Strategies To Score in Exams

Let’s set one thing straight. The foolproof way to do well in exams is of course, by studying. There’s no shortcut about it! Ideally you should start studying from the beginning of the semester, consistently for several hours a day.

What? But that’s so nerdy!

You’ve got to be realistic. While there may be students who do well in exams without having to bury their noses in books all the time, those students are the exception. We average Joes, on the other hand, need to work for it. Yes, life’s unfair. Get over it! Besides, by just allocating several hours a day to studying, you’re not really sacrificing your social life (assuming that you have one). Trust me. You just need to prepare a well-balanced schedule and have the willpower to stick to it.

The following tips are to help enhance those who have studied all throughout the semester. But I guess those who haven’t studied much can also use it.. To pass, perhaps? Hehe.

OK, here goes.

When studying for exams, it helps to know: the format of the exam, coverage of topics and type of questions being asked. Why? Because I believe that apart from studying, students can also increase their chances of scoring better in exams with a proper strategy. You can only strategise if you know what you’re up against.

Format of the exam. This includes the duration of the exam, breakdown of the paper (does it have 2 or 3 parts?), do you have options or must you answer all? Check with your lecturers about the exam format. You may also refer to pass years’ final papers at the library or resource centres.
If you know the duration of the exam and the total number of questions to be answered, you can estimate how long it will take for you to answer a particular question. This will help you avoid not having enough time to answer all that you need. You may be surprised to know that when I grade exam scripts, there are students who took too long in answering some questions that they don’t have enough time to finish their papers. That’s marks wasted. For e.g, if it is a 3-hour exam and you need to answer 5 questions, roughly take 30 minutes to answer each question. The balance of half an hour can be used to draft your answers and to check your work.

Coverage of topics. To know which topics are covered in the exam, ask your lecturers or refer to the course outlines (syllabus). Don’t worry if your lecturers don’t give exam tips. It’s not the end of the world. I remembered when I was an undergraduate, one of my favourite lecturers, Ms Wai Li, will never give exam tips. Her rationale? I’ve taught my best. Now it’s your turn to study, understand and give out your best. Seems reasonable to me.

But my lecturer doesn’t teach that well! So how?

So what? Just because to you your lecturer isn’t doing that great a job, it shouldn’t stop you from gaining knowledge. In this age, there are numerous ways for you to augment what you learnt in class. You can checkout YouTube videos given by professors all over the world or Google the concepts that you’re uncertain about. Just remember to check the sources. The point is, by knowing what’s covered in the exam (even by just referring to the course outlines), you will be guided in your revisions. Otherwise, you’ll feel overwhelmed with so many topics and won’t know where to begin. Related to this, always refer to your textbooks, lecture notes and course materials. Those stuffs you read on the internet are extras. They shouldn’t be used to replace your main references.

Types of questions. The way questions are designed depends on your courses and fields of study. But generally, exam questions are either in the form of short answer (or structured); problems that involve calculations; case studies; long essays or multiple-choice. In economics, most of our questions are of short answer, problems and essay type. Occasionally we’ll have MCQs. So my tips will be based on these types of questions. Why does this matter, you may ask? Well, it really doesn’t if you’re good enough. But if you’re so-so or you haven’t studied as much as you should, then anything that may help you improve your score, is worth looking at, no?

Here are (some of) the strategies that I practiced as a student:

  • For short answer questions, choose questions with the more breakdown of marks. For e.g, a question that’s worth 20 marks may be broken down into 10+10 or 4+6+5+5. Choose the latter whenever possible (unless of course, you know for certain the answers to the former, then choose the former). That way, if you can’t answer one part of the question well, you can still collect marks for the other parts. In other words, you lose lesser marks for inaccurate answers.
  • For short answer and essay questions, whenever possible, opt to answer questions that involve graphs or diagrams. If you recall your lecturer sketching something or writing a certain formulae in class for that particular topic, include that in your answers. Besides scoring browny points for attentiveness, providing diagrams or formulates is a great way to complement your explanations.
  • Whenever possible, choose calculation-based problems over long essay type questions. But only do so if you know how to calculate or solve the problems.
  • For MCQs, the trick is to rule out the obvious wrong choices first and then, narrow your choices to the best answer. Sometimes you can see a pattern with the A, B, C, D options. The best answer is most probably the odd one out.
  • For essay questions, write each point in a new paragraph. It always annoys me to grade answer scripts that look like a bunch of logs. You know, it goes on and on with no paragraphs or indentations. They make examiners sleepy or lose focus. Good luck in gaining their sympathy.
  • Related to the above, you may use bullet points or numberings to answer essays (but do check with your own lecturers if they accept them). However, do elaborate your points well and by that, I mean write proper sentences and NOT leave your answers in point forms only.
  • To emphasise your main points in essays, underline the keywords. Or use a highlighter. This will direct the examiners’ eyes to instantly get what you’re trying to say, although your grammar ke laut.
  • Use good, dark-coloured pens or pencil leads in answering your essays or short answer questions. They make writing pleasant for the students and even more pleasant to read by the examiners. Remember, examiners are humans too. If you make their experience of grading your exam scripts less daunting with minimal grammatical errors and legible handwriting, who knows, they may be more, if not, slightly lenient in awarding you points.
  • I guess that’s it. I’ll add on more if I remember them. I hope by sharing these few pointers, you’ll have a more ‘enjoyable’ time answering your final exam papers

    Good luck!


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