For many people studying as adults, taking an OU or similar exam may be the first time they've taken an exam for many years. It can be daunting, but don't let it be!Here are my top tips for taking OU exams - in fact., this probably applies to most exams... Most of it is pure common sense, but this can often go out the window if you're in a panic
1. Preparation, preparation, preparation...
The key to this is to get ready well before the exam (and I mean WELL BEFORE - weeks or even months!) If you're really smart, try and make your normal study notes in the sort of format that will ease your revision technique later.Examples of good revision techniques are:
- Re-reading your notes and highlighting passages of the text that are important.
- Cue Cards with key words and key facts, usually made from 5x3" or 6x4" index cards available at most stationery stores.
- Crib sheets summarising all the key facts on 1 or a few A4 pages.
- Making revision audio tapes or CDs that you can play in the car, or before you go to bed at night. The OU provide some excellent (and in the case of Cert Man module 3, very amusing) tapes/CDs and are well worth a listen to.
- Devise mnemonics and acronyms for topics e.g. "Richard Of York Gave Battle In Vain" helps remember the colours of the rainbow / visible spectrum.
Different things work better for different people, so find a technique that suits you and stick to it.One important thing to note is that you shouldn't expect to remember *everything* after a revision session. It's all about revision and then recall, so the more you revise, the more things will stay in your head over time.
2. Revision Timetable
To get you started in doing the above, make a revision timetable. Know what you have to do and when.
- When can, and when can't you revise?
- Are there any topics you already feel comfortable with?
- Any weak areas?
- Plan out regular sessions when you know you can work without being disturbed.
3. Practice/previous exam papers
If there are practice or previous exam papers available, make use of them! They will give you good clues as to:
- The sort of language and style the exam will be written in
- The types of questions the examiners will be asking.
4. Use Revision discussion groups and forums
Most people taking an exam will find that they are not alone! Find a discussion forum to join to talk with other students before the exams.
- This will get you thinking about and discussing likely exam topics
- ...and will steady your nerves!
For OU students, use the revision conference boards on the student site. The administrators there are excellent and are there to help, plus you'll meet other students in the same situation.
5. Use your tutor!
Whether you're studying with the OU or not, if you have any contact with a school/college/university tutor, make as much (academic) use of them as you can! They are there to help you, they WANT to help you pass the exam, so don't be afraid to ask them questions or ask for extra help if you're stuck on a topic.
6. Getting close to the day of the exam? - don't panic!
If you've prepared carefully, you should be in a position where there is nothing to worry about. If you're still a bit panicky, or you feel nothing is going in your head and staying there, try to relax (easier said than done, I know) and read the next item.
7. Examiners are NOT out to trick you!
Myths about almost all exams:
- They want to trick us
- They want us to fail
Facts about almost all exams:
8. The night before the exam
- Almost every school, college, university, professional body and organisation want their candidates to pass their exams, the key reason being that their stats / student nos. / reputations / membership fees depend on it.
- What *is* true for any self-respecting school, college, university, professional body and organisation is that they DO need to keep a certain standard of achievement present in the quality of those passing the exams. This is in our best interest as students and it validates the level of study we have put in and keeps the examining body's reputation in tact, in turn adding and keeping value to the qualification you've gained.
- The examiners are looking for you show that you understand and can put to practical application the topics and models you have learned during your studies. It's really that simple. That's all you have to worry about.
9. On the day of the Exam...
- Have a good evening meal, but don't overeat,
- Prepare your pencil case and documents you need for the next day. I usually carry the following to an exam:
- A clear plastic zip-up pencil case containing:
- 3x blue/black biros
- 2x red /green biros for underlining important points I want to make
- 2x pencils with a separate good eraser in case pens leak or run out
- An luminous highlighter
- A 6" / 15cm ruler
- A calculator
- A packet of travel tissues
- A 500ml bottle of water
- A packet of mints/boiled sweets/ fruit pastilles
- Put your books down at a decent hour and relax a bit!
- Don't go to bed too late. Try and get a good night's sleep.
10. In the exam room...
- Don't do any more revision! Relax! Watch some TV, listen to music, play X-Box or PS2 or whatever you like. What you don't know now you are very unlikely to know after another hour of study.
- If you have some time, and access to some green space or somewhere - back garden, park, or similar, go for a walk and just chill out before you off to the exam.
- Make sure you have all the right documents and ID you need for when you get there.
- Give yourself PLENTY of time to get to the exam centre.
- If you are going by public transport, take a magazine or something to keep your mind clear and calm on the journey.
- When you get to the exam centre, go to the toilet before the exam. There is nothing worse than suddenly needing the loo half-way through the exam! If you are allowed to go during the exam, leaving the exam may well interrupt your creative flow (pardon the pun!), not mention losing you precious minutes.
So, best of luck!
- Note the number of questions you have to answer and the amount of time you have. This will almost always be on the front cover of the paper, so take note and make sure you plan your time effectively.
- Don't rush. Spend the first couple of minutes planning your answer (and make rough notes if appropriate - often the examiner will actually look at these and it may help you indirectly get marks by showing working through of the answer)
- If you read the exam paper and think "B*gger, I can only answer 2 of these 3 questions, do those first! I've been amazed in exams sometimes when exactly that has happened to me, and as I'm answering another question the information I need to answer the one I'm having trouble with appears through my own hand!
- A good 10-15 minutes before the end of the exam, make sure you have answered everything that you are supposed to. If you suddenly find you have not answered enough questions, then even a list of keywords and a choice diagram will get you more marks than nothing at all.