How to Write an Exam
Exams are the final hurdle for most students when the school year ends. After all the hard work they've put into preparing for lectures and writing term papers, that last challenge can sometimes seem insurmountable. But for a student who has worked steadily all year, a final exam shouldn't be overly difficult. The trick is knowing how to take a test.
Getting to the exam on time and having everything you need will help you stay calm. The day before your exam, double check the schedule and any instructions you were given by your teacher. Be sure you have plenty of writing supplies and any other items you might need: student ID, a calculator, or dictionary. Also be sure to go over the list of items you are not permitted to bring into the exam room.
It probably seems obvious, but get a good night's sleep and eat a good meal before your exam. If you are allowed to bring it into the room, have a bottle of water with you. And yes, remember to visit the rest room! Sometimes invigilators will accompany students to the bathroom if the need arises, but there are also times when leaving the room means you won't be let back in.
For the young folks who are used to telling time with their hand-held devices, you might want to bring a watch to the exam. Your phones, tablets and such won't generally be allowed into the room, and there isn't always a clock where you can easily see it. It can be very helpful to know how much time you have left, and the examiners will only announce times periodically.
Read, Answer, Review
Never make the mistake of trying to answer the questions the first time you read through the exam. Read through the entire test first. This gives you an overview of what's ahead, and allows you to decide how to manage your time. If all the sections of a test are of equal difficulty and length, give each section the same amount of time.
If one part of the test is longer or more challenging, allot more time for it. You might also want to start with this section first, even if it falls near the end of the exam. Nobody cares which part you do first, as long as all your answers go into the right place on the answer sheet or booklet, and everything is clearly marked.
Allow time for reviewing your answers once you are done. This way you'll be sure you haven't put your answers in the wrong place, skipped over anything, or forgotten important information.
Take Notes, Show Your Work
Take advantage of the exam sheet or scrap paper provided by the examiner, to write notes to yourself or plan out essays and show work for math or science exams. If you have nowhere else to write, use the back of each sheet in the answer booklet as your scrap paper.
Instructors will generally ignore this material unless it is to your advantage. But if you run short of time to complete the exam or come up with the wrong answer because of a computational error, most instructors will assign at least partial marks if they can see in your scribblings that you understood what you were doing and were following an approved procedure. Don't be afraid to ask for additional answer booklets – they're free!
Stick With Your First Answer
When you are writing multiple choice tests, rule out any answers you know to be wrong. If you aren't sure of the answer once they are eliminated, go to the next question. If you believe you have the answer, circle it on your test paper before writing it on the answer sheet. After you've gone through the whole section, run back through it again and answer any of the questions you weren't sure of. Often you'll find the answer comes to you after looking at all the other questions.
Now this is key: trust your instincts, and don't change the answers once you've committed yourself. So many mistakes are made when students second-guess themselves. Once you choose an answer, stick with it. One wrong answer in a whole exam isn't going to hurt you too much. But if you start doubting yourself and changing things willy nilly, your grade will suffer.
Most especially, be careful when you erase if you are marking answers on a computer-read answer sheet. It is better to ask for a new answer sheet, than to have smudges all over your sheet that will cause the computer to misread your answers.
Take Your Time
Most exams allow a good bit of extra time, so don't rush. Take your time and work methodically. Breathe. Take a break to stretch or rest your eyes if you need to. Doing this should help you pace yourself, and you may actually find you finish with more time left than you expected. Remind yourself that you've worked hard all the way through your course and you have come to your exam well prepared to prove what you've learned. You will succeed.
Photo credit: Exam room photo by KF/Wikipedia, public domain
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