• Georgina

Exam techniques

For most people sitting their GCSEs, this is their first major exam series, and it is so easy to feel overwhelmed with the amount of preparation, and the sheer number of exams to sit. That's completely normal - it doesn't mean you're doing anything wrong. It means that you want to do well, which is great! But if it is impacting your health and well-being, then you need to make changes to make sure you are giving yourself the best chance of success, both long and short term.

When your exam is in the morning, there really is no benefit to staying up late to revise. With the best will in the world, you aren't going to learn 2-3 years' worth of material in a night, and you will perform much better for having had a decent night's sleep. Aim to get 8-9 hours of sleep each night during your exams. This will be a lot easier if you stick to a schedule, and if you prepare for bedtime by stopping revision and coming away from your phone for the hour before bed.

On the day of the exam, if you are feeling nervous, it is sometimes advisable to avoid talking to your classmates about the exam. The last thing you want is for someone to mention to you, on the way into the exam, a topic that you'd forgotten about until now and don't think you've revised enough. Try instead to focus on ensuring you have all of the stationery, etc that you need for the exam, you know what time you need to be there and where it is taking place, you've had enough to eat and drink beforehand, you've been to the bathroom, and you're feeling as relaxed as it is possible to feel before a big exam.

Once you open the exam, take your time reading through it to make sure you've understood the beginning instructions properly, check that you're doing the right paper (it happens!), especially if there are multiple question options within the one exam. Read the questions thoroughly to make sure that you understand what it is asking before you get started. Don't let your nerves force you into a rush. Check how long you have to complete the exam and how many marks there are for that paper. Divide the number of marks over the minutes available, and make sure that you don't give more than that amount of time per mark to the questions. This will help you not to run out of time in the exam. Follow the instructions carefully. The examiners are on your side. They are trying to find ways to give you the marks. They are not trying to take away marks from you. But if you make it like hunting for a needle in a haystack, it is very difficult for the examiners to find anything worth giving a mark to. Write all of your workings and explanations our clearly and logically on the page. Credit will be given for the method even if you don’t get the correct answer. It will be possible in most cases to get follow through marks even if you carry an incorrect answer through, but use the correct method. If you pluck numbers out of the air i.e. don’t show how you got them, you can’t get the method marks, and in some cases, may not even get the mark for the correct answer.

Address the question showing understanding and detailed explanation. You must demonstrate clear thinking and understanding of the topic. A muddled answer is hard to award marks to. Plan your answer. Even if it is jotting down all the key words that you associate with that question, numbering them, and then using them to construct a full explanation. It may help to underline or circle the questioning word (how, why, what, explain, compare, contrast, describe, outline etc). Also, highlight the key words or concepts mentioned in the question. Doing this gives you a breathing space if you need it, and helps to clarify your thoughts and ideas, so that you can communicate them clearly.

In an exam, everyone’s writing gets untidier than it would be normally. However, it must be legible. If the examiner can’t read it, it doesn’t matter how good the answer is. If you know this is a problem for you. Practice writing out answers. Get someone else to read them to check that it is legible. You may not know this, but if you cross out a correct answer and don’t replace it with a wrong answer, the examiner can give you credit for it even though it’s crossed out. However, if you obliterate the crossed-out answer, it can’t happen. Use a single line to cross out, so it can still be read. Just in case!

For some subjects, short answer questions that are worth up to 4 or 5 marks can be answered with bullet points.

  • Check with your teacher if it is appropriate in their subject.

  • If there are, for example, 3 marks, then you must make 3 points to get them.

  • Before you answer the question, look at how many marks there are for it.

  • Space out the same number of bullet points as marks, over the space given for the answer.

  • Write down a point next to each bullet point.

The advantage in doing this is that it gives you breathing space, it focuses you on making enough points to get all the marks for the question, and it makes your communication to the examiner much clearer than a sentence that starts, waffles around a bit and eventually ends not having covered the appropriate number of points because you lost track of what you were doing. If you get really stuck on a question. Jot down all the keywords you associate with that topic. Leave it. Move on to the next question. When you have finished, go back to the question that you had trouble with. Look at the words you have written down. See if they help you find the correct answer now.

Finally, good Luck!


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01438 213141 / 07958069480 / info@greentutors.org.uk

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