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In the exam

Your chances of success in the exam will be enhanced if you: employ good exam strategies; know what is expected when answering different types of questions; overcome problems; and have a positive 'can do' frame of mind. This unit provides tips on how to enhance your exam experience and results.

This workshop:

Key words: exam habits, exam strategies, multiple choice, short answer questions, essays, open book exams, exam anxiety

Be prepared

It helps to know the answers to the following questions before you walk into the exam room:

  • How many questions will I need to answer?
  • Will I have choices?
  • Will there be different sections in the exam?
  • What types of questions will be asked: Multiple choice? Short answer? Essay?
  • How much time will I have?
You can find answers to these questions from past exam papers, unit guides and your lecturer. Don't hesitate to ask your lecturer any questions relating to the exam. Complete this exam day planner.

Exam habits

Think back to previous exams. What were your exam habits?

Exercise 1: Exam habits

Read each statement below then click the response that applies to you.

  1. In the past, I have arrived at an exam feeling flustered and anxious.
    • YES
    • NO
  2. I tend to start answering questions before I have read all the instructions.
    • YES
    • NO
  3. I plan my time at the beginning of an exam to ensure I have time to answer all questions and review/proofread my work at the end.
    • YES
    • NO
  4. In an exam, I usually start at question one and work my way down.
    • YES
    • NO
  5. I never leave the exam room ahead of time.
    • YES
    • NO

Exam Strategies

There are some tried and true strategies that successful exam candidates recommend.

Exercise 2: Assess your own exam strategies

Print and complete this exam strategies checklist to assess your own strategies and to identify areas to improve.

Multiple choice questions

Some exams have a section of multiple choice questions. While some multiple choice questions may require you to know specific information, most will be testing whether you understand your subject matter. Here are a few suggestions and techniques for answering multiple choice questions.

  1. Read directions carefully:
    • Check where and how to record your answers.
    • Check whether this multiple choice exam penalises incorrect answers. If an exam DOES penalise incorrect answers, leave answers blank rather than guess.
    • Know how much time you have to spend on each question.
  2. Briefly preview the questions:
    • How many different kinds of questions are being asked?
    • Do some questions have one or more correct options - do you have to choose the 'best' answer?
  3. Take care with the wording of questions:
    • Watch for words that qualify (e.g. all, only, most).
    • Watch for words that modify (e.g. always, never).
    • Watch for negatives (e.g. Which one is not a correct statement? ).
  4. Begin by answering the questions you know:
    • Read through the questions quickly and answer the easiest questions first.
    • If appropriate, tick or mark each question number as you complete it.
  5. Next, tackle the more difficult questions:
    • Firstly, eliminate the answer you know is wrong.
    • Next, ask why the remaining answers would not be the answer.
    • If two options are opposite each other, the chances are one of them is correct.
    • If two alternatives seem correct, compare the differences then refer back to the question stem to find the best answer.
    • Remember that all questions will be related to the course you're doing. Ask yourself: How does this relate to my course objectives?
  6. Questions requiring calculations or analysis:
    • In these types of questions, some students prefer to cover the options, do their own calculations/analysis, then check their answer with the options.
  7. Should I go back and check my answers?
    • If time permits, you should review both questions and answers in case you've mis-read the question.
    • However, only change your first answer when you are sure of the correction.

Exercise 3: Multiple choice questions

Answer the following multiple choice questions, putting into practice the above suggestions/techniques. For each question, choose answer a, b or c, then click 'Feedback'.

  1. There are 20 multiple choice questions worth 20% of the total marks in a 2-hour exam. Calculate the number of minutes you have for each question.

    a   Approximately 1 minute
    b   1.2 minutes
    c   2.4 minutes

  2. Feedback
  3. Which of the following statements is NOT correct?

    a   This question stem contains a modifying word.
    b   This question stem contains the word 'not'.
    c   This question stem is a negative statement.

  4. Feedback
  5. Which of the following web addresses is most likely to be an Australian university website containing information on multiple choice questions?

    a   www.monash.edu.au/learning/exams/2.3.html
    b   www.bizwiz.ca/interview_questions.html
    c   www.learning.unimelb.edu.au/exam_questions.htm

  6. Feedback

Short answer and essay style questions

Follow these steps when answering paragraph style (short answer) and essay style questions:

  1. Read the question carefully.
  2. Analyse the question (question analysis).
  3. Recall what you know.
  4. Select information relevant to the question.
  5. Organise the information into a logical order.
  6. Begin with a topic sentence (for paragraphs) or an introduction paragraph (for essays).
  7. Write your answer.
  8. Write a conclusion paragraph (for an essay).
  9. Stick to your time allocation.
  10. If you run short of time, finish with dot points.

NOTE: There is a school of thought that short answer questions merely require you to write in note form, use abbreviations, draw diagrams, and to convey as much information as you can clearly and logically (literary style is not so important). Check with your lecturer what style he/she expects!

Common problems

What's the worst that can happen? Unfortunately, exam time can be quite stressful and it is not uncommon for students to experience problems at some time during an exam.

Exercise 4: Common problems

Click on the following common problems for some helpful hints:

  1. Going blank
  2. Writers' cramp
  3. Running out of time

What if I panic?

Panicking in an exam will cause your heart rate to increase, you will begin to sweat and you will have difficulty recalling information. Managing exam anxiety, in this site gives helpful suggestions.

Open book exams

Don't be lulled into a false sense of security with open book exams. With limited time and much to write, you will not have time to sift and sort through books, notes, etc. What you will be able to do, provided you are well organised, is to refer to your materials for references, arguments, quotations, etc. These study guides offer practical advice and strategies.

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