This is what it all comes down to. It’s gig time. You are sitting in the exam hall, waiting to get your hands on that anticipated piece of paper. You have jammed a tonne of information into your brain. Your fingernails are non-existent. It’s time to get down to business!
Yes the exam environment may be different across disciplines. Computing students will sit some tests in front of a computer with their fingers poised to code. A practical element will contribute to science-student’s final grade. It doesn’t matter if you’re studying English, Economics, Psychology or History, every exam can be approached in much the same way with these exam writing tips.
This post will dive you some help answering and writing exam questions that will show your knowledge to the person who reads your paper.
How to Answer Exam Questions
Pay attention! These quick tips should be common sense but many students who are under exam stress fail to see their mistakes. We’re going to help you avoid a major exam disaster by pointing you in the right direction.
Here’s our top exam writing tips to help you understand how to answer exam questions:
1. Practice Past Papers
There really is no better way to get exam ready than by attempting past papers. Most exam bodies should have past papers available online but your teacher will get you started on these in class.
This process isn’t just about preparing an answer for a specific question, it’s about understanding how you approach a question in an exam, how to structure your answer, the timings you should assign and what information will get marks.
1) Find out what you have to do
One of the best ways to lose marks is to do something other than what you’ve been asked to do. How many questions do they want you to answer? How many boxes should you tick?
Every exam paper comes with instructions, so make sure you understand what the examiners are asking you to do before you get stuck in.
2. Read All Questions Carefully
Another great way to miss out on marks is to go full steam ahead without understanding the question first. What question, exactly, are you being asked to answer? Modules are broad and varied. But exam questions are specific and narrow. Read the wording carefully so you can recall your knowledge of that exact part of the syllabus.
The stress of the situation can cause you to misread a question, plan your answer out, start writing your response and then realize you made a mistake and wasted vital time. Even though you generally won’t be writing answers to every question on the paper, reading all questions thoroughly will ensure you make the right choices and can highlight how much you know about the topic
3. Manage Your Time
The only difference between coursework and exams is time. All the tricks that help you write a great assignment will help you in an exam too – you just have less time to perform them. Before you start writing, make a schedule. Think about how long you have, how many marks are available for each answer, and how long you should spend on each one.
This is where you need to be strict on yourself. Once you have assigned a time limit for each question, you MUST move on once you hit it or you won’t be able to give the next question your full attention.
Remember to leave yourself some time at the end to go back over your answers and add in little notes or pieces of information about the topic. You never know, this could help bump you up a grade!
4. Structure Your Answer
As well as working out your timings, take some time to decide what your answer is. You wouldn’t start an essay until you knew what you wanted to say – exams are no different.
If you’re in an essay-based exam, plot your structure by outlining an introduction, points to argue, and a conclusion. When you do start writing, you’ll be more focused.
Don’t just jump into writing your answer. Take the first few minutes to plan the structure of your essay which will save you time when you are delving into meaty parts. Always stay on topic.
Most essays should have an introduction, three main points and a conclusion. A lot of students see a conclusion as a final sentence to finish the piece off. A strong conclusion give an A grade student the chance to shine by bringing everything together and fortifying their opinion.
5) Make sure it’s relevant
A common consequence of not planning your answer is an essay full of interesting but irrelevant facts. When you write ‘on the fly’, it’s easy to brain-dump everything you know.
But that’s not what the examiners want. They want a response to the specific question that’s been asked. So think about what you know, and cherry-pick the bits that are relevant.
6. Review Your Answers Thoroughly
Smart students can still make the mistake of handing their answer book in without checking through what they have written. Proofread your answers as much as you can to correct any spelling mistakes and add any extra comments you think are worth mentioning.
You will be surprised what you can spot in those last few minutes. This is your last chance to throw in that quotation, list other relevant points or even draw a quick diagram. Now is not the time to drop your game, show the examiner what you’re made of!
7. Leave some space
Inspiration doesn’t always strike right away. Sometimes you need time to warm up. So if you hit a bit of a wall with one question, leave a big space and move on to the next one.
This means you’ll attempt each task, and that’s a better strategy than answering just one question really well. And when you find the right ideas for an earlier question, you’ll be able to go back and add them in.
6) Mention your sources
This is peculiar to university examinations. More often than not, your response to an exam question should be an argument based on evidence. The examiners are just as interested in the evidence as they are in the argument. Think back to your lectures and reading on this topic. Which authors were important? Use their ideas to support your answer, and make sure you name-check them.
Remember, the exams are not designed to trick you. Don’t panic on the day of your exam or this brain freeze could mean that you get a lower grade that you truly deserve. Convince yourself that you know how to answer exam questions and your almost there.