Twas the night before ………..the exam – but what to do?

keep-calm-and-study-all-night-5 Well not exactly all night

For students May and June are the main exam months. Studying and learning can be enjoyable…. honestly, but the fun has to come to an end and it does, with the exam. It cannot be avoided and so is best embraced, treat the exam as a game and you the player. What you need to do is give yourself the very best chance of winning.

Become a professional exam taker, someone who follows a process of preparation, very much like a top sportsperson. This means you personally need to be in the best physical and mental shape and have a series of exercises that will get you match fit.

Below is your training regime from the night before the exam – good luck

The night before

You should by now have:

  • Read through and reduce your class/tuition notes down to approximately 10 pages (20 max) of revision notes, see March Blog on how to prepare notes. You may have some professionally produced revision notes, but it is still best to make your own.
  • Practiced past questions on the key examinable areas both under exam and non exam conditions.
  • Started the process of memorising the revision notes.

Be realistic – The key to the night before the exam is to be realistic. You don’t have much time, so don’t think you can cover everything. Let’s assume you have 3/4 hours, 6.00pm – 10.00pm maybe.

Put to one side the large folder that contains all your notes taken throughout the term/year, and concentrate only on the 10-20 page revision notes.

Focus and memorise – In the 3/4 hours that you have you want to get an overview of the subject and focus on the areas that need memorising. These should be the key examinable areas and are most likely to be standard formats, definitions, lists, formulas s not given in the exam etc.  Memorising should include some rewriting of notes, but very little, focus on talking out loud, drawing pictures, writing out mnemonics etc. See my blogs on memory, in particular: Thanks for the memories  and To pass an exam do and exam.

Admin – make sure you have set to one side everything you will need the next day. This includes your exam entry documents, calculator, gum, mints etc. You don’t want to be thinking of these in the morning. And of course make sure you know exactly what time you need to leave to get to the exam with about 1 hour to spare.

Physical and mental preparation – Drink lots of water, avoid tea, coffee etc as you will need to get a good night’s sleep. Exercise is an incredibly effective method of reducing tension and stress. So you may want to build into your 4 hours, 30 minutes for a run or brisk walk. This could be at the half way point of your evening, combining a well earned break with the exercise maximises your time.

Getting sleep is important, so avoid reading your notes and then going straight to sleep. Pack you notes away, put them ready for the morning, then physically go into another room if possible or even outside, watch TV for 10 minutes, something trivial or read a book. You need to break the state of mind from that of studying, relaxation leads to sleep not stress.

And finally keep a positive attitude, think about what you know and are good at and not what you don’t know and are bad at. Keep telling yourself that you have done everything possible, and if you follow these steps you will have. Thinking you know nothing and should have done more will not help at this stage, it’s a pointless thought strategy and not what the professional exam taker does.

The morning before

Set your alarm sufficiently early to give you at least another hour of revision. You don’t need to get out of bed, just continue memorising your notes. This is now about little and often, short 10 minute intervals. Don’t worry about falling to sleep in the exam; the adrenalin won’t let you.

1 hour before

What you do after arriving at the exam centre/School etc  is personal. Some will prefer to sit on their own going over the revision notes; don’t bother taking your folder of course notes. This is still very much about short term memory. Others will prefer to talk, chatting about nothing, just to stop them worrying. Both are fine.

After the examExam post it!

Afterwards is also a little personal, most will go home, but some will want to talk through what was in the exam, looking perhaps for some conformation they have not made a complete mess of it. Most importantly, if you have another exam, go home, put your old revision notes to one side, forget everything and start on your next subject.

The American basket ball player Art Williams had a good saying that I will leave you with. I’m not telling you it is going to be easy — I’m telling you it’s going to be worth it”

And although personally I found exams difficult I have never regretted the hard work, it was for me worth it.

And something to watch

How to: Cram the night before a test and PASS

Or you could try this

This blog is for Beth – good luck xx

Just answer the question!!! – but how?

Last month I looked at the best way to tackle a case study, but case study is only one type of exam, what about the more traditional style of exam question?

