Author(s): Andrew Holmes
Contains 52 brilliant ideas on how you can turn exam worries into exam success.
Andrew Holmes has worked as a management consultant for the Big Five consultancies (he's currently at Ernst and Young). He's been widely published in fields as diverse as Risk Management and Environmental Ethics. He's the author of Pains on Trains and Pains in the Office (Capstone) and is an expert on lifelong learning
Introduction 1. Are you sitting comfortably? If you're coming back into the study and exam thing after a few years off (for good behaviour), it's a good idea to refresh yourself with what works and what doesn't. 2. Syllabus savvy The syllabus serves an important purpose: it tells us what we are meant to learn. Of course, it also tells the teachers what they should be teaching us, which helps. 3. It's all about attitude, dude You can't escape the need to study, whether it's for your entry level qualifications, degree, postgraduate or professional exams. To master the art requires discipline and persistence - and attitude. 4. Protect your environment Where do you like to get down to it? Do you prefer a soundtrack or would you rather do it in silence? How you create your perfect study environment is up to you. 5. Charting your success When it comes to study, maintaining your motivation is difficult at the best of times. So how do you do it? One thing that seems to work for a lot of people is the use of a study charter. 6. On your marks You have spent up to three years learning your subject, weeks or months revising and a few hours regurgitating all that knowledge in the exam hall. That's exhausting stuff. So how do you feel about those who are going to mark it? Possibly a little apprehensive. 7. Books, glorious books Some one million books are published every year. Now that's a lot. This means there's plenty of material floating around out there that you can draw on, and what better place to find it all than in a library. 8. Standing on the shoulders of giants. These days there are plenty of study aids available to make your life easier when it comes to study. So why not dig deep and fork out some cash on a few? 9. Too many cooks? Ah, the joy of group projects. Love them or hate them, they are there to test your team working skills and to get your creative juices flowing. 10. Too much information How on earth do you manage all the information, facts, figures, case studies and examples you're expected to remember? Where do you start? 11. Fewer snakes, more ladders If studying and exams were a game of snakes and ladders, wouldn't you want to have more ladders than snakes? In the world of study, 'exam briefings' are there to be climbed whereas bunking off can only bring you down. 12. Tick, tock Managing time is a skill which every student has to master. From developing a study timetable to making sure you spend your time effectively in the exam hall, every second counts. 13. Spotting the winners. If you're struggling with the amount of revision you've got to do, why not try something completely different? It's time to cut to the chase and get your binoculars out. Yes, it's time to go question spotting. 14. One step beyond. Once you've covered the whole syllabus, you should have done everything you need to be successful, right? Well, yes and no. Certainly, you ought to pass, but to pass well will require a little bit more. 15. Life, the universe and everything...but what's the question? Struggling with what those exam questions are really looking for is one of the perennial problems of the student. But how to sort the inquisitorial wheat from the questionable chaff? 16. Let me look into your mind One of the hardest jobs when it comes to studying is distilling your copious notes into a manageable number of words, pictures, key words and bullet points that you can remember. One of the best methods is mind mapping. 17. Morning, noon and night. When do you feel most productive? Do you deliver the goods when the milkman is delivering his, or do you tuck in when most sane people are tucked up in bed? Whatever your natural preference, that's the time to study. 18. The word that launched a thousand notes Your brain's ability to remember information is phenomenal and if you train it well you can use single words or phrases to recall all your notes as though they were right in front of you. 19. The power of positive thinking If there is one thing you need in spades when it comes to studying and taking exams, it's positive thinking. 20. Cramming until you drop Schools which are specifically designed to cram students' minds full of material are all the rage in the Far East. They have an upside and a downside, and they are coming to a city near you soon. 21. Hired hand No matter how good the state system, many people believe that additional support is required if you want to reach for the sky. Tutors are in high demand at every level, from concerned parents to go-getting students. 22. Many hands make light work It can be very lonely studying all by yourself with only the radio for company. Alternatively, group study can be very productive and a lot of fun. 23. Round, round, I get around. Most people tend to be somewhat passive when it comes to their study, which makes the whole process boring and a turn off. To keep your study both interesting and alive it is a good idea to use active revision techniques. 24. All work and no play Focus, focus, focus. Some folks believe that the only way to pass exams and complete their studies is to work, work, work. No time for rest, and certainly no time for play. Is this a good strategy? Psychologists don't think so. 25. Surf's up. The internet provides a fantastic resource for anyone wishing to augment their study, so it's no wonder there are so many opportunities to both study and gain qualifications online. 