Struggling to perform well in exams or just looking to boost your scores? You might be surprised to learn that exams aren’t just about testing your knowledge on a topic; they’re also about strategy and testing your ability to follow instructions. Sometimes low test scores are a result of weaknesses in the latter two factors, something that no amount of studying can readily rectify. So how do you translate your knowledge into great exam marks? It’s about knowing how to approach an exam, a skill which, you’ll be pleased to learn, you can pick up quite easily. Here are five tips for maximising your exam marks.
The syllabus is your gospel
You’re not likely to do well if you don’t have a solid understanding of why it is that you’re learning what you’re being taught. Get familiar with the syllabus. It will give you an indication of why the content is important and what the key themes of the course are, not to mention the learning outcomes act as a great guide to what you’ll be assessed on. Study more effectively by building your efforts around the learning outcomes; you’ll find the questions you encounter during the exam less of a surprise.
Evaluate your performance in previous exams
Self-reflection is a necessary step in improving exam performance. Go over your previous exams and identify where you’ve fallen short. See if there is a pattern; perhaps your essays are not up to scratch, or calculus is not your strong suit. Use that information to create a study plan that addresses your weaknesses. Talk to your teachers about what areas they think you need to improve in and make sure to actually take advantage of their help. The best thing you can do to raise your grades is to talk to them outside of class, send them practice essays and get their feedback.
Read the questions carefully, then read them again
Oftentimes students underperform in exams because they don’t properly understand what the question is asking, whether due to panic or because they’re unsure what the task words require of them. Take a breath when you feel yourself start to get anxious, then underline the most important words in the question. Make sure to only address what the question is asking you; padding your answers with irrelevant information will not get you marks, so don’t waste time writing everything you know about the topic. If you have trouble understanding what sort of answer the question warrants, head on over to our helpful Guide to Understanding Task Words and make it your new best friend.
Write down vital information when writing time starts
As soon as you’re allowed to pick up your pen, jot down any information you think you’re likely to forget, such as formulas, source names, dates, or anything else you might need for the test. This way, you’ll have something to refer to, rather than spending your energy remembering certain facts instead of answering questions.
Do the easy questions first
You’ve probably been told in the past that a minute per mark is the best way to divvy your time for an exam, but what about the order in which you complete the test in? While some students believe that getting the difficult questions over and done with first is the best way to approach an exam, doing so is counterproductive. You’ll end up spending too much time on those questions at the expense of the rest of the exam. Getting the easy questions out of the way first is actually the best way to ensure marks. It may sound painstakingly obvious, but not only will you get more of the exam done this way, completing questions you know the answers to will also get your mind rolling and help you tackle the harder questions later on. Sometimes exam questions will jog your memory, or contain clues about the answer to other questions you may be unsure about as well.
Keep these tips in mind for your next exam, happy studying, and good luck!