Exams: How to answer a university exam question

09 May 2018
By Unite Students, Staff writer at The Common Room

Wanting to do our best. Working to tight deadlines. Managing multiple modules. These are just some of the reasons we feel extra pressure around exam time.

But like any pressured situation, exams are a lot easier to handle when you’ve got the right tools for the job. Knowing how to tackle an exam paper is one of those tools.

Exams are a lot easier to handle when you’ve got the right tools for the job.

Here are seven ways you can ease the pressure in an exam.

1) Find out what you have to do

One of the best ways to lose marks is to do something other than what you’ve been asked to do. How many questions do they want you to answer? How many boxes should you tick?

Every exam paper comes with instructions, so make sure you understand what the examiners are asking you to do before you get stuck in.

2) Read the questions thoroughly

Another great way to miss out on marks is to go full steam ahead without understanding the question first. What question, exactly, are you being asked to answer?

Modules are broad and varied. But exam questions are specific and narrow. Read the wording carefully so you can recall your knowledge of that exact part of the syllabus.

3) Decide on your timings

The only difference between coursework and exams is time. All the tricks that help you write a great assignment will help you in an exam too - you just have less time to perform them.

Before you start writing, make a schedule. Think about how long you have, how many marks are available for each answer, and how long you should spend on each one.

4) Plan your answer

As well as working out your timings, take some time to decide what your answer is. You wouldn’t start an essay until you knew what you wanted to say - exams are no different.

If you’re in an essay-based exam, plot your structure by outlining an introduction, points to argue, and a conclusion. When you do start writing, you’ll be more focused.

5) Make sure it’s relevant

A common consequence of not planning your answer is an essay full of interesting but irrelevant facts. When you write ‘on the fly’, it’s easy to brain-dump everything you know.

But that’s not what the examiners want. They want a response to the specific question that’s been asked. So think about what you know, and cherry-pick the bits that are relevant.

6) Mention your sources

More often than not, your response to an exam question should be an argument based on evidence. The examiners are just as interested in the evidence as they are in the argument.

Think back to your lectures and reading on this topic. Which authors were important? Use their ideas to support your answer, and make sure you name-check them.

7) Leave some space

Inspiration doesn’t always strike right away. Sometimes you need time to warm up. So if you hit a bit of a wall with one question, leave a big space and move on to the next one.

This means you’ll attempt each task, and that’s a better strategy than answering just one question really well. And when you find the right ideas for an earlier question, you’ll be able to go back and add them in.

Good luck

I hope the revision and the exams go well. If you need any tips on revising, productivity, eating right, or staying positive, head over to the exams section of the Common Room.

Exams are a lot easier to handle when you’ve got the right tools for the job.
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Staff writer at The Common Room