Monday, 30 March 2009

Revision & Exam Technique

I wrote this several years ago... for my brother, lol. For most of us who (like me) are past all this now, sorry for dredging up bad memories. But at least we can count our blessings and think how lucky we are that it's all over. Hopefully...I guess there'll still be interviews though, and trials of other kinds, and also that driving test I might get round to doing one day. I mean if Mr. Bean can get a driving license, can't we all? So for those of us for whom this isn't remotely useful, we can just laugh and enjoy the video of Mr. Bean and his exam. 

  Obviously it helps if you know your stuff, so the first key thing is ORGANIZATION. You have a separate file for each subject, you have a course syllabus for each subject and if possible a few past exam papers to get an idea of the kind of questions they usually ask so you know what to concentrate on and what words to look out for when preparing. You take a quick skim at these past questions and all that needs to be done before you even begin.

        Now, you've got this mass of material, papers and books for each subject, the next problem is UNDERSTANDING. In order not to be overwhelmed by the quantity of stuff, you look through the syllabus and understand the structure of the course, like the chapter headings. One chapter at a time, you read through all the information and your lecture notes and if you've got time take your own brief notes or reminders on the material. Your own notes should never be more than a page per lecture and they should be relatively neat. There are other things you know which you do not write down, but might come in useful in the exams - this is only the things which you have to remember which will trigger the rest. They are your notes so they only need to be detailed enough to trigger stuff off in your mind. They might even be completely useless for someone else.

        The previous stage should be quite fun; it's just learning about stuff. The next requires concentration and best with absolutely no music! It is MEMORIZATION. The great danger is to leave this too late; you have to absolutely force yourself to set aside some time and do it (and if possible you should try to come back to stuff you've memorized a week, a month, then three months and then a year later to make it stick in your memory, but this requires great discipline and I never manage to do this). Ok, you understand the subject, now go through your notes sub-chapter by sub-chapter, read and try to repeat as much of the information as you remember, not word-for-word (only the medieval scholars could do that because they were memory gurus!) but all the information and do also bring to mind examples and detailed stuff which were in the books but which you didn't bother writing notes on; check back if you've forgotten anything important in the notes and try again until you have it down pat. Then move onto the next subsection etc.. It's very important to remember (i)  what the sections and subsections are, and (ii) how each-subsection starts, so the rest is triggered. In the exam, you might be asked "Write an essay on Chapter 3", so you just write out a version of your notes with a few other things thrown in that you happen to remember.

        Having finished memorization, if you've still got time before the exams, then you turn to PAST PAPERS which will just cement what you have learnt in your mind and is a way of testing you and finding cracks in your knowledge.

        On the night before or morning of the exam, you just do a quick RECAP of all your mini-notes.

In summary,

The first three are the most important!!

        If you've done all this, you go to the exam knowing you're going to do ok, so you arrive on time, you're relaxed and you just want to do as well as possible. Many exams are based on mark schemes, so the key is to give as many points of information and facts as possible because each fact is rewarded with marks. For any exam question, you think "what parts of the course is this testing me on?" and this will help you to answer their question even if it requires a lot of thinking, e.g. you know it's a question related to Ch.4 but you don't see exactly how it's related, so you go through Ch.4 in your mind and suddenly see what might possibly be useful.

        For the exam itself, the first thing is TIMING. Read instructions, work out which questions you want to answer and estimate how long you want to spend on each question, e.g. 4 questions in 2 hours means half an hour each, or if some questions are worth more you alter accordingly. Inevitably you might be taking longer than half an hour on the first question, but you notice that this is happening and you turn up the pressure inside you to get a move on to the next question so you definitely won't take more than 40-45 minutes and you'll really make sure you make back some of that lost time on the next question. At least you can be flexible like "just a couple more paragraphs please and I'll be done" but the stop-clock to finish at the end is not so kind. Start with the questions that you're best at, but if a question will require you to sit down and think and prepare e.g. "the long essay question", don't leave
this to right at the end because that is the most pressured time and this time is best used for writing "everything you know" in a hurry.

