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Exam techniques: What examiners look for

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Help yourself get marks. Examiners look out for particular points you've made so they can give you marks, but they’d rather not search through a disorganised or illegible mass of writing to do so. They won’t give you extra marks just for writing a lot either, so answer the question, make reference to your module themes, topics and examples, and move on. Present your work legibly and in an organised way, with clearly labelled question numbers and diagrams if appropriate.

As you write your answer refer back to the question’s wording frequently. It can be tempting to put down information that you know very well and have put a lot of effort into learning but you won’t get any marks if it isn’t relevant.

Common faults that lose marks What you should do
Not following the instructions on the paper about how many questions to answer Read the instructions carefully, and check them again as you complete your answers
Not answering the question set Read the question several times to make sure you know what's being asked
Writing without reference to the module material Plan your answer to include module themes, topics and examples
Not allocating time appropriately between questions Plan how much time you’ll spend on each question, depending on how many points each is worth

Answer the questions

Try to keep your writing legible. As you write the full answer, check back against your plan and tick off the points as you go. Use material from your module – names, key concepts, diagrams and arguments, including supporting evidence.

Roger tells us about his overall approach to the exam paper: what he reads first and how he formulates his answers.

If your exam involves statistics or numbers, show your calculations – some marks will be given for the process, even if the answer's wrong. Make sure you use the skills you’ve learnt in the module, for example working to the appropriate number of significant figures in calculations, and including units.

Is there a place for a diagram such as a sketch, graph or chart? If so, use one and label it clearly.

In short-answer or multiple-choice questions, if you can’t answer a question right away leave it and come back to it if you can. If you still don’t know the answer, make a guess rather than leave it out.

If you have a mental block about an aspect of an essay question, develop your plan and the name or detail may come back to you.

Problem question? I leave a bit of space after each question in case I want to add something relevant during my check-through before the exam finishes.
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