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How to pass your exams

Answering the question

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There are lots of different types of exams, and it is important to know which type of exam you are sitting. The activity below focuses on preparing for an essay or long-answer exam as these are among the most widely used types of exam. If you have a different type of exam, for example a multiple choice paper or a practical exam, it will be very useful for you to practice this under exam conditions prior to the actual exam.

deconstruct the question

First and foremost, you need to read the question. Under the stress of the exam, many students can lose marks by missing out a vital word in a question, or misreading the question. The easiest way to avoid this common error, is to deconstruct the question. All this means is to take the question apart, for example, if we were to deconstruct into bullet points; the following question:

Compare and contrast the domestic policies of two rulers of single party states, each from a different continent

We would end up with something like this:

Recommended Further Reading

This simple task will help you to analyse each part of the question in turn, therefore avoiding common mistakes made by students when answering questions of this type, which are:

Writing the separate sections of the questions out in bullets points will help you to ensure that you have considered each part of the question. You can then use these bullet points as a check-list whilst writing your answer, to ensure that you have fully answered the question. You can practice this in the activity below.

Activity: deconstructing and answering the question - 1 hour

1. Obtain some past paper questions of your upcoming exams. These may be freely available from your course leader or you may have to ask other students who have taken the course previously.

2. Practice deconstructing these questions by writing out the components of the question as bullet points, then put together brief notes or a plan of your answer.

3. Write out your answer under exam conditions, that is, time yourself, no interruptions, no notes!

4. If you can mark the test yourself, great go ahead. Make sure you correctly answered all the parts of the question you deconstructed.

5. If you can't mark the exam yourself, ask a lecturer, teacher or coursemate to mark it for you. Ask for specific feedback on how well you answered the question and any hints or tips for the future.

6. Remember to revisit any knowledge gaps!

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