The purpose of this page is to help you perform as well as you can when you actually sit down to answer your exams. There's a lot that could be said on this topic, but here we've pulled out some of the most important points.
Apart from knowing and understanding the course material that's being examined, the way that you answer exam questions is very important.
Because your exam answers are going to be read and marked by the examiner... who is another human being (well, kind of!)
So, the clearer you make your answer, the easier it will be to mark it.
One good way to improve your exam technique is to try to put yourself in the place of the examiner -- If you were an examiner, what would you like to see in the scripts that you have to mark?
Try to help the examiner read your answer easily. It's in your interest, and it's in the examiner's interest. Remember, although you will be answering only one exam paper per course, the examiner may have to mark hundreds of papers!
So here are some specific points to think about.
Before the exams start
As soon as the exams timetables are published, make sure you know when (date and time) and where all your exams are (this will help ensure that you revise for the right exam). Also make sure you are registered for the correct exams (if not, see the Student Support Office).
Get as comfortable as you can in your seat.
First read the front cover of the exam paper - are you taking the correct exam? If not... well, go and do the correct exam instead... but please don't panic! Speak immediately to one of the invigilators, who will be able to help you find your correct exam (of course this won't happen if you follow the `Before the Exams Start' advice!)
Read the question paper
Read the instructions on the paper and make sure you fully understand them. If you don't, don't sit and agonise over the wording -- ask an invigilator.
Check what's required: how many questions must you answer? How many from each section? Must you use separate answer books?
Read through the whole paper. Decide which questions to answer, and in which order. Are you best at writing essays or problem solving? Pick the most suitable sorts of question, if you can.
Make sure you have read all parts of each question. Check if the question goes onto the next page. And have you read the back page of the question paper?
Before you start answering a question, read it through at least twice. Then sketch out your answer in rough, and then cross your rough sketch answer out clearly so it doesn't get marked by mistake.
Follow the instructions
Answer the correct number of questions. Do not answer extra questions in the hope that you will get extra marks. You won't.
Is there a problem? Don't panic!
If something goes wrong before or during any exam, let us know as soon as possible, and we can take it into account. Contact the Student Support Office or see the appropriate year tutor.
If you think there is a mistake in the question paper don't be afraid to ask an invigilator. They will get the School to check. Although question papers are thoroughly checked, every year a few mistakes remain uncorrected.
If you feel unwell during an exam tell an invigilator as well as the School.
If something goes wrong and we don't know about it we can't help. It is your responsibility to tell us of any problems you experience.
Use your time well
You have about 30 minutes to answer each question. You must take account of how many marks are available for each part when you answer it. Even if you think you can write more, don't spend 15 minutes answering a part worth only 5 marks. Leave space at the end of your answer and come back to it if you have time to spare later.
And if you can't think of an answer to some part, leave a space and move on to the next part. Don't write about something else if you don't know the correct answer -- this is just a waste of your valuable time (and the examiner's).
Aim to attempt all parts of a question --- this will, of course, maximise your potential mark (if you give no answer at all to part of a question then immediately you limit the number of marks you can get!)
Don't save the best till last! When you have read through all the questions on the paper a few times, work out which are likely to be your best questions, and answer those first. This will give you a few 'guaranteed' marks, and also make you feel better. There's no point struggling through difficult questions, and then finding that you don't have time to answer those that you know you could do well on.
If you are running short of time, it's usually best to try to complete as much as possible by writing notes or bullet points if necessary.
Is your handwriting clear and legible?
Look at your handwriting. Do you think it is clear and easy to read? If you're not sure, show an example to a friend and ask their opinion. If your friend can't read your writing... will the examiner be able to?
Remember, if the examiner can't read your writing easily, they are going to find it really hard to be able to mark your answer.
Is your answer book clear and legible?
The answer books have lots of pages. Use them. There's no need to cram all your writing and diagrams into a few pages. Spread things out and help the examiner see everything clearly.
Don't copy the actual question from the question paper into your answer book.
When a question asks for an essay-style answer, write an essay.
When a question asks a number of technical questions, essay-style answers usually aren't appropriate. Address each part of the question, and write in short coherent English sentences. If you want to make a list of things, then writing in bulleted-point style is acceptable. But don't make you entire answer just a list of unconnected bullet points.
Clearly mark each part of your answer with the question number, like "Q2 B" if it is part B of question 2, for example.
We don't take marks off for poor presentation, but if we can't read your answer or follow your train of thought we can't give you good marks.
Make sure you clearly indicate those parts which make up your answer, and those parts which are notes. You should of course only include one answer per question!
What is required in your answer?
Or...how long is a piece of string? In general, this will vary enormously. However you should act on any instructions the question gives.
For example, does the question ask you to "illustrate your answer with diagrams"? If it does, then use diagrams! If you don't, you can't possibly get the maximum marks. If the question asks you to "briefly describe...", and gives 2 marks for this part, then your answer is likely to be brief!
And make your diagrams as clear as possible.
One of the problems we often see with diagrams is that many students -- for unknown reasons -- draw very very small diagrams. Most examiners will not have a magnifying glass handy, so draw your diagrams large, and annotate them clearly.
When you've finished
When you've finished answering all the questions, go back to the start of all your answers and read through everything you've written and drawn, checking that it's clear and you've said what you wanted to say.
Check your answers - have you answered all the parts of the questions?
If there's still time left in the exam, use it. Read everything again, check you haven't missed anything. Review all your answers and check them against the question paper. Do your answers match the questions?
Resist the temptation to leave early until you are really sure you have nothing left to add to your answers.
If you already know you're not very good at taking exams...
Please talk to your tutor and/or year tutor about this, so we can do what we can to help.
You can get help with exam stress from the Counselling Service - try to contact them well before the exams, as they run support groups around the middle of each semester.
See also Student Support and Guidance from the student handbook [UG] [PG].