Sunday, 30 March 2014

Top tips to prepare for exams

This is just a short post with a few top tips as exams approach!

1. Don't spend ages revising. This may be what you want to hear because you're lazy, but that's not what I mean. My view is that if you don't take things in as you go along, you won't do well in exams (at least not in Media or Film) just because you do a load of work at the end. You need to understand your subject and be able to talk about it anyway. preparing for exam questions about it should be a matter of technique and refreshing your mind about it, rather than cramming loads of information for weeks.

2. Focus your preparation completely. Know PRECISELY what you are going to be expected to do in the exam- how long the paper is, what form the questions take, how many marks are attached to them and how long you are expected to spend on each one. Know what the rules are about the questions- do you have to refer to a minimum number of texts, a variety of media, to examples from a particular period of time- whatever! all this knowledge helps you to be absolutely clear about what you need to prepare and what you can set aside. Look at past papers and past questions- if your teacher can't provide them, go online and find them- all exam boards have old papers you can download.

3. Decide what you feel most confident about using and systematically prepare that material so that you can summarise it, refer to the key arguments, mobilise specific examples to back your points and adapt it to the needs of different questions. You don't need to know EVERYTHING about a topic, but you do need to be able to be FLEXIBLE with what you do know!

4. PRACTICE writing to time. Start with some old questions and set out what your paragraphs will contain as a set of bullet points. Then just write and time yourself. How much can you cover in the time and how well does your argument work? get someone to read it, especially someone who doesn't know about the subject, and ask them if they can follow your argument and if your examples back your points up. If not, go back to what you have written and work out how to fill the gaps. If you do a few timed essays, you will get faster and if you seek advice from readers, you will get better.

5. Have some of your own examples. Don't rely on everything having been spoon fed by the teachers. Applying ideas or concepts to examples YOU have found always helps your answer to stand out from the same old stuff that everyone has half-remembered or half-understood the teacher saying.

6. Don't panic. If you prepare effectively in the short term and have taken things on board in the long term, then you have nothing to worry about. You can only do your best.

7. And finally, get the obvious things right. Know WHEN the exam is- DAY and TIME! I have known students to miss a morning exam because they assumed it was in the afternoon. Aim to be there EARLY- transport isn't always reliable. And have your PENS! When I used to invigilate, it always shocked me that there were many people in the room who had forgotten to bring pens. And during the exam, keep an eye on the clock. There is no value in spending an hour on a 25 mark question and then only half an hour on a 50 mark question. You might get full marks for the 25, but you will probably lose 25 on the 50!

Next time...structuring an answer.

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