STRATEGIES FOR THE EXAM
- the run-up to the exam and planning for the day
- your examination strategy
The run up
An examination, whether oral or written, is a performance so rehearsal is good. Many people like to do a mock examination. This can be a useful as it allows you to practice your time management and any exam strategy. But it should be viewed with caution. It should build confidence. A mock examination does not take place not under real exam conditions, so performance will not necessarily be the same as on the day. It should be used as a familiarisation process, rather than a test of how the real event will go. If you are going to do a mock, it is advisable to do it at least two weeks before, so that you can refine your performance. Some people prefer to practice for one hour at a time – this helps too with time management.
In the run up to the exam, practise doing a certain number of questions in 30 minute batches and then take a very mini break and do the next set of questions for 30 minutes. This is to familiarise yourself with the process as well as self-test. Remember you are likely to do a bit better in the exam as your adrenalin will be higher, although hopefully not too high!
Planning for the day
Thinking about the day and planning what you are going to do can give you confidence, it can relieve the pressure or stress you may be feeling. Some stress is good for processing. It helps focus the brain but too much stress should be avoided if possible.
Do you plan the day in advance? Consider the statements below – some may make you laugh. Think about which you agree with and which you don’t.
Look at the following statements and decide which you agree with and which you don’t
- Pack your bag the night before
- Drink tea or coffee in the hour before
- Look over your notes on route to the exam
- Take the day off the day before the exam
- Plan on a post-mortem with other candidates after the exam
- Talk to other candidates before about how their revision has been going
- Wear a suit
- Get to the venue an hour early
- Go to bed early the night before
- Eat a large meal the evening before
- Wear lucky socks
- Go to the gym the day before
- Spray some perfume on your wrist to sniff during the exam
- Revise the evening before
Different people choose different things on this list. So, make up your mind about what you can do to make yourself feel more confident, competent and exam-ready.
Also don't forget to:
Check you know where the venue is and how you are getting there.
Check you know the length of the exam and how many questions you have to answer
Get enough rest, relaxation and exercise if possible – try not to work too late.
A tired brain and body does not function well under examination conditions
Thinking about your examination strategy
Planning for the actual examination can also make a big difference to your confidence and performance. It is also a type of rehearsal.
Think about the statements below and decide which you agree with and which you don’t.
- Do the questions in the order on the paper
- If you are taking longer than planned on one question, move onto the next
- If you finish early, go over your questions again
- Look to see how other candidates are doing
- Read the whole exam paper before you begin
- Plan in breaks at regular intervals in the exam
- Plan your timing for completing the exam paper
Again, work out what is best for you.
Two more strategies that can help on the day.
1. A recall warm up strategy for the first few minutes of the examination
Some information often requires rote learning, such as facts or formulae. This type of information can be hard to recall under exam pressure. In the absence of other strategies, rote learning and automatic recall may be the best method. This involves practice, making a list of the formulae, constant repetition, writing it down at speed for about 5 minutes on a regular basis, in the weeks prior to the exam date, to develop automaticity of recall. Then on the day, at the beginning of the exam, before doing anything else, using the whiteboard or paper provided, once again rewrite the list. This serves several purposes:
- it can decrease nerves as it is a familiar and successful activity,
- the fact crib sheet is there for the entire examination to be used when needed,
- it relieves the pressure on memory thereby enabling the focus to be on recalling other information.
2. The gold, silver, bronze method of question selection
This strategy can be adapted in many ways for individual preferences. It can reduce errors at the end on easy questions and examinees can pace themselves. It does need practice. If the answers are a recorded on a separate grid sheet, then using a ruler to ensure the response is recorded on the correct line is advised.
- Go through the paper in batches: 25 / 30 or so questions at a time if there are 100+ questions
- Of the 25/30 do all the easy to answer questions first (gold).
- Go through a second time doing the ones that require a bit of thinking (silver).
- Leave the few tricky ones till last. Flag them and put in the best guess to return to at the end (bronze)
- Take a short break
- Repeat process for next 30 questions
Whatever your strategy you choose, make sure you have practised it under exam-like conditions so that you know the strategy works under time constraints.
Remember – Never, never change your questions unless you have clear evidence that you answered incorrectly. For example, it could be missing a negative phrase in the question or mistaking the age or gender of a patient.