The world is full of great advice, lose weight, exercise more, stop smoking, just answer the question ….all these statements are very clear with regard to WHAT you should do but terribly unhelpful as HOW to do it.

The reason that students fail exams is simple, every examiner since the beginning of time will have made some of these comments.

Students fail exams because?

  • They don’t know the subject – inexcusable and the only reason you should fail
  • They don’t read the questions properly – and as a result  misunderstand what was being asked
  • They don’t  manage their time – so only complete 50% of the paper
  • They don’t write good answers – true this might be due to lack of knowledge but could also be the result of not knowing how much to write

The last three of these can be overcome with the use of good exam techniques. In this blog I want to share with you two simple techniques that I think will help.

How to read questions properly – Tip one, the rule of AND

Below is an exam question worth 12 marks. You don’t need to know anything about the subject so don’t worry.

Using the information given for DT Co, calculate the adjusted present value of the investment and the adjusted discount rate, and explain the circumstances in which this adjusted discount rate may be used to evaluate future investments. (12 marks)

The rule of AND is simple, where there is an AND in the question simply put a line through the AND then make the next statement the start of a new question.

Now read the question

1. Using the information given for DT Co, calculate the adjusted present value of the investment. and

2. (calculate) The adjusted discount rate, and

3. Explain the circumstances in which this adjusted discount rate may be used to evaluate future investments.                                                                                  

There are now three questions and because we have broken it up, it is so much clearer what you have to do.  If we were really clever we might be able to guess how many marks out of 12 relate to those three questions, a tip for another day perhaps.

How to write a good answer – Tip two, Define. Explain and Illustrate

Define Explain and Illustrate is a technique to help you write more using a simple structure.

Read this question

Discuss the proposal to repurchase some of the company’s shares in the coming year using the forecast surplus cash. Other implications of share repurchase for the company’s financial strategy should also be considered. (10 marks)

Firstly Define the technical words. In this example the technical word is repurchase, so firstly we need to say what a share repurchase is.

E.g.  a share repurchase is where a company buys back its own shares and as a result reduces the number of shares available on the market.

Secondly Explain in more detail.

E.g. the share buy back has to be financed in some way so one implication is that it will result in a reduction in the company’s cash balance. It also means that because there are fewer shares, earnings per share (eps) will increase.

And lastly and in many questions most importantly, Illustrate. This could be by way of a diagram an example or by referencing to the question in more detail. The reason this is so important is that this is how you will demonstrate to the examiner that you can apply the knowledge. If you don’t understand something you will not be able to apply it. The application section of the answer will often carry the most marks.

E.g. in the example above it is clear that the company is forecasting surplus cash, i.e. they have more money in the future than they need. Leaving this money in the bank is not considered sensible partly because the level of return that can be earned from the bank will be less than the shareholders require, it can also be interpreted as a lack of ambition on the part of the Directors. Blah blah blah

Depending on the detail provided in the question this final illustration section can go on and on. How much you write will depend on the marks available.

I hope you have found these two tips helpful, if you want more in the coming months just add a comment to this blog and I will oblige.

Epic exam failure – what not to put on your exam paper

And finally a short video showing students real exam answers – funny

Click here

 

Thank you for the music – listening to music when revising

May and June are the traditional months when students around the world lock themselves away to revise for their exams.

In China for example over 9 million students will be sitting the university entrance exams.

Last May (2012) Teenagers at Xiaogang school in Hubei province were pictured hooked up to bags of intravenous fluids hanging from the classroom ceiling to boost energy levels during the revision period. An extreme action by anyone’s standards, but perhaps an example of how much pressure students feel this time of year.

As I mentioned in last month’s blog my daughter is currently caught up in this May/June exam frenzy. So once again I found myself looking to her for inspiration. What was she doing, how did she revise? This is not because she is a perfect example of a revision student, in many ways she is not, but I do think she is typical of many.

What does Beth do?

