5 Top Tips For Students Dealing With Written Essay Exams
Exams can be a real stress for students! But don't panic, because we're here to help with our tips on how to ace your written essay exams:
1. Get enough sleep the night before the exam
One good way to make exams go more smoothly is to prepare yourself well before the exam takes place. Of course it's tempting to stay up late the night before and attempt to cram in as much revision as you can, especially if you're feeling worried, but resist this impulse! You'll do a lot better if you can get a full night's sleep beforehand and arrive at your exam feeling well-rested.
2. On the day of the exam, arrive early and not too caffeinated
On the day of the exam, if you're feeling very nervous and jumpy, you can try doing a few simple exercises, like doing some jumping jacks in your room or running up and down a staircase a couple of times. This can help to burn of some of your nervous energy. If you're really hopeless without a coffee first thing in the morning, then have one cup before the exam. But don't drink too much coffee, tea, or energy drinks before, as these will leave you feel distracted and will make it difficult to concentrate. Do get to the exam venue early, as it can take a while to find the correct room, register, and find your seat. It's better to have an extra 10 minutes to take a drink of water and use the bathroom than it is to turn up late and have to rush into a busy exam hall.
3. Don't sweat the details, focus on the big picture
People often panic in exams because they feel like they don't know enough information to write an essay, or that there are important facts which they won't remember. But generally, this is not the best way to go. When writing an essay exam, you want to convey your understanding of the overall state of the field. It's not necessary for you to memorise hundreds of facts, and actually, if you make an error or mis-remember a piece of information then it's not a big deal. Instead, use the essay structure to convey your broad understanding of the topic and the debates within it which you have picked up from teaching across the semester. Generally, you'll get a better mark for giving an answer which is well-discussed and broadly correct even if it has a few small actual errors, than for one which is factually correct but lacks any depth of understanding or the ability to lead the reader from one point to the next.
4. When you start the exam, take some time to read and think
Once you've arrived in the exam location and seen the exam questions for the first time, it's common to want to start writing straight away. People feel like they have to start writing immediately as they are under time pressure. However, you should take some time to read and think about the question before you pick up your pen. Read the question, and then read it again. Don't assume you know what the question is asking! Take some time to think about the specific wording of the question, and how you can use your relevant knowledge to answer it. It's absolutely fine to take 5 to 10 minutes at the start of an exam session to sit quietly and think before you start writing.
5. Write an outline before you start writing your answer
Once you've thought about the question, you're still not quite ready to write yet. You should plan an outline of the answer you're going to write. This can be very simple – a few bullet points is fine – but having some kind of structure to work with will help you to develop your thinking and to write the answer. You should use the usual essay structure of Introduction – Argument – Counter Argument – Conclusion. You can also use this structure to plan out your time, noting down how much time you will spend writing each section. Finally, do try to leave yourself some time for proofreading and final edits at the end.
Best of luck with your exams!
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