        The second thing is HANDWRITING and STRUCTURE. Write legibly and in clearly marked paragraphs so the examiner can take one look at a paragraph, read the first sentence, skim through the paragraph and see you've used that key word or phrase he's looking for and give it a tick without even bothering to read it. Illegible handwriting puts the examiner in a bad mood because even if he could make out what you're saying, the effort is hurting his head. So, when you're in a rush at the end, just scribbling down extra things that might earn extra marks, it might not be a bad idea to write in bullet points, and underline important words. Structure is of course easy if you're just writing out a version of your notes, or when writing an essay if you've taken out a couple of minutes to prepare the form of the essay.

        The final thing is CONTENT. Don't go off on tangents, but stick to the parts of the notes or books which directly answer the question (unless you run out of things to say). Remember you're trying to "get" the question, i.e. get what is on the examiner's mark scheme, so it's very predictable stuff most of the time.

In summary,


  1. hey, i noticed that you like MR. BEAN alot! :)

  2. Man! This took some gags off my brain (if ever i really got one)!
    You're such a very organized dude! I don't think i ever made my study period as methodical as you may have done.
    This would be of great use to 'thegoldenwood'...iiiiisssszzzz...

  3. Oooooh! 'Clever' Mr. Bean! The laugh medicine!

  4. oooooooohhhhhhhhhhhhhh ....such good advice .......mmmm handwriting forget I have scratches .....OH !!!!! and i love Mr.Bean !!!!!! although we can't get him over here anymore :(

  5. I actually can't stand Mr. Bean, but then I do find a lot of it very funny. He's an exaggeration but when that exaggeration goes too far, it does make the stomach churn. He's very inventive, but his sense of decorum is entirely external, self-conscious of his difference from others and trying to do as they do, to fit in with a third-person morality which he only perceives when he realizes that there is someone watching him, all the while being self-centred to the point of mania. There's something endearing and certainly amusing about it, and provided it doesn't get too disgusting it makes for great humour like the above clip!

    Apparently that clip was the very first ten minutes of the very first pilot episode of Mr. Bean, so for sure it had to be good or the show might not have gone on. They don't show them here any more either, but then I haven't watched any tv recently even if they did.

  6. well, jach. it's really useful for me, you know. examination is 19 days away. lol. thanks,okei. thanks for sharing. it's useful. lol

  7. You are obviously a very well organised personality!

    I guess not all are wired that way. My own husband, a scientist, is like that....systematic! In fact too systematic for my taste. I'm more impulsive and have written my exams...aeons if in a daze! But the results have been surprisingly good!

    I wonder what happened to your li'l brother? Did he follow your advice and got ahead in life?!?!?

    This article really is a work of genuine love and care. Must show this to my son :))

  8. Not systematic or well-organized and just a little bit lazy too. But in the run-up to exams I'd make sure everything was in order because the more organized you are, the more lazy you can be and the easier to leave all the hard-core revision (i.e. memorizing stuff) to as late as possible and come away from the exam feeling ok. The flip-side of this is that I have a very short-term memory - I can watch movies I've seen before and be surprised by plot twists, once even I saw the whole movie and then only remembered I'd seen it before several days later, freaky!!

    As for the brother, he never enjoys his exams, lol and he liked the advice, but not sure it really took root. Maybe your son will find it useful though.

  9. Good strategy! Sounds absolutely sensible!

    I may suggest a few points to this otherwise 'complete' package, if you don't mind!

    I feel taking short breaks in-between could help some. Going out for fresh air once at least, could help relieve some pressure & refresh the mind...

    Then the diet....being a mother, I can not discount its value :) We in India consider some foods good for brain & memory. Eating almonds, soaked overnight, is one such...

  10. Good points! Fresh air & fresh food... that would be the sattvic foods then, right?

    And of course, we should also add to get plenty of rest and try to keep a regular sleep pattern.

  11. This is very good.

    When I went to college, there was a course, entitled " How to study." Your suggestions were all in the course. ;0)