  • Makes notes from her notes – This is a standard exam skill, reducing content down into measurable and personal chunks. She does use mind maps (possibly my influence) but not exclusively.
  • Prepares as if she has to teach someone else – this I find interesting and has certainly not come from me. She writes on a white board the key points as if she was going to teach that subject. I like this idea, as many teachers and lecturers will tell you nothing focuses the mind nor motivates you more than having to teach it to others.
  • Practices past exam questions…of course!
  • Studies while listening to music – now this is the one that intrigued me and as a result I have devoted the rest of the blog to answering the question …..

Is it a good idea to revise whilst listening to music?

As ever the science needs much interpretation.

It’s a bad idea

Researchers from the University of Wales, tasked 25 students with memorising lists of consonants. Some were shown the letters while sitting in silence, others while listening to music by their favourite bands or by groups they had a strong aversion to. The conclusion was that listening to music, hampered their recall.

So it’s good then

Scientists at Stanford University, in California, believe there is a molecular basis for music known as the “Mozart Effect“. It was discovered that rats, like humans, perform better on learning and memory tests after listening to a specific Mozart Sonata in D.

But then there is the evidence that suggests that switching attention when trying to learn as might be the case with listening to music slows down the cognitive process.

Yet you cannot ignore the research that clearly shows music has the ability to alter your brain and induce relaxation which in turn helps create an ideal state for learning.

Watch what happens to your brain when you listen to music.

Hopefully you get the idea.

Conclusions

  • Listening to music puts you into a more relaxed frame of mind and that is of course good for learning. So listening to music before or after revising can help.
  • If you do want to listen to music, avoid music that requires you to shift your attention. This would suggest you should not listen to  music with lyrics  as it can mean you need to think about what is being said nor should you listen to something new that you may not have heard before. This is one of the reasons classical, in particular baroque music is the preferred choice of many students. Also don’t play the music too loud, keep it as background noise.
  • If there are specific facts that you simply need to know, then avoid listening to music completely, give it your full attention. But you can’t concentrate at this level all day, only for short periods.
  • On the whole be consistent don’t keep changing the type of music, you need familiarity.

Music to help you study

The internet has many websites that offer relaxing and helpful music, here are a few that might help.

You have to be joking – learning fun!

A famous scientist was on his way to a lecture in yet another university when his chauffeur offered an idea. “Hey, boss, I’ve heard your speech so many times I bet I could deliver it and give you the night off.” “Sounds great,” the scientist said. When they got to the auditorium, the scientist put on the chauffeur’s hat and settled into the back row. The chauffeur walked to the lectern and delivered the speech. Afterward he asked if there were any questions. “Yes,” said one professor. Then he launched into a highly technical question. The chauffeur was panic stricken for a moment but quickly recovered. “That’s an easy one,” he replied. “In fact, it’s so easy, I’m going to let my chauffeur answer it!”

Okay it might have made you smile rather than laugh out loud and it may not be the best joke you have ever heard, but it will have changed your mood and as a result made you more receptive to learning.

The facts

But how does this work? Dopamine is the chemical neurotransmitter most associated with attention, memory storage, comprehension, and executive function. Research indicates that the brain releases more dopamine when you play, laugh, exercise and listen to stories. (Depue and Collins 1999).

Interestingly making learning fun also reduces stress which can impede the learning process.

During periods of high stress or anxiety, functional MRI studies show increased blood flow to the “emotional” portion of the limbic system. When the amygdala (part of the limbic system) is in this state, neural activity in the rest of the brain is profoundly reduced (Xiao and Barbas 2002; Pawlak et al. 2003).

But learning is not fun!

Of course something that is fun to one person may not be fun to someone else. And what do people do to have fun? One answer to this is they play games, in fact there is a whole industry built around playing games to learn, unsurprisingly and somewhat disappointingly its called game based learning (GBL)

A game is said to have several key elements.

1. Competition – The score keeping element and/or winning conditions motivate the players and provide an assessment of their performance. Note that players are not necessarily competing against each other. In fact, a lot of games have players working as a team to overcome some obstacle or opponent.

2. Engagement – Once the learner starts, he or she does not want to stop before the game is over. This engagement is thought to come from four sources: challenge, curiosity, control, and fantasy.

3. Immediate Rewards – Players receive victory or points, sometimes even descriptive feedback, as soon as goals are accomplished

Can learning be fun, yes of course and making it into a game is a great way of doing it. It might be as simple as writing the questions for a quiz based on a subject to be examined and testing a group of friends. Setting the quiz from a learning perspective is probably better than answering the question. Keep to the rules above though, so make sure you offer a reward.

Also it might be American football, which I have to admit I don’t understand, but if you do you will love Financial Football click here to play, its a free online game with cool graphics that aims to teach money management skills.

Have a revision party

Okay the idea might sound a little of the wall but watch this short video, it looks like fun to me…

Ps the loud one is my daughter.

And the outtakes 

Want to find out more then read this article by Dr. Judy Willis who is an authority in brain research and learning.

And just for fun Dawn French and the accounting joke.

Sleep, picture, talk – learn smarter

Three stories caught my eye this month that I thought might be of interest.

They are all ways in which new research is providing evidence as to how it is possible to learn more effectively, a kind of smart brain learning.

 

 

Sleep is good for study

A new study from the University of Notre Dame suggest  that sleeping soon after learning new material is best for recall. This clearly has implications for students in those latter stages of revision and arguably the night before the exam.  The answer it would seem is that you can study right up to the last minute (probably memorising  facts) as long as you are getting a good night’s sleep after wards.

Although it is not known with certainty why sleep is so good, it is believed that it brings some form of consolidation of the facts, a kind of updating and reorganising of the brain while you rest.

The idea is not that new, this research was out in 2004

Pictures are better than words

This might come as no surprise to people who have read this blog before but it is reassuring that there is some science to support the view that the brain is more effective with pictures than words.

A story from the BBC about a group of people who had their brainwaves scanned while completing a series of tasks, individually and in groups, to see if data visualisation, presenting information visually, in this case a series of mind maps can help. The results showed that when tasks were presented visually rather than using traditional text, individuals used arround 20% less cognitive resources. In other words, their brains were working a lot less hard.

The research was carried out by Mindlab International, an independent research company that specialises in neurometrics – the science of measuring patterns of brain activity through EEG, eye tracking and skin conductivity, which tracks emotions.

This is not just another plug for mind maps, they are just one way in which information is presented visually. When reading a book or study manual, put information in boxes, use graphs, draw people and objects, make it look visual, it will all help.

The first sign of madness – talking to yourself out loud

Gary Lupyan, a cognitive psychologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison often found himself talking out loud so he thought it might try to find out if it helped, and guess what it did.

In one experiment, volunteers were shown 20 pictures of various objects and asked to look for a specific one, such as a banana. In half of the trials, participants were asked to repeatedly say what they were looking for out loud to themselves, the others were asked to remain silent. The researchers found self-directed speech helped people find objects more quickly by about 50 to 100 milliseconds.

Most people talk to themselves when studying, but they don’t say the words out loud they keep it inside their heads. What this research suggests is that what you should do is say the words out loud, use different voices even. I know it sounds strange but it does work. Okay maybe you should do it behind closed doors; you don’t want to upset the neighbors…..

 

 

 

Time for revision – Revision timetables

As the month of March slips effortlessly away it is time for some of you to be thinking about revision, my daughter is, or should I say should be. For others the very word revision will help focus your attention and remind you that it is not too far away for you either. If only we had more time….or perhaps could better manage the time we have.

David Allen is a productivity consultant (great job title) and bestselling author of Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity. He suggests that “‘Time management’ is a foolish idea,” “You don’t manage time. Have you ever mismanaged five minutes and come up with six? Or four-and-a-half? Time just is. Our actions are what we manage, during time.”

And if you think about it he‘s right, the amount of time you have is a matter of fact. So we just need to prioritise the tasks in that time dependant on what we want to achieve. To better organise your time it is a very good idea to have a study/revision timetable.

When to start

It is difficult to be prescriptive about when to start revision as it depends on many things: the length of the course, the level of complexity of the subject, the time you have before the exam and how many exams you are doing at any one time. But we do need a rough idea, so I am going to assume that revision has to start somewhere between two and six weeks before the exam. For some people, starting 2 weeks before the exam may sound early, but if you are studying more than one subject and or are working full time, when you actually break down the amount of hours you are revising, anything less than 2 weeks will be insufficient for an effective revision program. 

Revision timetable

There are many different ways in which you can draw up your timetable and I have included several examples below for you to print off and or download. One thing I would say is that the very process of creating your own time table will help you begin thinking about what it is you have to do, how long it will take etc. In fact you could say that your revision starts with your timetable.

Don’t forget Google calendar which I use a lot and it will sync to your mobile.

But what should you do in the time available?

In order to give you some idea what you should be doing in the time available I have produced a mock-up of a revision timetable showing various activities. It is based on the assumption that you have 6 weeks before the exam.

Key to activities

  • A – Produce an analysis of past exam papers so as to identify the key examinable areas
  • E – Find out if your examiner has produced any specific examiner guidance or any technical articles
  • N- Read through existing notes and make new revision notes based on the key examinable topics
  • P – Work through past exam questions from the key examinable areas
  • M – Take a mock exam
  • B – Take a break

The shaded areas are weekends and X denotes the actual exams. Week 5 and 6 assumes that you are not at work if of course you do work and so have a full day to devote to your revision. As you can see of the last 5 days 2 are taken up with mock exams and the last 3 are left blank. This is because there are two parts to revision.

The first is very much to do with making notes, practicing questions based on the key examinable topics and continuing to learn but in a much more focused way than on tuition. Equally, what you are learning is far more about application, how the topic will be examined rather than what the topic is about.

The second is more about recognising that there will be some topics that you won’t be able to master in the time you have left and others that you have mastered but can’t remember some of the key prompts, definitions or formats. In this second period, we need to start committing things to memory.

Not related to time but…

I came across these videos by Dr Stephen Chew a professor of physiology at Samford University, Birmingham Alabama. They are a series of 5 videos about how to get the most out of studying. Not only are they interesting but they include some very helpful tips and hints as to how you can become more time  efficient with your studying.

Video 1 Beliefs that make you fail …or succeed

Video 2 what students should know about how people learn?

Video 3 cognitive principles for optimizing learning

Video 4 putting principle for learning into practice

Video 5 I blew the exam now what

Enjoy and let me leave you with this thought “For every minute spent in organizing, an hour is earned.” anon

The De Vinci code – Mind Mapping to pass exams

Leonardo de Vinci was one of the first people to link words and pictures, using their combination to help with both learning and creativity. It also left behind a permanent record of what he had been thinking that could be used as a reminder for him and others, a set of notes!

Leonardo died in 1519 and it was not until the late 1960’s when Tony Buzan refined the technique and gave it a name “Mind Mapping. “

What is a mind Map?

According to Tony Buzan, mind maps are an expression of radiant thinking and a natural function of the human mind, a powerful graphical technique which provides a universal key to unlocking the potential of the brain. A nice description but I am not sure I understand what they are just from that.

In the context of making notes, I would define a mind map as a way of recording key words that, unlike linear notes, start with a central theme that is often an image, and have content that radiates out from this central theme like branches from a tree. They should be colourful and the note maker should use their imagination in drawing the map, bringing in images and showing connections in any way they wish.

How to draw a mind map

There are and should be few rules to mind mapping as the individual should bring as much of him or herself to the process as possible. But there are some guidelines.

1. In the centre of your paper, draw a square, a circle, or an image that will help you focus on the core issue of the mind map. Inside it, write the name of the subject or topic you are studying. It is probably best to have the paper in landscape rather than portrait.

2. What are the main points or substantial topics that relate to your central theme? Draw branches from the circle, like branches from a tree, to these sub topics. Print the key words on these branches, use block capitals if your writing is not so neat. You can also use geometric shapes for these new areas, or sketch a small picture. Why not do both?

3. The structure will broadly follow the key words that you highlighted from the text. You may, however, find that some of the topics or key words lead you to make connections that at first you did not see. Make the associations and don’t be afraid to re-draw the mind map if it gets a little messy.

4. Begin branching off into smaller but related topics. Think fast! Your mind may work best in 5-7 minute intense periods. Using different coloured pens to show the relationship between separate yet related topics can be very powerful. You can use symbols as well as pictures if that seems to come more naturally.

5. Mind maps work to a great degree because of your choice of keywords and the fact that they are short and to the point. Don’t feel that you have to expand on these; you don’t.

6. Let your thoughts and imagination go wild when it comes to the images. Although a mind map is logical and so requires you to use the left side of your brain, it also requires the use of colours and images, both of which involve large amounts of right side brain activity. Don’t worry about how good at drawing you are. You don’t need to be particularly good at art; it just needs to be legible and only to you.

Check this out  it is a really helpful and practical guide to using mind maps to make and organise notes.

If you want to hear Tony Buzan talk about mind maps, just click on the link to the right of this page in the Blogroll.

I personally find mind maps one of the most effective learning and exam tools I have ever come across. A map is much more than a simple note taking technique used to record content. It presents that content in such a way that aids learning. You will recognise how topics inter-relate and so begin to understand the subject, not just remember it. It is also, as the name suggests, a map: it shows you the whole subject, not just one part of it, so that you can see where you need to go next. And, like a map, you can take many different routes to get to your destination and, in so doing, learn more about the subject. It is also ideal for revision and is much easier to review than traditional notes largely because of the pictures

Try something new today

Some people say that mind mapping does not work for them and that may be true. But I think that if you had never been to school and were trying to learn or solve a problem, as Leonardo discovered all those years ago you would more than likely draw pictures and link those pictures with words than record your thoughts in a black and white linear format, so give it a go.

An accountancy student blogs about her experience using mind maps to help her pass exams.

 A general blog about mind mapping

The E word – the book about how to pass exams

E for Exam


I have to say that I feel a little self conscious writing about a book that I have written, yet it has taken up such a large part of my life for the last four years, I cannot let its publication go without saying something.

The E word is a book about exams and how to pass them, and part of my motivation to write it came from the simple observation that success or failure in the exam room was becoming increasingly important. Increasingly important because unlike in the past, when there were jobs and opportunities available regardless of your academic record, this was not the case anymore.
My daughter was 11 at the time and was just about to sit her first really important set of exams. It seemed then and is becoming a reality that this was the start for her of 10 to 15 years, perhaps even longer, of sitting exams! That is a huge chunk out of someone’s life, and for my daughter and many others it was also the first time that her success and failure would be so ruthlessly measured.

There was also this somewhat elitist attitude to rank people in accordance with their exam record, pass and you are in the club, fail and you are not. And from there it gets worse; people begin to plan out your whole life based on what you did on a piece of paper for 3 hours. In some instance elevating you to the highest position, with comments like “he/she will go far”, “very bright, they have a great future ahead”, which is fantastic, but not so motivational if they say “not cut out for an academic career”, “not really bright enough”. It was as if the exam result was a crystal ball that people stared into to predict your destiny.

And based on what, the performance in an exam, and the result you get…….

This is not an argument to change the system nor am I suggesting that we do not need exams; it just brought home to me the importance of passing and the implications of failing.

But I had another motive; my job is to get accountancy students through their final level professional exams. To do this we use a whole raft of techniques that together with a lot of hard work by the students had proved very successful over many years. I was convinced that the techniques we used at this level could be of benefit to anyone who has to sit an exam. So I thought I would write them down and find out.

Run Forest run
Although not explicit in the book, there is a theme on which it is based and one that is important to me. In the film Forest Gump, Forest, the main character (Tom Hanks) is born with learning difficulties, he has an IQ of only 75 (90-110 is normal) yet despite this he manages to excel and ultimately achieve success, because of hard work, determination, clarity in his objectives, oh and with a little luck.

