Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Writing an exam answer

I have posted quite a lot in the past about the OCR G322 and G325 media exams, so have a look at those for more specific advice. This post is general advice for any exam paper and follows on from the previous post about preparing for exams.

1. After dividing up your time for the paper, so you know how long you will spend on each question (related to the marks available), your next step is to see, where there is a choice of question, which one you will choose. You may be lucky and spot a question straight away that absolutely suits your material. But if not, the key is to read the question carefully and look for key words or triggers which will help you. Are there media terms in it that point you to what it is looking for, like 'distribution' or 'regulation'? Even if it doesn't make absolute sense to you at first glance, those key words are likely to be designed to help you rather than catch you out.

2. A little planning goes a long way. Spend the first couple of minutes of the time you have allocated mapping out how you are going to answer the question- bullet points for each paragraph with examples you intend to use. This is useful should your mind go blank and in simply structuring the next 45 minutes or however long you are spending on it, but also in flagging up to the examiner where you would have gone if you do by chance run out of time.

3. Get on with it. You need an introduction, but you need it to be short and to the point. Don't ramble. Even if you have a formula that you practice beforehand, that usually won't do any harm. You need something to guarantee getting you started and fast! So how about 'In this essay I shall show how (whatever is being asked about) applies to (text 1) and (text 2).' This gets you moving and tells the examiner what you will be using as your main example. Same thing with endings. You need to conclude, so that the essay doesn't appear to have stopped in mid-air, but it can be quite brief: 'So as we have seen, (whatever is being asked about) can be applied to (text 1) and (text 2)'. Of course it's not precisely these words that you'll use, but keeping it simple means you've got time to get on with the main body of it!

4. Paragraphs. Use them. And leave a gap between each one so the marker can read them. Ideally, each paragraph will deal with one main idea and support that idea or point with examples. But even if your paragraph  doesn't do what it should, just physically  breaking up the page makes a huge difference for the reader. Most students don't have beautiful handwriting, especially these days when we use keyboards so much, so make it easy for the examiner to read what you have written! Leave spaces between paragraphs and keep paragraphs relatively short. a rule of thumb is that if you have less than two paragraphs on a page, you probably aren't breaking it up enough. Aim for three.

5. Examples. Use them. they are the thing that most frequently go AWOL in a student exam answer. Students tend to trot out arguments and then not back them up. that is true in lots of subjects. So make sure each point you make has something solid to back it up- a sequence from the TV programme that shows what you are arguing about representation, some figures from that film marketing campaign that support your point.

6. Structure. Have one. If you plan your answer as an argument, this will ensure you follow it through. Point, Example, Explanation is all very well, but if the points are all disjointed, that's not much use!

So there you go- good luck!