When I was at high school, and in my first year of University for that matter, I was not a particularly good student. I didn’t do much studying or revision and I turned up to exams completely unprepared. Fortunately, I knew enough to get slightly above average grades and make it into a good University. When I got into my second year at University I actually hit on a good formula to get grade A’s in all my exams and I finished with a first class honors degree. So what changed? I had basically hit on a good method of studying.
What did I do that improved my exam performance so much? Well, immediately after each lecture I would go home and re-write my messy lecture notes into a more legible form, using a textbook to fill in the gaps of those parts of the lecture I did not understand. This seems fairly obvious I know, but you should know that it is the process of re-writing the notes that will help you remember them. As time went jamb expo on I got more into taking more information out of the textbooks so that I was learning more than the professor had time to lecture us upon. This helped a great deal in the exam because I immediately had an advantage over my fellow students because I was able to elaborate more in my answers.
OK, so you’re going to have to have an encyclopedic brain to remember all these notes before the exam right. Well even though you will have to spend some time memorizing your notes, it is learning how to apply that knowledge that is more important. You will have to figure out what sort of questions they will ask in the exam, then you will be able to apply some of the knowledge that would have stuck in your brain as you were writing up your lecture notes. What do I mean? Well, the closer it got to the exam time I actually stopped trying to memorize my notes and started to practice exam questions. I would go to the college library and photocopy past exam questions and spend most of my time answering them. At the beginning I would use my improved lecture notes, then I would stop using the notes and answer them by myself. I would even grade my own answers, see where I had failed and then go back and study more in that area. By completing this cycle I began to recognize a pattern in the questions they asked and would be able to tailor my answers to the type of exam question I would expect.
Everybody gets nervous before an exam. Well you know this can actually be a good thing. Nervous energy can be a great stimulant if applied correctly. These days I actually get worried if I am not nervous before I give a lecture, because it is that nervousness that kicks you on your way. So, yes, do get nervous, but no, don’t panic. If you have followed the above study routine, you should be more than prepared to answer any question better than your peers.
Now that I mark exams and get to know the students in my class, I have found that even the best students flunk an exam. I know they have what it takes to do well; yet they go off and give the wrong answers to the questions I set, even though I know they have the knowledge to answer the question. So what do they do wrong? They simply go off at a tangent and write what they want without paying attention to what was asked. So before you start answering the question, sit down for a minute or two and plan your answer, you can make a short plan if you are writing an essay, or write down a few keywords if you have short answer questions to deal with. Make sure that your plan/keywords directly answer the question then start answering your question according to your plan/keywords.
I can’t stress the importance of practice enough. If you have followed my advice for studying well, you should have answered a fair few questions before the exam. When you practice essay questions at home, you should always time yourself so that you can write the essay under exam conditions and in the exam you should always write your plan before you answer the question in your answer booklet. Make sure that it is obvious that it is your plan so that the examiner can focus his attention on your essay itself that follows. In my plans I always had the introduction, the main content then the conclusion. It is a simple formula and is guaranteed to have great results.