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Exam Techniques


Sometimes the problem is not with knowledge but your ability to relay information in the exam. Every exam and exam board want you to answer specific questions in a particular way so the best thing you can do is read and reread exam mark schemes and examples. There are so many circumstances that can contribute to throwing you off during the exam, and in this post, I will talk through a few.

Staying Calm 

Once you sit down and your heart beats faster than you ever thought possible, it can be difficult to chill out, so here are a few tips:

  1. BE CONFIDENT in the amount of time you have spent revising. Revision is the foundation of your knowledge and it should not be neglected. If you are struggling to revise, have a glance at my Revision Techniques post.
  2. Take a deep breath before you open the paper. If you rush straight into it, your heart rate might increase and cause you to panic. All it takes is ten seconds while everyone is aggressively flipping through the exam paper – not really answering any questions.
  3. Don’t panic when you come across a question you can’t answer, just move on and come back later (I used to draw a star on that page to remind me). In some papers like Maths, there will be a few questions that are deliberately difficult. These questions are to distinguish between A and A* students so don’t beat yourself up if you are struggling.

Answering questions

Obviously, a Physics paper is going to be different from an English paper when it comes to how you answer the questions. Therefore, I have categorised the types of questions you might get into mathematical, essay and statement questions.

Mathematical questions – These include some questions found in Physics papers. With many Maths questions, there are a couple of marks for your working out, even if you get the incorrect answers. So, even if you feel that you can’t get the answer, by only putting a few calculations down you could get some marks. Also, if you have gotten an answer, try putting it back through the equations to see if it actually works: this is a great way to self-check as best as you can.

Essay questions – People believe that the more fluffy they are in essays the better they will do, but this is utterly wrong. It is key in essays to be as clear as possible. Keep to a strong structure and use direct points that don’t beat around the bush. You can establish the structure and your points in the introduction, however, steer clear from rattling on. Although I have mentioned that keeping your points clear is important, they still need to be interesting and original ideas that are conveyed in a sophisticated way if you want to get the best grades. Writing that ‘The writer portrays him as timid and fearful’ is better than ‘He is shown as afraid’. 

Statement questions – These questions can vary between each other and between subjects: the best course of action is to speak to your teachers and to check the mark schemes and exam examples. With most questions, the way you answer depends on the trigger words of the question, for example: explain, analyse and describe. A rough guide is that describe = state the answer, explain = give evidence, and analyse = explain the effect(s).

Ignoring noises

One of the toughest things to do in the exam is to ignore any sound that you might hear or any distraction that might arise. It is hard to combat these issues in the exam. My advice is to take a few deep, slow breaths and read your question slowly while making sure you understand what it is asking. In reality, there shouldn’t be anything distracting you in the exam, but if something is disturbing you, put your hand up and tell the invigilator – they will try their hardest to help you.

GOOD LUCK, you will be great!

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Check out this post if you don’t know how to prepare for your exams!

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