Exam Writing Tips for Students

For many students, first semester final exams begin this week.  A great deal of time and effort will have been dedicated to studying for these exams, so it is important to make sure they are rewarded for those efforts.  Learning how to write an exam in and of its self is a skill to be practiced and mastered.  Marks on an exam are not only a reflection of preparedness, but also the ability to communicate the required knowledge efficiently in a high stressed environment.

Here are some tips on how to write an exam effectively.

Survey the exam before starting.

  • Read over all questions to make sure instructions are clear.
  • Pay attention to marking scheme in relation to length of exam. This will give you a guide as to how long you can spend on each question.

 Do the easy questions first.

  • They are the “low hanging fruit” of marks, and you should make sure you get all of them.
  • Create momentum and confidence.

 Multiple Choice

  • Try to answer question before looking and options.
  • Answer the ones you know, skip the ones you don’t know right away. You can return to them later.
  • When unsure of the answer, eliminate obvious wrong answers, guess from the rest.
  • Pay attention to trigger words!
    • Always, never, none, are absolute words and are not usually the correct answer.
    • Often, sometimes, may, usually, are qualifiers and are often associated with the correct answer.
  • Go with your gut. Try not to second guess yourself, once you have committed to an answer stick with it.

 Quantitative Exams (math, science)

  • Write down needed formulas on the back of the paper immediately.
  • Show all your work as neatly as possible.
  • Make sure your answers make sense. Double check answers by working backwards if possible.
  • Always double check;
    • Proper units, reduce fractions, appropriate decimals.
    • Word problem answers are in sentence format.

 Essay Questions

  • Take time to create an outline.
    • Organized thoughts will be easier and ultimately faster to write.
    • If you run out of time, you can at least hand in your outline for part marks.
  • Introduction should be brief but outline your answer.
    • Include key words from the question.
  • Pay attention to trigger words!
    • Discuss – give an overall picture, show broad understanding
    • Explain – focus on one factor, cause and effect
    • Compare – compare two items using specific criteria
  • Use double space.
    • Teachers will appreciate a paper that is easy to read.

 Respect the clock.

  • Pay attention to the clock to make sure you are on an appropriate pace. Do not dwell too long on a single question.
  • If feeling flustered, take a short break – Put your pen down, close your eyes, take a few deep breaths. A couple minutes to refocus can make a big difference.

 Learn from the experience.

  • Use what you learn from this experience and apply it to the next set of exams.
  • You can always get better and improve your exam preparation and writing skills.

Good Luck to all!

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