Exams are over! The way to nail exams

First, I have a feeling I should explain why I chose this title. You probably heard a snowclone “The King is dead, long live the King!” Well, the title is supposed to mimic it… Still haven’t gotten it? – Eh, probably my fault, no worries… Ok, my last exam was more than a month ago, but hey, they tend to happen every two months here in Swedish Universities.

Let me put a disclaimer up-front. I’m not gonna give you an all-in exam preparation guide here. Rather, the three simple tips I share are about the actual exam writing process – the grand finale of all your efforts. You don’t wanna screw it up right before the finish line, after all the sleepless nights you’ve spent on exam preparation…

Now, why would you care about my advice in the first place? Because I might fail you next time you happen to be my student (xo-xo). Just kidding) Still, I’ve been a Teacher’s Assistant four times, two of which I got the donkey job of checking final exams.  Here’s the first thing you have to know: nobody likes checking exams! The job is usually done by TAs, and the average amount of time they spend per page is somewhere between 15 seconds and one minute. Hence, my three tips for nailing exams:

  1. Be concise!

There’s nothing more annoying than trying to find the actual answer in one page long text about everything you know on the topic. Trust me, 4-5 lines of relevant text is better than a one-page long essay conveying your “Theory of Everything”. Better still, if your 4-5 relevant lines contain the keywords (concepts learnt in class, formulas or definitions etc.) addressing the question. The latter is especially true about true/false type of questions we usually get at SSE exams.

  1. Highlight your answers!

Strangely enough, most of our exams are still paper based. And for a person checking them, handwriting does matter! Writing legibly is a win-win: you make life easier for a TA, and automatically increase your chances for a better grade. Handwriting, however, is not the sort of thing you can change overnight. What you can do is make your answers visible. Be structured: use the space, underline your final answer, and don’t be shy of bullet points! Everything that makes your answers easier to spot helps a lot.

  1. Get the numbers right!

In numerical exercises, there are two things you can get credit for: formulas and final numbers (well, sometimes interpretation matters, too).  So make sure you write down your formulas clearly; then, do your best to calculate the number right. Sure, you should get partial credit if your only mistake is in calculation, but more often than not, a TA won’t have time to track down why you got the wrong number in the end.

Finally, I’d like to wish you all good luck in any upcoming exams. Remember, an examiner / TA is your best friend in helping to secure an “A”, just make it easier for her to do so!


Credit for the image here


Written by Marta

27 Jan 2015