As exam season rolls around, here are our top ten tips for improving your exam scores.
1. Attend revision sessions
Revision lectures and workshops are designed to help you focus on key semester one content. Your tutors will probably provide plenty of hints and nudges towards what areas to focus on for exam prep, so attendance should be on your priority list.
2. Practise past exam questions
Practise makes perfect as they say, and working on past exam questions will help you revise content, identify gaps in your knowledge, and sharpen your exam writing skills and techniques. Try writing under exam conditions, and ask a class mate to check your answers.
You can access previous exam papers for your subject here: http://www.bath.ac.uk/library/exampapers/exam1.php
3. Revise a little often, and not a lot at the eleventh hour
The human brain can concentrate for around 40 minutes at the absolute most ( hence falling asleep syndrome in 2 hour lectures!) . It is important that you study frequently, but in short bursts of highly concentrated effort. Establish a revision timetable and stick to it. Work on a specific topic focus area for around 20 -30 minutes, then take a break - coffee, sport, walk, lunch etc , then return again for a second round, but this time work on a different topic. Review, repeat, recycle. It is important that you do this every day so as to avoid cramming and all night panic attacks the day before your exam.
4. Active revision
Don’t just read and read (or copy and copy) your notes and hope the content will sink in. You need to activate your learning. Try reducing notes from full length to one or two trigger words (usually the nouns that hold key ideas). Then re-build content from memory (without looking back at your original notes) This way you will re-construct meaning rather than recycle detached and abstract ideas, identify gaps in your knowledge, and most important of all, stay awake!
5. Answer the question
Sounds easy, but it is even easier to misinterpret or only partially address all aspects of the question. You need to practise unpacking and analysing exam questions quickly, to identify focus topics. Look for:
The Focus - what is the specific topic within the subject area?
The Instruction words - analyse, discuss, explain etc - see my previous blog post for more on these.
The Scope ( or limitations) - What should you include and what should you NOT include
6. The T.E.A. approach
For humanities and social science subjects, there are three key areas to revise and to try to include in your exam answers;
T = Theories ( relevant to the exam question)
E= Examples ( How example or cases illustrate theory into practice and/or help support your answer
A= Authors ( key academics, researchers, writers, experts, companies etc connected to the question topic)
Also, consider any controversies, issues and problems, and possible relevance to current events and research developments.
7. Eat well, exercise, and early nights
Feed your brain with nutritious food. Stodge, sugar and chocolate will slow you down. Think greens, fish, salads, veg, pulses and low fat foods ( I know it's awful, but it's only for a few weeks!)
Go to the gym, swim, run or kick a ball around with friends during your break times (Don't slump on the sofa and watch Homes Under the Hammer). Exercise will energise you, especially when you feel tired, and sharpen those important cognitive processes. And if you're not a sporty type, then go for regular walks around campus or Bath (in case you haven't noticed, we live in a beautiful place)
For a few weeks, resist going out to clubs or late nights with friends. Get up early ( Your brain is most efficient in the morning - believe it or not!), and go to bed early. Keep regular hours and build this into your revision regime.
Drink lots of water (not beer!) - regular re-hydration will keep your brain in tip top shape.
8. Study Groups
See if you can form ‘study groups’ where you can test each other using the past papers (see number 2), and talk out loud about the key points. Talking to others can aid memory.
9. Speed Writing
Practise writing (fast) with a pen – you have probably not done this since the last exams you sat, and your wrist may be a bit rusty.
Make sure you know where your exams will take place, when they are, and how long. Check rules and regulations (for example, your seat number for specific exams, bring your student id, what you are allowed to take into the exam, mitigating circumstances and so on). You can usually find this information in your course handboook.
and not forgetting... one more extra tip...
11. Cuddly Toys
Prepare an 'exam pack' in advance which might include your favourite pens, pencils, spares, highlighters and any other 'props' you find useful. This will avoid an early morning panic search for a biro at the bottom of your holiday rucksack.
If you’ve done all these things, you should then be able to think positively about yourself, and go into your exams knowing that you have done everything you could. A positive attitude leads to confidence, reduces pre-exam nerves and leads to a positive outcome.