And that’s what this book is about, anyone can be successful, you have to play with the cards you have been dealt. To pass exams, intelligence (whatever that means) is just one factor. Everyone has it in them to pass, you just need the right mental attitude, knowledge of how the exam system works and techniques that will improve your performance.

And if you don’t have them, then buy the book………please

Available for £10.00 from all good book stores, or by following the link to Kaplan publishing

Just in case you forget the many ways that you can eat shrimp
Bubba: Anyway, like I was sayin’, shrimp is the fruit of the sea. You can barbecue it, boil it, broil it, bake it, saute it. There, uh, shrimp kabobs, shrimp creole… shrimp gumbo, panfried, deep fried, stir fried. There’s pineapple shrimp, lemon shrimp, coconut shrimp, pepper shrimp… shrimp soup, shrimp stew, shrimp salad, shrimp and potatoes, shrimp burger, shrimp sandwich… that’s, that’s about it.

Tony Blair’s exam tip-Read the question

What do those words mean

I like to listen to the today programme on radio 4 as I drive into work. Prime time for any news story is the 10 past 8 interview. Today it was a debate between Lord Falconer and Michael Howard about the legitimacy of the Iraq war given the new inquiry by Sir John Chilcot.

The key point appeared to hinge around the words used by the intelligence community to describe the quality of the information about WMD. According to Michael Howard, Blair was told that the intelligence was “limited, sporadic and patchy”. He is said to have interpreted or misrepresented, depending on your point of view, this to mean “Detailed, extensive and authoritative”

This got me thinking as to how important it is to interpret words correctly, especially in the exam room.  Although you could argue that the result of failing to interpret an exam question is not quite as serious as misunderstanding if a country in which you are going to invade has WMD. Some students might in fact disagree.

So to the point

When reading your exam question, take time to read the words in particular the verbs carefully. Is the examiner asking for a Definition which is to give the meaning of or a Description, which means to identify the characteristics. Are they asking you to Assess, To make a judgement about the importance, supported by evidence or to Advise which is to Inform or notify.

In order to help read the words, underline them as you read. Don’t underline all of them, just the ones that you think are important. This not only makes them stand out and so less easy to forget, it also sends a signal to the brain that you should focus your attention a little more closely on this part of the question.

Thanks for that Tony, very helpful.  Let’s hope you have interpreted your words correctly!

Tuition is dead, long live revision – Tip three

RIP TuitionFollowing on from tip two to practice past exam questions.

Tip three – remember, remember the 9th of November

Whether you remember the gun powder plot in 1605, “remember , remember the 5th of November” or the fall of the Berlin wall on the 9th of November from this rhyme, it still provides a simple example of how effective a memory technique can be. Tip three is what you should do now that you have a set of revision notes and have spent a considerable amount of time practicing past exam questions. It would of course be really great if when you went into the exam you could attempt every single question and be confident that you knew the answer. This may have been possible at some point in your exam career but is probably not so now. There will be topics that despite revising and practicing questions you still don’t understand and some that you will simply forget.

Less is still more

Mind MapYou need to take your revision notes and reduce them even more. Go through the notes again but this time only record what you can’t remember or don’t understand. The notes should also be written in a more short hand style, we only want key words not whole paragraphs. You might also wish to think about making notes in a mind map style rather than a linear one. These notes should be no more than 10 pages. They should be structured in the same way as your original revision notes wherever possible. These final set of notes can be prepared perhaps as late as 1 week before the exam. What you do next is memorise these notes, we are no longer looking for an understanding, but don’t be surprised if during this process something suddenly makes sense. There are lots of memory techniques you can use, ranging from the simple rhyme method above to acronyms, acrostics, peg methods and the famous roman room or loci method. The point is this, time for learning in the traditional way is over, you now need to commit as much to short term memory as possible. The night before and on the morning of the exam you just keep going over these 10 pages of notes. Use colours and images as much as possible and be creative, memory uses both left and right sides of the brain.

There are of course many more tips that will help with your revision but for me these are probably the most important. So to all those sitting exams, I wish you the very best of luck and to those that aren’t, if you are driving into work in the next few weeks, have a thought for the person in front, they might have a very important exam today!