Examinations and tests
Here are 10 frequently asked questions about tests and exams
How can I approach an Open Book exam?
Are open book exams easier, or are you expected to know what is in the book?
If it is a restricted book examination the lecturer will tell you what material you can take into the examination room otherwise you can have any written material with you that will help you in the exam. You will need to decide whether to take your lecture notes or original texts into the exam or whether to use notes that summarise the information. You will also need a simple system for finding sections quickly such as 'post it stickers' to index pages.
Remember, open book exams are often intended to enable students to apply knowledge rather than just remember facts, so don't rely on quoting the material; the examiner will want to know what you think.
How do I approach a 'seen' exam?
Sometimes teachers allow you to 'see' the test questions before the exam. How should you prepare those answers?
If you are given the question or questions before the exam anaylse them well and work out what your argument would be and what main points you would make to support it. Review your lecture notes, required readings and other course material to refresh your memory of the main issues, ideas and points.
Do not try to memorise your answer. Trying to memorise several answers is likely to confuse you but if you know the main points about the subject you will be able to write about the topic in the exam.
How do I know what sort of exam paper I'm going to face?
It is important to know what type of questions you might encounter so that you can prepare adequately.
First check the course outline for information about the length of the exam and the proportion of your total paper marks the result will be. Other information such as what type of questions you will be required to answer, whether it is an open book exam or if there is a practical element will usually be given in lectures and tutorials but if they aren't you need to ask for details. Also, search out old exam papers for practice although you may find the current paper is different in a number of ways.
How do I tackle short answers?
What is a short answer question, and how much will I be expected to write?
The amount you write when answering this type of question depends on the number of marks it is worth. Decide what the important points are in relation to the question and write an explanation that shows your understanding. Remember, the points should be organised (not random) and should have logical connections.
How should I divide my time in the exam?
Having a strategy for completing everything required in the exam is definitely a good idea.
Once you know the number of questions and the total marks for the paper it is a good idea to roughly allocate your time. Examples:
- If the length of exam is 2 hours and there are 60 questions calculate how many you should have completed in 20 minutes but remember to allow for checking your answers at the end of the exam.
- If the exam is 3 hours long and you have three essay questions you would allow around 50 minutes for each essay and leave time for planning at the beginning of the exam and proofreading at the end.
How should I use my reading time in the exam?
Make the most of the time allowed for reading before the exam starts.
At the beginning of the exam you will be allowed time to read the paper but you must not begin writing your answers or notes. Read the whole paper and pay particular attention to the instructions about how many questions you must answer, and how many grades are allocated to each question. This is a good time to choose the questions you want to answer — and which one you might answer first (you are not obliged to start at the beginning if that does not suit you).
As soon as you are allowed to begin writing, you should note down key ideas, arguments, diagrams formulae or an outline that will help you answer the questions.
What is the purpose of a take-home exam?
It seems like just any assignment that I have to prepare for grading, so what is different about take-home exams?
A take-home exam is a type of Open Book exam and the format of these exams can differ widely between paper. Often the lecturer will provide exam questions or tasks in a LMS (Learning Mangement System - like Moodle), and between certain dates you go home and prepare your answers and submit them in the LMS before the due date. (Sometimes, however, you might also be given a task on paper and expected to respond within a shortened timeframe. There are usually no restrictions on the materials you can use but the work must be yours and attempted without help from anyone else.
Firstly, find out what your lecturer's expectations are. For instance if it is not due for a week ask whether he or she expects a fully researched paper with additional sources, and/or referencing as in an assignment.
Is it OK to use bullet points in my answers?
There are times when bullet points might be appropriate, and instances when they're not desirable
Point form is generally acceptable in short answers but the meaning must be clear. What that means is the points must altogether provide an explanation and answer in reply to the question. If in doubt write more in each point to clarify what you mean, rather than less, (i.e. more is more). In an essay question it may be useful to use bullet points to show stages, characteristics, factors, recommendations etc.
Note: This way of answering may save time and is useful if you find yourself running out of time but such answers risk exposing a lack of deeper understanding.
Is there a difference between answers to long essay questions and assignments?
Even though you are writing a long essay question under timed circumstances, there are some elements that are necessary for a thorough response
Most importantly (just like in an assignment) your answer to an essay question in a exam must answer the question and present a logical progression or argument. Essay answers are shorter than assignments so you must get straight to the point of your argument and clearly show how the points you make support your argument.
What this means is your answer should have a clear structure, so be sure to take time (as much as 10% of the time you've allocated to the item) to plan by identifying your argument and the order of the points you will make to support it.
Note: You will need to attach any planning to the exam paper at the end — this is a good thing, because although your lecturer will grade the essay, if your message is not as clear as you had intended he or she will be able to see what you were intending to say by looking at your plan.
Just like in an assignment essay, you should clearly state your argument and the main points you will make in the introduction of your long answer. Although you can't reference properly in an exam you will still need to refer to any source material as needed. Your referencing style won't necessarily be expected to be perfect, but you should try to name prominent theorists or authors if you are drawing on their work in your answer.
Should I use diagrams in my exam answers?
Is it better to draw a quick diagram, or to write an explanation out in full?
Diagrams that are relevant, complete and labeled can enhance your exam answers in some papers. However, don't leave the diagram to speak for itself; provide an explanation of its relevance to your answer. A really good diagram can help to show the marker you understand a concept. If you are unsure whether diagrams are appropriate in your discipline check with your tutor.