26. Blueprint for success Feeling prepared for the exam is a good feeling, but if you want to be even more prepared, one of the best ways is to build some model answers. These can be particularly helpful in exams where essays are required. 27. Night boat to Cairo You'd never believe that a pyramid had much to do with studying, would you? But it does. Just look at its shape. 28. Last orders, please. What do you prefer: a well-formulated plan mapped out well in advance, or waiting until a few days before the exam before knuckling down to study? Many people prefer the latter, but it's risky, and not so smart if you want to do well. 29. Mind, body and spirit Your physiology affects your brain along with the rest of your body. If you feel down, your brain doesn't function at its full capacity; conversely, if you feel great, your brain can tackle seemingly impossible tasks. 30. Earth calling. An increasing number of people follow courses from the comfort of their own home. Distance learning is a great way to study, but it is very different from what you might have been used to. 31. No gain without pain. Study is no picnic and for most of us it is very painful. But without the pain there can be no gain. It wasn't meant to be easy, you know! 32. Are you receiving me? Oral exams are an important part of the exam system and are frequently used for vocational courses and professional exams. They test other skills than written tests, such as your ability to communicate and think on your feet. 33. Breaking the four-minute mile. How do you prepare for your exams? Do you pace up and down? Feverishly smoke cigarettes? Or are you one of the few calm people floating around on a sea of serenity? With visualisation, you could be. 34. Dreaming of dissertations You can't escape the final project, dissertation or report, and if you prepare it well it can mean the difference between an average grade and an excellent one. 35. The dark side Although it might masquerade as a cunning plan, cheating is in fact a bad idea; well, it is if you get caught. Whether you are up against it, lazy or just downright devious, cheating is no substitute for good exam technique. 36. Stacking the shelves. How good are you at recalling all the information you need in an exam? If you find it tricky, which most of us do, you might want to use the techniques outlined here. 37. Don't panic! Two words link Douglas Adams's book The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy and the British TV institution, Dad's Army. 'Don't Panic' should be inscribed onto every student's forehead. 38. Exam hall excellence When those magic words 'You may now turn over your exam paper' punctuate the silence of the exam hall, it's time to put your exam hall skills to the test. 39. Learning how to learn We tend to muddle through when it comes to learning. We sit in lectures and listen intently, make notes and then do our best to regurgitate them in the exam. Surely there must be a better way? 40. More can be more For those amongst you who have to study maths, and especially the complex stuff, there is one important thing to remember - show your working out, as this is the only way to maximise your marks. 41. Let's get critical There's one thing that most examiners want to see from candidates and that's critical thinking. Problem is, most us don't even know what it means. 42. Ever decreasing circles I bet you've never thought of your study as a circle - well, apart from going round and round in them, of course. 43. Smash, bang, wallop Science subjects usually require you to conduct a practical experiment as part of your exams. How can you prepare for this, as this is truly a test you can't second guess? 44. See, hear, feel Have you ever thought about your learning style and how this affects your study and exam performance? Using your strongest sense makes most sense. 45. It's as simple as a, b, c Multiple choice exams are more commonly known as multiple guess, given that most students think they are a breeze to answer. If only that were true! 46. The inner game. The golfers or tennis players amongst you may have come across a guy called Timothy Gallwey. A renowned sports coach, the secret of his success was that he perfected the inner game. So let's apply it to study shall we? 47. The killer question. Every exam seems to have one; no matter how well you've prepared, there is always a question that seems to throw you. Being able to get through the inevitable panic is vital, as is trying to produce some kind of answer. 48. Open and shut case Open book exams: you can take into them all the reference books you need or can carry. Sounds an easy way to pick up marks, but they can be quite deceptive. And it's another skill area that you'll need to hone. 49. Hidden messages If you really want to try something completely different when it comes to studying, then look no further than subliminal learning. Maximum effect, mimimum effort? Sounds perfect. 50. Leave the scalpel behind What's done is done. You can't go back into the exam hall and change your answer once you've left, so there's little point trying to dissect it and guess how you've done. But I bet you do. 51. Vocation, vocation. The smart ones amongst us recognise that our learning does not stop once our formal education finishes. But the type of learning changes from being primarily academic to becoming more vocational. 52. Don't worry, be happy Sometimes things just don't work out when it comes to exams...despite all the hard work, your grade disappoints. The key thing is to figure out what to do next. The end