Thursday, 28 May 2015

Exam Tips by Elle

I like that title. It's like a fragrance.

So yeah, I just finished my summer exams today so why not give you the tips and tricks I've picked up from doing exams. I have to say I'm pretty great at test-taking, so here's how to bullshit your way to an A. 

Don't leave any blanks. This applies if you're in a system that doesn't deduct marks for wrong answers, like in Ireland. Seems pretty obvious, but I've seen so many people freak out when they don't know an answer and leave a blank. Remember, you can't get marks if you have nothing written down. At least write down some relevant formulae if it's a STEM subject and make attempt marks work for you.

Think about what the examiner wants to hear. Most questions have an agenda or slant to them, that'll be nice and easy for the examiner to correct. And there'll often be a clue to that in the question. This can tell you how best to structure History or English essays, or what approach is easiest to take for Maths or Physics. 

But don't take this too far. Especially with the languages, you still want to have some originality. So do use the above tip as a guideline, then think about how you can subvert that expectation in an understandable way. 

Rewrite the question. This works well for me, at least. In Maths, I rewrite the sum as physically writing it out gets me thinking about it. In Physics and Chemistry, I write down the information using symbols to get rid of all the distracting fluff, making it easier to plug quantities into formulae and figure out which direction to go. 

Draw diagrams. This one has been drilled into me by my Physics teacher, although I still often don't bother to do it for homework. Especially in Maths, Chemistry and Physics (and maybe Biology), it really helps to draw a diagram so you can see if your answer looks realistic i.e. roughly right. Even with languages, it can help to represent your information graphically, like in a spider diagram, because it's a less laborious way of mapping out connections between ideas. 

Bring a highlighter. I don't know if this applies to everyone, but I find highlighters useful in exams. Mainly to highlight my answer hidden near the bottom of chaotic Maths workings, but also to highlight relevant parts of Irish and French comprehensions. Highlighters are also cheerful, which is always good.

Have a positive mindset. You're starting out with 100% and only losing marks as you go along by not answering parts. That's how I think of it. If you just listen and ask questions i.e. be engaged in class, you'll know tons anyway. 

Study strategically. I know it's tempting to just study the things you like, and I'm totally guilty of that. But there are guides all over the internet telling you what comes up often, so pay attention to those. But remember: don't rely on predictions. 

Love the subject. I know this one may not be easy, but you're going to do a lot better if you actually enjoy the subject (duh). I studied Chemistry a lot, but it didn't really feel like studying or hard work because I enjoyed it. Not much help during the actual exam though.

I don't like the idea of doing subjects for points. Do something you're enthusiastic about, and don't learn for the exam. 

Do not learn things off. There are a few exceptions to this rule, like Chemistry definitions. But on the whole, do not learn things off. Especially don't learn essays off. I heard of people doing that for Irish and English and it's the stupidest possible approach I could think of towards the essay questions, apart from leaving them blank. Why would you open yourself up to the possibility of pulling a blank on the day? Why add that extra stress? This is the worst form of cramming, and you're much better off investing time e.g. by reading to improve at English. With science, read as much around the subject as you have to until you understand the topic and can explain it to yourself. Don't just take what the teacher or book say for granted - keep asking questions until you're satisfied.

Be flexible. The point of understanding topics and not having learned off essays or answers is that you can be flexible rather than rigid in exams. Tricky exam questions like to ask questions from new angles, and since you can't cover everything you have to be able to adapt.

Enlist help. Study groups tend to break down, but please don't be afraid to ask people for help with questions you can't do - friends or teachers. Odds are you can help your friends with something in return. We all have strengths and weaknesses. 

So there you go. I think that explains my exam philosophy pretty well. Good luck to everyone in your Junior and Leaving Certs. 

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