There are revision tips aplenty on the internet - but what about taking the actual exam? After all your fantastic preparation and months of hard work, you don't want to fall at the final hurdle.
With this in mind, here are six mistakes to avoid when you sit down and open the test paper.
1. Have you read the question properly?
It may sound obvious but have you read the question properly? You may be surprised how even the most intellectual of students may just miss the smallest of details. It’s not a mistake that means you’re incapable; it is simply a result of being in a pressured environment. Take a deep breath before you start your paper and approach it in a calm and logical manner. Read the question three or four times before you rush headlong into crafting what you believe to be the right answer.
Coincidentally, this leads me on to the next point…
2. Choose your answers carefully
Often, especially in a literature based exam, there can be several choices of question to answer. Not all of them will need completion but it is important you answer the ones on which you are strongest. It is always worth having a look through the paper as a whole before you start. By doing this, you can spot any easier questions which you can tackle first, thus building up some early marks quickly.
Importantly, reading over all the questions in the paper before you start provides thinking time for your brain. Giving your brain time to subconciously work on drawing all the relavent points you buried deep in your head during revision period is extremely helpful when you arrive at the creative process of building up your answer.
Finally, if you have been expecting a certain question but it doesn’t appear on the paper then don’t try and shoehorn that answer into another question. This is a common mistake that can pull down candidate grades significantly.
3. Poor time management
Time is of the essence in an exam. It is important you spend an appropriate amount of time on each question. As mentioned, setting aside five minutes to look through the exam paper initially in order to generate a plan of attack and to still your mind is key. The questions are numbered but it doesn’t mean that’s the order you should answer them in.
It's worth paying attention to the mark allocation as a guide - the fewer the marks, the less detail and less time required to answer the question. If you are writing an exam which contains a variety of essay papers and long answer questions, it can be extremely useful to bring a calculator along and work out how long you should spend on each question based on the marks.
Finally, make sure you turn up to the exam hall in good time. This will help mentally prepare you before you enter the exam. Rushing to the exam late is a sure-fire way to put you in the wrong frame of mind before your paper.
4. Don’t let yourself get distracted
It’s easy to do. Maybe you’ve just come up against a particularly tricky question and decide to let your attention wander. Perhaps in the time between each question you look up and notice other people scribbling away furiously and decide to spend the next five minutes checking around the entire exam hall.
Easier said than done but it's crucial that you focus on nothing else apart from your own performance. Just because the person next to you has written three pages in the first half hour doesn’t mean you’re doing something wrong. Maybe they have big handwriting. Or consider this - maybe what they're writing is wrong.
5. Check your paper thoroughly
It may seem like stating the obvious but it is important, when you finish the exam, you resist the urge to not check back through or leave early. Even if you have just completed an exam in a subject that's second nature to you, and you think you are completely right, it's 100% worth running the following checks:
- Have you made any grammatical or working out errors? Is your work presented in the right way that the examiner wants? Does it read correctly and coherently? You've done all the hard work learning the material, don't throw away those marks on grammar and spelling! Remember that an examiner may not give your work a second read if they can't understand it.
- Have you left any blanks? It is worth attempting every question. Sometimes no matter how much you have revised for an exam a question will come up that may catch you off guard. It happens but the key is to remember a question with no answer can give you no marks. If you don't have lots to say on that particular subject, it’s not worth spending lots of time on it. Just get the basics down and move on.
- Have you answered all the compulsory questions? As mentioned before, some papers have optional answers. Make sure you haven’t just jumped to the questions you’re good at. Don’t leave out the essentials.
- Have you left out any ‘added extras’? Particularly relevant to maths oriented subjects, diagrams, graphs and methods to demonstrate how you arrived at the final answer are often required. Make sure you don’t lose out on easy marks if these are required.
- Have you filled out all compulsory information? Don’t forget the basics. If you need to put your name or exam number on the test paper, make sure you do it. It’s unlikely; however in the heat of the moment stranger things have happened. After all, what good is a perfect exam paper with no owner?
6. Top marks
Perhaps the most important thing to remember when it comes to sitting an exam is this - it's simply a case of ticking the right boxes. The information lies within you somewhere. With the right preparation, you can give it your best shot. By following these tips above, hopefully we have made the whole process even easier for you.