Exam technique is primarily down to personal preference, however, my exam technique is developed from an amalgamation of listening to advice and trial and error. Hopefully, you might learn some helpful tips from the way I conduct my exams, or if there is something you do which I did not mention, which you think others and myself may find helpful, feel free to leave a comment. Also just as an update I have had one of my four exams so far, I think it went quite well.
Before the exam:
- Have a big breakfast. This may not apply to everyone, but I get hungry after only a short amount of time, so 3 hour exam is a long time for me to go without at least a snack. I make sure that before the exam I have had plenty to eat; a rumbling tummy in a large quiet room full of people is the last thing you want. At the very least ensure you have breakfast, it will make you feel more awake and ready for your exam.
- Be positive. And I mean excessively positive, there is no point now fixating on that topic that you put off and never got around to revising properly, walk into the exam full of confidence (even if it’s unjustified), if anyone asks you “Are you ready for this exam?” tell them Yes! This is a bit of an odd think I must admit. Most people just before an exam like sharing stories of how little revision they’ve done (most people also lie about this; overly exaggerating how little revision they’ve done). But, a positive attitude can greatly improve you performance, and I would highly recommend it.
During the exam:
- Read the front of the exam paper. This may seem like pointless advice that you always get told, but it is important. I know multiple people who didn’t read the cover page and as a result did the wrong amount of questions, and I have heard about some students who did not read the cover and ended up sitting the wrong exam (however, this really takes an impressive amount of incompetence). The most compelling reason for reading the cover page, for me at least, is that you are sitting there in silence for 20 minutes before the exam even starts, there is nothing else to do – might as well.
- When the exam starts, read through the questions before you start answering them. You might see a question that you only vaguely know (maybe it was something you’d only heard about the day before), quickly write down the information that you think is likely that you may forget. Also by looking through the paper before hand you will be able to better estimate how long different questions will take you.
- Don’t leave early. This is unpopular advice and I will forgive you for not following it, however, I do believe it to be good advice. Many of the physics exams are 3 hours long, this give you plenty of time to finish the exam and you are allowed to leave when ever you want. Many people, confident in their answers, leave early. I, on the other hand, no matter how confident I am with my answers, do not. After I have finished my exam I very carefully check all of my calculating and working out. If I still have time left I simply start doing the exam again. Upon repeating the questions any mistake become very obvious. This may seem a bit obsessive, but it works. If you do choose to use this technique remember at the end of the exam (if you have not found any mistakes) to put a line through it as to not confuse the examiner.
After the exam
- Move on. Don’t discuss details of the exam with friends or try find that thing you just couldn’t remember in the exam. There’s nothing you can do about any mistakes you have made now, don’t dwell on it. Go do something fun and if possible save any other revision you need to do for the next day.
“The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination.”