Some people are lucky. They’re naturally gifted with knowledge and know that when they walk into an exam, they will pass with top marks. Most of us, however, have to work hard if we’re to reach such status.
Having now reached my final year as a vet student, I have sat many exams and spent many hours revising.
Many have been in the form of multiple choice questions. I initially warmed to this (after all, the answer is looking at you on the page) but later concluded it can give you a false sense of security. Maybe it was day 35 that cows reach peak intake post-calving, rather than day 40 or 45?
Some people reckon examiners will be most likely to make (c) the answer in MCQs but, rather than relying on hearsay like this, the best approach to any sort of exam is to prepare yourself. A wise man once told me exams are 95% preparation, 5% luck. If you’re confident you know your stuff when you open that paper, half your battle is won.
Here’s how I tackle the exam process:
First, know your enemy. Work out the day, time, and place your exams fall on. Also note your candidate number and scribble it on as many items as is necessary for you to remember it (for me this includes whiteboard, phone and hand).
Now track down learning objectives, maybe on the internet or in your notes. If in doubt, ask one of your organised friends for help finding them or, if need be, contact your module leader.
Have a quick skim over them to get a rough idea of what’s important and how much detail you need for key areas (a sad discovery of mine in third year was the wealth of information available on fleas). This can really focus your revision or triple your workload, but forewarned is forearmed.
Now you know what challenge faces you, you can prepare. Everyone revises differently so find what works for you and stick with it.
I sit down and summarise all the things I need to do for each module – this involves working out how many lectures, practicals and computer-assisted learnings each module contains and, even though the scale of this usually fills me with dread, I now know how much I have to do and a rough idea of how long I have to do it, so it’s just a case of “timetabling” the work in.
I like to divide my days into “am” and “pm” and do a different module in each. Some modules will be bigger than others, some will be more scary and this will help you determine how much time you should devote to them.
I tend to revise the scariest modules earlier – this lessens the sense of foreboding I feel if I leave them and, hopefully, I shall discover that topics such as equine lameness are not as confusing nor as horrific as I might believe.
On the eve of an exam, try not to panic. Eat a good meal, possible previously prepared and frozen by your mother.
Get a clear pencil case and fill it with pens, pencils, sharpeners, rubbers, highlighters and any other necessary stationery. I will always take a good luck charm, too. Get to bed early and set more than one alarm so you can’t oversleep.
When you enter the exam hall, don’t forget the basics and don’t forget the exam techniques you have been honing since school. Read the question.
Know what the examiner wants, think about what you are going to say and write it down in the form of a spider diagram or bullet points before you start.
Remember how long you have to answer each question and don’t spend too long on one answer – move on.
If you read a question and your mind goes blank, move on and come back – one of the later questions may revive your memory and inspire an answer to this mystery.
It is also always worth turning the paper over – there may be a super simple question that wants to throw marks at you lurking on the back page.
• Fact: As soon as you sit down to start revising you’ll need a cup of tea/biscuit/bathroom break. Address these needs before you begin.
• You need breaks. An average attention span is about 40 minutes so allow breaks to walk the dog, go for a jog, natter to your siblings, just make sure these breaks don’t last longer than actual revision!
• Reward yourself. Once you’ve finished a topic or a module, allow yourself to do something normal – like watch TV, have a bottle of beer/glass of wine (and I mean one), eat some chocolate…
• The internet is a great weakness for the majority of students. Either turn the wireless off your computer or disable your Facebook/Twitter/Bebo/MySpace accounts.
• You do not need to be a social pariah. You can go out just pace yourself. Drive and drink soft drinks, this will probably allow you to relax and improve revision the next day.
• Exercise. Fresh air will do you good and help keep that “revision weight” to a minimum.
• Put music on in the background to focus your mind on what’s in front of you. Some people prefer to have an episode of a series they’ve seen many times before in the background, some can only concentrate in silence – work out which suits you.
• Make sure you have something to look forward to post-exam this may take the form of cinema, pub, holiday etc.
• When you sort your timetable allow some days at the end of your revision time to review all the information you’ve read through and answer past papers.
• Split past papers into topics and when you reach the end of a topic use them as revision aids to test yourself.
• Work out how long the exam is and how many questions there are to answer so that you know how long you have per question. When you’re in the exam be strict with this.
• Choose where you are best revising – home, uni or library. The library will have the least distractions but will be full of stressed colleagues, your uni home may contain flatmates with whom you can form study groups or be sidetracked by and your home will contain home-cooked food but probably on-farm distractions…you’ll soon work out which is best for you.
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