Exam Techniques and How to Avoid Common Pitfalls - Guest Blog

Updated: Jan 8, 2020

I can honestly say that exam techniques changed my life by enabling me to go from being useless at passing exams to being brilliant at passing exams. This is one of the reasons that I am now a Director in the PwC Academy teaching others how to pass exams.

Exam techniques should always ‘start with the end in mind’. This means looking at past exam papers from the start of your studies.

The common pitfall is to leave looking at exam standard questions until the end of the course and therefore spending less time on practicing exam standard questions. This is like reading a book on how to drive a car and never practicing driving the car before the exam!! I will leave you to imagine the result of that exam!

Practicing exam questions means ‘doing answers yourself’ and not just reading the suggested answers. This is because you want to avoid the negative aspects of the ‘delete, distort and generalise filters’ in our brain.

The brain will naturally ‘delete’ words, ‘distort’ what is being asked and use ‘generalised’ sentences when answering questions when the answer should be detailed and specific.

This ‘pitfall’ is the main reason for exam failure and/or poor grades. This is because the student’s answer does not answer the question as set and/or is a very general answer that ‘collects’ low marks. Understand that most examinations are not negatively marked and therefore you never ‘loose marks’ but only ever collect marks.

Excellent exam technique therefore includes setting time aside to DO answers under exam conditions and asking someone to mark them for you. Someone who knows what examiners are looking for and have experience in marking exam papers.

You must practice ‘structure planning’ an answer before thinking about the ‘contents of an answer because quite often ‘there’s no content in contents worth knowing’. This means that quite often, different contents can be used to answer the same question but unless the content is structured to answer the question, the answer does not answer the question set.

The most important exam technique to ensure that your contents is answering the question is to structure plan your answer in terms of ‘what’ the examiner wants, the sentence construction using words from the requirement and ensuring that you write enough to collect sufficient marks to pass.

Finally, use mindmaps and memory techniques to memorise not only lists of facts but also to memorise any process (a step by step sequence designed to achieve an objective).

Applying memory techniques means that you can more easily avoid the pitfall of not being able to recall information in the exam and more easily recall the correct sequence in a process. For example, a strategic planning process can be memorised using ‘ACE’;

  1. Analyse the Organisations environments

  2. Choose appropriate strategies

  3. Execute the plan and monitor and control.

I hope this short blog has been useful

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