Thursday, 22 January 2009

The Problems with Preparing for Exams

Whenever I’ve taken an exam, I’ve always found that I’ve never done enough preparation for it or that I’ve over prepared the wrong bits. Those first few seconds when everyone turns over the first page of their exam booklet to frantically find a question they feel they can answer is always followed by an almost audible collective slap as palms of hands connect with faces throughout the exam hall in despair, as they’ll always be one question that you’re just not sure if you’ve done enough work for.

I took a Statutory Analysis exam a couple of days ago. This was a slightly odd one in that it was an online multiple choice test that you had to sit down and complete in two hours completely uninterrupted. I was given a deadline of the 29th January to complete this, and against all tradition, I got it out of the way over a week early, purely because I got sick of preparing and worrying about it.

I absolutely abhor the anticipation-dread that one goes through on the run up to any exam or assessment of any kind. I actually normally do quite well in exams, but this knowledge that I perform quite well under pressure still doesn’t stop me from automatically tying knots in my stomach and getting incrementally more aggressive and moody the closer I get to the day of the exam. The main cause of this is undoubtedly the sheer uncertainty about the content.

Although you can get a rough idea about the sorts of things that will come up from past papers if they’re available, they are often inconsistent. Also, if you look at these, you can’t help but try to work out if the same topics will come up again this time around and whether it may be best to tactically avoid those areas of study. Not only that, but there’s always the risk that a topic that has only been asked for a vague outline in the past will suddenly require you to delve in to an unprecedented level of detail when it comes to your exam.

The level of detail that I go in to during my revision is never enough and the only time I will ever realise that is when I’m sat down in the exam trying to answer the question. It’s always too late, but I always find myself being able to picture the exact page that my notes are in, or the exact layout of the text book, desperately trying to peer through my brain fog and reach the precious text that lies beneath.

Maybe the answer to exams is to do exactly what I do and just get on with it, otherwise you’ll waste time. An exam is a throw-away piece of work that is just a check that you were listening anyway and nobody’s exam scripts are of publishing quality, nor are they expected to be. With this in mind, so long as you have been paying attention to at least some of your lessons, you should be able to pass without issue.

Additional Notes:

Multiple choice exams always catch me out, because I, like almost everyone else, assume that a multiple choice exam will be much easier than any other exam. In a way, this is true, but I always find the pattern is the same: You read the question, you answer the question, you spend the next five minutes changing your mind and second guessing yourself. The agonizing thing about multiple choice exams is that you know the answer is in front of you. It’s horrifying to realise that you have the question and you have the answer in front of you on the same page already and yet you still can’t get it right.
This online test could not be interrupted by anything, and a temperamental internet connection could have cost me a lot of marks. I was almost tempted to use my inconsistent internet connection that I have at home, just so that I could be furious about it and complain to my ISP about something new, but I could see that wouldn’t be constructive.

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