you can remember! Some modules have so much bookwork in the exam that if you don’t know at least some of it you won’t be able to get the top grades. (I class bookwork as definitions, theorems, proofs, examples that you’ve seen before).
-Look at exam papers from previous years if this is possible for you. Some lecturers repeat questions. Some stick to the same order of questions each year. But don’t rely on this. I’ve had a lecturer change up the order of questions a few times.
-If the lecturer provides feedback on exams from previous years, read it. It often includes some hints and tips and highlights the places where most students go wrong. Sometimes feedback can be disheartening though, if the lecturer is harsh, don’t take it personally.
-Remember that structure is important. Make sure your answers flow mathematically. If you have time, explain your steps in a few words. Some methods require a little bit of written explanation.
-If you get the opportunity to see the marked scripts of exams you’ve done previously, go and see them, especially if they are your first ones. You might have made mistakes with the way you structure your answers so it is good to learn how to write mathematics better.
-If you can’t remember a formula, explain what you would do with the formula if you had it. Same goes with if you can’t get something to work. Write out the method as a last resort. I’ve picked up a few marks by doing this.
-Check whether you are given a formula sheet. If you’re stuck, look at it. Sometimes you’re given vector identities that might help. If you’re not given a formula sheet, write formulae that you struggle to remember down straight away.
-In Statistics, when you need a certain statistical table, look at the contents page of the tables book. You don’t want to be wasting time flicking through all of the pages to find the one you need.
-Make your graph sketches neat, and label them. They don’t have to be perfectly accurate but they have to let the examiner know that you know what that graph should look like.
-Know if it is negatively marked. You don’t want to be randomly guessing if you get deducted marks for incorrect answers.
-Skip questions that are taking too long. Multi-choice exams usually have short time limits.
-If you’re stuck, look at the answers they have provided. Sometimes you can work backwards and rule options out.
-If it is a definition question, read the options very carefully.
-Remember that some multi-choice exams have a ‘none of the above’ option.
-There is not as much emphasis on the structure of your answers since it’s usually one of those sheets that’s marked by a computer. Only you has to understand the workings out.
-Make sure you have enough time at the end to fill in the answer sheet.
-Make sure you use the right equipment (you might need a pencil to fill in the answer sheet etc) and also an eraser might be useful.
-If the exam includes multi-choice and written parts, do the written bits first because if you run out of time, you can quickly guess the multi-choice.
-It is usually easy to work out which topics each question will be on from the content of the module. But don’t rely on this. Some questions mix topics. Don’t completely ignore one topic - I’ve had friends who’ve shot themselves in the foot by tactically revising to avoid a topic only to have it come up at the end of a question they could answer.
-I liked to quickly read all of the questions first and then decide which ones I was going to do. It was no point me doing Q1 if I could do the other questions more easily.
-Read the rules. Sometimes the exam is best 4 of 5 questions count etc (so you could do all 5 and the best 4 will contribute towards your grade. Sometimes it’s the first 4 questions you answer that count
-If it’s the first option of the above point, sometimes it’s better to just focus on 4 questions and make them as good as possible instead of doing the 5th. Generally if you’re confident in the 4 you’ve answered, focus on making them better in the time you have remaining. If you’re not, and you can’t add anything to them, do the 5th.
-Don’t be afraid to go to the toilet if you need to. Even if you don’t actually need to go, sometimes getting out of your chair can help (if you have lots of time of course!) You might also get an idea, such is the way maths and inspiration go together.
-Have a water bottle, stay hydrated, especially if it’s a hot day.
-Wear comfortable clothing. Bring a jacket, but make sure you know the rules on keeping it on the back of your chair (we weren’t allowed).
-Personally, I never left an exam early, even if I still had an hour remaining. You might remember something that you’d temporarily forgotten.
-Take your time, read questions carefully, as time passes don’t get sloppy with showing your method.
-You don’t have to do questions in order. For me, I started with something I was very confident with to get me going, which wasn’t always the first question!
-Be aware of the time. Trust me, 3 hours passes incredibly quickly. Don’t let the length daunt you.
-Be organised. Say you leave space for a question you can’t do, and you go back to it and figure it out, make sure you tell the examiner what page in your answer booklet you’ve continued the question on.
-Eat before (and maybe after). Especially if there’s a long walk from where you live to the exam location. If you can have food in the exam, it might be worth it. I liked Jaffa Cakes because they’re not noisy to eat and don’t smell.
I think that’s all I can think of. I’ll add to it if I remember anything else that I found useful. Feel free to add to this!