What’s the biggest mistake students make when writing exams? Capilano University learning specialist, Alison Parry, says “misreading the question or making assumptions about what you have to do on an exam are common mistakes that can have a big impact on your grade.” With exam period underway, we asked Alison for her tips on how to read and tackle an exam. Here they are:

True or False Questions

True or False questions test your knowledge of the factual details of a subject and often contain a statement that is true, partially true or entirely false. While a good grasp of the facts is essential, students often lose marks because they don’t read the statements carefully enough.

Watch out for the use of negative words in questions. They can sometimes be confusing because we usually learn what things “are” rather than what they are “not.” For example: “An organized desk is not an external distractor while studying.” To avoid confusion, remove the negative word and decide whether the statement in its positive form is true. Also, look out for modifiers. Extreme modifiers like “always” or “never” tend to make statements false as they are too extreme, while moderate modifiers like “sometimes” or “usually” tend to make statements true as they are less absolute.

Multiple Choice Questions

Multiple Choice questions can be tricky because, unlike True or False questions, there are several options to consider. When you’re nervous, it’s easy to misread questions. To avoid this, carefully underline the key words as you read the question. For example: “Which of the following is not a symptom of stress?” Also, consider evaluating each option as a True or False statement, eliminating all the false answers. This strategy stops you from getting overwhelmed by all of the options. For answers you’re unsure of, delay your response by marking it, and then return to unanswered questions at the end to see if any other information from the test assists you in choosing an answer.

Short Answer Questions

These questions can be tough because they require you to recall the information directly from memory without any cues. To do well, it’s important to predict possible questions ahead of time and practice your answers from memory. Feel free to include an example if you’re not explaining things well. And use the question’s point value as a guide to how much to say. The more points a question is worth, the more details should be included in your answer.

Long Answer/Essay Questions

Essay questions are often considered the most challenging as you really need to understand the material to be able recall key points from memory and express what you know in essay form. They’re often worth a lot of marks, so it’s important to read the directions carefully and budget your time adequately. One way that students lose marks is by not answering every part of the question or misinterpreting the question being asked, so read the question carefully, note the various parts to the question and make sure you understand the directive word (e.g. compare, discuss, analyze, trace, etc.).

Before you start writing, make a basic outline to organize your thoughts. This process will take a few minutes, but will result in a more organized, logical discussion. Your instructor expects to see a standard essay format, which includes a brief introduction with a thesis statement, body paragraphs and a brief conclusion. And it goes without saying that your essay should be grammatically correct and free of spelling mistakes, so be sure to proof your essay and make corrections before you hand in your exam.

Good luck!

*   *   *

For more learning strategies, check out these study skills handouts or make an appointment with Alison Parry, learning specialist, by calling 604.984.1744.

Submitted by Marketing & Communications

Related links: