Someone asked me today for exam and revision tips, so I thought I’d post it up here too. I have no basis for any of this but my own experience, but if it helps anyone – all to the good.
- Flick Cards. I used revision flick cards: small pieces of card, usually an A4 sheet cut into 15. On one side, I put a key word, a prompt, or a question and on the other side, the answer. For instance, I had things like, “Smith et al 2001”; On the other side, bullet points of all the key things (used Ba to trace water temp, found high x in africa, blah) I’d use these to revise by looking at the ‘question’ and trying to remember the ‘answer’. Each one that I remembered correctly, I’d put aside and keep going through the pack until I could recall all of them. Then I’d reverse them and try and recall the ‘question’ from the ‘answer’. I kept them in packs sorted by topic, so I didn’t have a huge dispiriting stack of cards.
- Essay Plans. I used to do all the past papers I possibly could. If or when I ran out of past papers, I used to make up essay titles myself. I’d both plan the essays and do the essays. Planning was either as five minute plans, as you would do at the beginning of an essay in an exam. Also plans as detailed plans, taking ~30 mins. Lastly, doing the whole exam paper from beginning to end, in timed conditions. Then, later, or the next day, I’d mark it. Look through it, think about what I could have put in, left out, where I went wrong… etc.
- Revise Selectively, but not Riskily. Selective revision is a risk, but it is a necessary risk imo. I got caught out with revising too selectively in my second year at Uni and it was very unpleasant. In my third year I prepared one extra topic, just in case, and it worked out okay.
- Treat it like a job. For me, that meant 8 hour days, or as near as realistically I could manage and taking regular breaks.
- Treat yourself. I found ‘just finish this essay, then you can….’ a very useful self- reward scheme. In my case reading blogs or watching You Tube videos was my reward, but it just depends what motivates you.
- Go to the Revision Sessions. The lecturer usually gave something good away and even when they didn’t, it was a nice break.
- Practice essays at the same time of day to the exam. It sounds mad, but I swear it helped me. If I had an exam at 9.30, I used to do a practice essay at 9.30 for a few days beforehand. It seemed to get me into the groove of being active at that time or something.
- Arrive in plenty of time. I really need quiet time to relax and concentrate, so I always arrived early for exams and sat down early so that I had time to just be relaxed.
- Write a plan, and try hard to stick to it. However long the essay or the exam, I always wrote an essay plan. I used to take about 10 – 15% of the total time of the exam to do this – so in an hour long exam, 5 – 10 minutes. It feels like a waste, but for me, it was really important calming, thinking, planning time.
- Re- read the question regularly. Whenever I got to a break point, or a ‘err’ moment, I used to check the question again, and ask myself, ‘how does this answer the question’. Often the answer was, ‘it doesn’t’ and I’d then have to bring it back to the question.
- Use your essay plan. I found that in an hours essay I could realistically make only 3 or 4 points, each in one or two paragraphs. The essays when I tried to say more or less than that were usually unsuccessful.
- Point, Explain, Example, Evaluate, Link. The internals of my essays were always pretty formulaic – I made a point at the beginning of the para; explained what I meant; gave referenced examples; did a mini conclusion/evaluation of the para; then linked the current para to the next para. (Sometimes the link became part of the first sentence of the next para).
- Keep an eye on the Time. Based on the hour long essay and making 3 or 4 points, I used to divvy up the time doing exams: 10 mins plan. 5 mins intro. 10 mins per point, for 4 points. 5 mins conclusion. If I was stuck on a point and going over the 10 mins, I would wrap it up asap and move on to the next point. It was not, in my experience, worth leaving a gap, or coming back to it. If it wasn’t working, it was better to make a hasty conclusion, move on and do the next bit. Ditto with more than one essay in an exam – it was never worth running over.
One more thing that I’m a little embarrassed to say – I always used to wear a smart shirt to exams, usually with jeans. And if an exam went well, I’d continue to wear the same outfit (cleaned obviously!). Somehow the ocd thing of, ‘it was okay last time, it will be okay again’, worked for me….