I’m looking forward to the exam season.
Am I mad? Obviously! But my excitement of the upcoming exam period is more because I don’t actually have any exams.
Nevertheless, I’ve taken examinations in my earlier years at university. I therefore sympathise with any students who are revising hard and feeling more than a little anxious. As someone who has been reasonably successful at my exams as part of my degree, I’m dedicating this post to passing on the tips that helped me succeed.
Firstly, a disclaimer. I’m a social science student whose exams have mainly concerned writing essays rather than short answers or multiple choice questions. As a result, the following tips will not be suitable for everyone. Nevertheless, here are my top 4 tips for preparing for exams at university:
- Revision Cards
You might think revision cards are more suited to short answer exams. Well, maybe they are. But they can still help prepare for the content of essay style questions if used correctly. The main advantage remains their size: they should be able to fit in your pocket. That enables you to be able to take them with you all the time and look at them whenever you get a few spare minutes. What should you put on the cards? I would suggest either 5 key points for an essay plan, or a card with the key theoretical concepts or definitions for a question or key statistics that help support your main arguments. Alternatively, a revision card could contain a list of key studies or sources. Which brings me on to point two…
- Maximise Sources
Anybody seeking first or high second class marks in a university essay based exam will need to memorise key sources as well as key arguments. Obviously you are not expected to use as many sources as you would in a coursework assignment. But 15-20 sources should be your minimum aim. If that sounds daunting try to memorise the sources in the order you will use them in your answer. Provided you look at revision cards and make notes often, this will be easier than you think.
- Practise questions, practise questions, practise questions
The single best thing I did when revising for my university examinations was to spend at least half of my revision time answering practise questions from past papers or concerning the topics that were likely to feature in my exam. Obviously examinations test what you know. But how you apply your knowledge is just as important as how much knowledge you have acquired. You are not being examined on how many facts you can remember. You are being examined on how you can apply your knowledge into a coherent argument which answers the set question and includes a decent amount of critical evaluation thrown in. Which brings me on to my final tip…
- Remember the essentials
The only difference between an essay for coursework and an essay question in an exam is the time you have to answer the question, which means a much shorter essay. But a lack of time or length is no excuse for missing out any essential component of an essay. You wouldn’t submit an essay for an assignment without a strong introduction or a full length conclusion, would you? Nor would you not back up your arguments with reputable sources or fail to discuss key counterarguments. Furthermore, you wouldn’t submit an essay without each paragraph relating in some way to the previous paragraph or contributing towards answering the question. Nor would you submit an essay without including critical evaluation or analysing the strengths and limitations of key arguments. Therefore, in all your practise answers during revision, ensure that all those elements are present.
Good luck with your revision!