Thursday, 9 February 2012

Exam tips II

Exam marking is pretty much over for another Semester and once again I have been struck by how many students make the same mistakes in terms of how they approach answering questions. Knowledge and understanding are obviously important but if your exam technique is poor, you will still struggle to get a good mark.

In addition to the big one (that I have previously covered) of Answer the Question, here are some random tips for optimising exam performance, in no particular order:

☑ When using examples, try to be specific. Demonstrate that you know exactly what it is an example of and why it is an example.

☑ When drawing diagrams: (a) make them big; (b) use a ruler; (c) give them clear labels and/or a legend; (d) refer to them in the text.

☑ Never start a sentence "Therefore..." and assume that the link from the previous paragraph is obvious. It may be obvious but we want to see that you know why it's obvious. More often than not, this comes across as:
I know X somehow means Y but I don't know why, so I will tell you what I know about X and then write "Therefore, Y."
☑ If possible, include a short introductory paragraph that explains how you are going to answer the question. This is particularly important if your first paragraphs are background information that does not directly address the question asked, or you are not answering different aspects in the order they were asked.

☑ Being correct is not enough. I want to see that you know why what you write is correct - demonstrate understanding, not just recall.

☑ Use scientific terminology where possible but always explain what the terms mean. Again, it is a matter of understanding vs. recall. (And, in the worst case scenario that you use a scientific term incorrectly, we will still know that you understand the answer.)

☑ Try not to assume that the person who taught you will mark your script when you write your answer, and draw your figures. They probably will be the same person but, this way, you are less likely to make the mistake of too much assumed knowledge. I may know that the boxes in the figure are genes because you are reproducing my figure but if you do not label them, you will not get any credit for understanding. Again, I am not testing your ability to copy stuff. Likewise, I may know that a given disease-causing mutation is in Gene X but if you do not tell me, I cannot assume that you know.

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