Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Exam technique advice from Will Skjott

When I write for this blog, I am well aware that since I am a university lecturer my advice might be received with scepticism. I know the thought process well. Of course I would advise that students should be prepared for classes, it benefits me, right? Makes my life easier in the classroom, doesn't it? Undoubtedly, it does. But why? It's not because I have less work to do as a tutor. It is because there is less difference of understanding and frame of reference between the many students in the classroom if everyone is up to speed. It is because I can genuinely help students with what is confusing them if they have tried to read and understand the subject and tried to study it by themselves. 

It is precisely because students have an inherent scepticism of advice given by tutors that I love being able to bring you insights and advice from former students. They cannot be accused of having ulterior motives. They have been in exactly the same position as you. They have made their own minds up about what to do. And the successful ones have great strategies which can truly help.

I am very pleased to bring you this blog post from Will Skjott. He is a former personal tutee of rare quality, Will was universally praised by his tutors for being diligent, thoughtful, hard working and bright as a button. Will ably sailed through his assessments, gaining highly impressive results in all of the centrally set assessments. One day, Will kindly explained to me that he had thought about and planned his exam technique. I took the liberty of asking him to share his exam tips with you all. 

These tips are excellent. They are thoughtful and accord with accepted research on how memory works. The methodology here is directed towards good time management and giving yourself the time and space to recall things. Dividing your time is an essential technique for exam success which often gets overlooked. Equally, too many students answer questions in a panic, without having read them or understood them properly. Some of these ideas may not be your "usual" way of handling the exam situation, but ask yourself if your techniques could realistically do with improvement. I honestly think there is always something to learn.

Will, your intelligence and ability always made me proud of you. As did your modest and self-assured manner. You didn't make any fuss or draw any attention to yourself. You just got on with the business of being brilliant. That you were prepared to help my current students, people you have not even met, makes me all the more proud. Thank you for making this blog post happen - I truly appreciate your time and trouble. 

And my students will appreciate the genuine views of a real former BPTC student, rather than the recommendations of a tutor.

Over to you, Will!

Exam technique advice from Will Skjott

Firstly: for anyone who has timing problems

(I'm usually OK with this, but I thought these thoughts might help).

Before the exam work out how much time you have for each question (SAQ and the complete MCQs). When the exam is kicked off spend 2 minutes WRITING the finish times of each section you need to complete on some paper. Since you cannot now take a watch into an exam (smartwatches are possible tools for cheating), you need to keep an eye on the clock in the exam room. That way you can keep track of your progress and know when you need to force yourself to move on so you don't end up running out of time and scuppering your chances. 

Anyway, onto my exam strategy.

I don't know whether this works for everyone. I might be a bit odd but it definitely works for me. I have to point out that I am one of those people who needs to write things to learn them. I took notes in all our lectures even when I had the slides because otherwise it goes in one ear and out the other. Also when revising I write notes upon notes upon notes. Getting more and more distilled and sometimes onto coloured paper for the last notes. I take these to the exam and read and re-read right up until the time I have to go in. I know people don't recommend this, but for me it means I can shove a bit into my short term memory which can be useful later.

When I get in, I put all my stuff the way I want it. Water etc (not unlike Rafa Nadal!).

When I am allowed sometimes I will write anything I think might be useful from my short term memory that I think I might forget onto a piece of rough paper.

Once the exam starts I go straight to the SAQs in the question paper. Next to the questions I will put some notes about what the answer might be. If I don't know the answer I will put some words about what I think they might be looking for or what the question is actually about as a guide for later. Go through all the SAQs.

Then I will go to the MCQs again in the Question paper. Read the questions and circle the answers I think are correct or put question marks next to the ones I am unsure of. Try and cross out any answers I know are wrong. Quickly highlight what they are asking for (which is INCORRECT, CORRECT, RIGHT etc so I don't make THAT stupid mistake!).

Once I have done that I will go and ANSWER the SAQs. Rereading the questions etc. Then I will go through and answer the MCQs again rereading and writing on the rough paper the numbers of any that I am unsure of so I can go back to them first if I have time at the end.

I find that doing this means that I get to look at every question twice. This helps reduce stupid errors from a lack of reading and understanding. Also doing it like this gives my subconscious brain time to process answers and think while I am answering other questions. Sometimes answers come after 20 minutes of doing something else and MCQs/SAQs can sometimes trigger answers to each other.

I definitely think writing short term knowledge down at the start is worth doing on the SAQs. If you go through the exam MCQ then SAQ I think you are cheating yourself out of time and possibility of reading and rereading. Also your best tool is your little brain and it can do things while you are concentrating on something else. Give it a chance!

Anyway, these are just my thoughts and what I do. I don't know whether they will work for anyone else or whether they may, in fact, be totally against the usual study skills and wisdom. I just have a mind that likes to read things through (case papers etc) and do something else to then return and find out I have loads of answers.