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Exam Technique Tips Part Three

Welcome the conclusion of our three part series on Exam Technique Tips. If you missed parts one and two, you may want to read them first.


Exam Day

So you are sitting in the exam room. You are possibly filling in your name etc. on the exam booklet or whatever. The invigilator tells you that you may start. What do you do? You immediately stop writing your name etc. That is not part of the exam. It is administration. If you haven’t done it at the end you will be allowed to complete it. Your 2 hours or whatever are to be used exclusively for taking your exam.

Read the paper. I grade scripts for an examining body and have done so for many years. It no longer surprises me that we get students who, having been told to answer 2 questions out of 3, will proceed to answer all 3! To do this serves only to waste valuable time. Don’t do it. So read the rubric and check how many questions you are supposed to answer and obey those instructions.

Read every question before you answer anything. Your brain has a conscious and a subconscious part. If you read all the questions your subconscious is working away at the other questions whilst your conscious is answering the first one. You don’t know if you can answer a question until you have read it. At the reading stage you might want to make some notes, possibly on the exam paper, to remind yourself of major points.

Decide which questions you are going to answer and in what order. There are 2 schools of thought on this. One examiner I met said students should always answer in numerical order because students who do not fare worse. By answering out of sequence you are telling the examiner you are weak. I happen to think that this is confusing cause and effect- a weak student might be tempted to answer the few questions for which he is prepared at the start of the exam. I would advise you to answer along these lines:
If there is a short question on a subject which is really simple for you, go for that one first. You should be able to do it in less time than scheduled if you are hot on the topic and this will help later on. It will also make you feel good Sort of “well that’s 15 marks. I know I have got at least 12 and possibly 15”.
Then, when you are settled in go for the big compulsory question.

Finish the others.

Whatever order you use you must ration your time. A question which scores 25% of the marks gets 25% of your time.

Fantastically important point: If you spend too much time “perfecting” early answers and, as a result, don’t have a decent go at the final question you will score more badly than you should!

Sad but true anecdote

I worked with a man called David. He was an absolute expert at ACCA Part 1 exams. He used to take them every 6 months. He never passed! Every 6 months we would have the following conversation:

Me: “How did the exam go Dave?”

Him: “I’m not so sure- but I did a really good answer to question 1.”

Question 1 was the big, compulsory Profit & loss account question. He would have spent 2 out of 2 hours answering question 1 and then rushed all the others. He would never listen to advice.

I used to decide in what order to answer the questions, then how long each one would be allowed, and write down the time by which I would stop each question. That stops you overrunning. The timetable, however, is of value only if you stick to it.

Important Point In an exam time is your enemy.

When answering questions do exactly that. Answer the question, not what you wished the question had been, or a related question which you had revised. If you are asked about Henry VII it is of no use going into scrupulous detail about Henry VII (or for that matter Henry VI). Remember exams are marked, not weighed. There is no point adding “padding”. It will get you no marks. On the contrary if you are too long winded there is always a chance that in all that padding a marker might miss the one important point which you make. Examiners are human and can make mistakes! So if you make a valid point make sure it is clear.

Make diagrams clear. They are easier to draw, easier to mark and generally clearer if you take plenty of space. Just for the duration of the exam, forget your concerns about rain forests. Use plenty of paper. It is probably recycled after the script has been marked.

If it is relevant don’t be afraid of stating the obvious. An examiner can give you credit only for what you say. He or she will not assume that you know something if it is not mentioned.

Show all your workings. If you write down just the correct answer in a numerical question you will get full marks. If you make an error you will get zero. If, however, you have shown your workings and the examiner sees where you made a simple error you might get 6/7. If you have to make an assumption then state it. Sometimes there are errors in exam papers. You will be given credit for the work you have done.

The marker is not trying to fail you. I hate failing students and most markers I know feel the same way.

Once you have started your exam stick with it. Even if you are sure you will fail there is no better preparation for your resit than taking this exam! When I took my Institute of Bankers final level accountancy paper I could have wept. I read the paper and seriously considered going home there and then. I stuck it out and nobody was more amazed than I when I found out that I had passed. You never know if you have passed or not. If the exam is very, very difficult remember that it is VVD for everybody.

Don’t try to be funny. An occasional quip doesn’t do any harm but constant attempts are tiresome to the marker. In Economics you might think that the workers should seize the means of production and establish autonomous soviets. You might think the unemployed should be shot and converted into fertiliser. Neither point of view is likely to gain you many marks. Also avoid any language etc. which might cause offence. You don’t know who will be marking your paper.

Important point. The examiner is your friend. He or she genuinely wants you to pass. Don’t do anything to antagonise him or her.

Once you have finished your answers you might have some spare time. If so revise, revise, revise. You might find errors, you might think of extra points you had not mentioned. Use every second of your time.

Finally. (Aren’t you glad I have got to the end?) After the exam go home and forget it. Once you have taken your last exam go out and enjoy yourself. The die is cast and there is nothing you can do to change it. So why worry? I am sure that sometimes errors occur. I am also sure that in well over 99% of cases the student gets the grade that he or she deserves. Now go on and give every exam you take your absolute best shot. Then you can look yourself in the mirror and know that you tried your best.