Exam technique

Passing exams is not just about knowing your subject. There are a few other things to consider, including …

Know the subject

There is no substitute for knowing what you’re talking about. If you don’t know enough about the subject then you’re wasting your time taking the exam. So learn the topics, learn the techniques, learn the methods.

Play the exam game

Passing an exam is different to knowing the subject. In the exam you need to convince the person marking your paper that you know the subject. You need to understand what they are looking for.

An example – a student of mine answered a mock paper and his answer indicated to me that he knew what he was talking about, but he didn’t mention the keyword, which in this case was “ionising radiation” and the mark scheme demanded this word. As a result, he didn’t get full marks for his answer.

You get to know what terms the examiner is looking for by doing lots of past papers.


REALLY important

Make sure you read the question and understand what the examiner is looking for. And then, equally important, is answer the question you’ve just read.

It’s no good expounding at length about the benefits of radiation as a medical treatment if the question is actually asking about the risks! Don’t scoff – it’s been done, and will be done again. Just make sure it’s not you that’s doing it.

Make it easy for the examiner to give you marks

Markers are not paid a huge sum of money for marking exam papers. If they find it hard to read your writing, or hard to find out how you’ve worked out your answer, they’re not about to spend ages trying to do it. And this means you can miss out on marks.

Write neatly, and logically. Write down what you’re doing and explain how and why you’re doing it. This won’t take long, and it will also help you work through your answer. It will help stop you missing out a vital step.

The human brain can only hold a few items at once, and this number plummets when you’re under stress, for example, when you’re sitting an exam! So don’t try. Write it down on the paper and then you can concentrate on answering the question.