By now you will be only too familiar with sitting exams and tests but at university exams are slightly different.
- Unlike GCSEs, AS and A levels (and their equivalents), questions in university exams are normally set by your lecturer, although the exam and marking process is reviewed by an external examiner to ensure fairness between universities.
- You will be expected to show evidence of background reading and independent, critical thought by writing more than just the information you have been given in lectures. You can't get away with just regurgitating notes and other people's ideas if you want a decent class of degree!
- The level and complexity of the material covered will be far higher. But don't let this put you off. Most first-year courses will start with a basic introduction to the subject to bring everyone 'up to speed' regardless of whether they have previously studied the subject at school or college. As you progress through your degree you will, in most cases, have some level of choice as to what you can study, so you can pick the areas of your subject that you are most interested in and are best at.
Planning your Revision
The idea of setting yourself a revision timetable in the months and weeks leading up to the exam is probably a familiar one. From past experience you should also have a good idea of how revision works best for you - at what time of day you are most productive, how long you can concentrate for and what revision environment suits you best.
The amount of revision that is necessary at university may seem daunting, particularly if you have managed to do well in school or college exams without lots of revision.
You may wish to be selective in what you actually revise, but don't limit yourself too much. If you plan to continue studying a topic next year, it makes sense to revise it as it will help with your future understanding!
Do remember to 'be kind' to yourself. Revision is hard work and scheduling regular breaks and treats will help.
HINTS AND TIPS: Useful exam and revision strategies
- Think about having to revise from notes at the time you are writing them - make them as legible, ordered and clear to understand as possible.
- Make sure your notes are complete and sorted before you start - did you miss any lectures, is there vital extra reading needed? This will help you plan your revision.
- It may be helpful to revise by summarizing key points and then 'summarize the summary' onto a single sheet. This can help in the process of memorizing information.
- Make up a list of your own key questions on each topic and make sure you can answer them.
- Think about how you would write answers to past exam questions. (Warning: it is very tempting in the real exam to regurgitate an answer you have already prepared, but at university level the chances are that the question will be subtly different, so make sure you are answering the right one!)
- Revise and exchange ideas with friends. This is also good if you feel short of motivation. However, avoid exam 'post-mortems' with others if this causes too much stress!
- Make revision active, not passive - do things with your notes, don't just continually re-read them. Try summarizing them or drawing them out into charts, diagrams or tables.
- Choose the best learning style for you. For example, if you are a visual learner, you could put up diagrams summarizing key information somewhere you will see them regularly.
- Find out as much about the exam as possible beforehand. Find out about its structure, the number of questions, and where and when it is being held. This will help to reduce any 'fear of the unknown'.
- Try to visit the place of the exam beforehand if you have any worries about finding it on the day and allow plenty of time to get there.
- Unsubstantiated arguments (ie no evidence to back up your ideas)
*NB if you are dyslexic, make sure you have informed your tutors so this can be taken into account during exams.
Learn to manage any stress associated with exams so it works in your favour and motivates you to revise. The better prepared you are for an exam the better you will feel. If stress is a real problem for you, relaxation techniques or counselling may help. Try to keep a positive attitude. Remember, you can succeed!
Comments from Examiners
Remember that university examiners are real people (your lecturers in most cases) and that they actually want you to do well in the exams they set! But equally they will have a huge number of scripts to mark in a very short time so try to avoid doing things they don't like, and stick to the things they do!
Things university examiners like:
- Evidence that you have really thought about the question
- Evidence that you have selectively sifted through the information you have such as lecture notes and extra reading, to produce an answer that is really relevant to the question
- Good structure (eg use of paragraphs for each new idea)
- Evidence of relevant extra reading
- Evidence of critical thought ie that you have weighed up the pros and cons of an argument and backed it up with sensible evidence
- Use of diagrams and tables where appropriate
- Correct use of rules or conventions for your subject, such as whether to write in first or third person, or to express your own opinion
- Keeping the length of your writing in sensible proportion to the marks available for the question
Things university examiners don't like:
- Illegible writing and messy presentation
- Poor grammar and punctuation
- Poor spelling, especially of subject-specific terms that you should be familiar with
- Not answering the question
- Having to waste their time wading through lots of irrelevant material, however accurate or detailed!
- Having to really struggle to work out the point you are making
- Disjointed arguments or no structure to the writing