Exams are about the worst thing a student has to deal with. Other assessments may be long and painful to deal with (especially honours – after living with two students in their honours years, oy, long and painful), but the cramming and memorising required for exams is more akin with ripping off a bandaid. Fast. Makes you want to scream.
The good news is that you will be harder on yourself in the lead up to your first exams than your academics will be. See, the secret is that universities wouldn’t exist without students – so they need you to pass. The main aim of exams is to test your knowledge in a high-pressure situation, so you can build your ability to think on your feet. There will be loads of times in your career where you will need to think fast and exams are a great practice run for that. Lecturers don’t exactly want to put you in the deep end and have you sink or swim. Many of your first exams will give you a chance to paddle in the shallow end instead.
And one of those chances to paddle comes in week 13 – make sure you attend all your lectures and tutes, because your tutors and lecturers will give you all sorts of tips for the exams, and if you are lucky, well … you’ll have to keep reading to find out what some of my lecturers have done in the past….
THE EXAM TIMETABLE
The exam timetable is always accessible in draft format April and confirmed in May (this year everything’s a bit later than normal), and in semester 2 from September as draft, confirmed in October. This timing is usually adequate unless you are preparing for an overseas jaunt or an internship, where the timing of an exam makes a difference of either more study time or more travel/work time. You can find the exam timetable in the ‘Studying at La Trobe’ section under ‘Exams’, selecting your campus on the left. In the timetable pdf you will be able to search your subject by code. Note down the date, time and the location and make yourself available! Make a further note of the code in the far right box on your subject’s line. The code will have a key at the top of the document to make you aware of what is allowable to bring into the exam. Examples include calculators, translator dictionaries, and for the lucky few, handwritten ‘cheat sheets’ or notes that can be double sided or single sided as specified in the key.
In preparation for an exam you can go to the library website, click the ‘Catalogue’ tab, select past exams and enter your subject code to guide you through to previous year’s exams. Or alternatively on the LMS in the sidebars of your subjects you might find a direct link to past exams.
MAKE SURE YOU ATTEND ALL WEEK 13 CLASSES IF YOU HAVE EXAMS, AS THEY GIVE YOU LOTS OF TIPS AND PREPARATION.
Case in point #1: In HUSS Anthropology and Sociology are famous for their first semester multiple choice exams. Sociology provides an in-class team quiz in week 13 going over much of the content of the exams. Prizes given to winning teams
Case in point #2: Bring your camera to the ANT1CAG week 13 lecture, because quite famously it will feature a series of slides (not available later on LMS) that give you all the exam questions, in a blink-and-you-miss-it style. But, displayed long enough for you to take pictures. You know they’re doing it again this year when you find typical back-row students all hunched in the front and ready for those final 5 minutes.
Case in point #3: A certain history exam in my first semester allowed four pages of notes (2x double sided handwritten) to be taken in with us, for the two essays we had to write. Easy enough to write the key points and some quotes about your in-semester essay topics to give you a head-start on the two essays you write within the exam
Case in point #4: This goes on even into second and third year. During one of my politics exams last year our lecturer showed a series of old mid-term exams and then revealed to us afterward that one had potentially/actually been our exam.
If you have paid attention throughout semester and completed your reflective pieces and journals, looked at the lecture notes, and read some of your weekly readings, you should feel quietly confident. Taking a look at past exams will show you that the questions are pretty straightforward and will help you know what to expect. By my calculations, about 2/3 of the exam questions I have had were the same as previous years. You just have to work out which ones, and what the answers are! I hope this settles your nerves and anxieties – knowing exactly what to expect really helped me every time, especially to feel quietly confident.
Practice practice practice!
There are many different forms of exams. Languages have written, oral and reading comprehension exams that are unlike anywhere else, and the only way to pass is constant practice and ensuring you understand what you have done throughout semester.
Generally for us HUSS people, we get either 2 essays or 2-4 short answer questions (which we can pick from) and an essay. I’m told Law students might get 4 essays to write in a 4 hour exam. Ouch. I would hope that’s the extreme and no other faculty gets worse than that.
You will be given a variety of choices probably very similar to the essay topics you had during your major assessment. Memorise the key points of the one you did and learn one or two more more. These exam-essays should be about 600-1000 words each and you will probably have an hour for each question. Short answer questions might take you anywhere from 10-20 mins to write; you will probably want to write a couple of paragraphs or up to 500 words per question.
So sit down during SWOTVAC (the week between week 13 and exams) and practice answering what you know. Give yourself an hour per essay and 15mins per short answer question. It will probably be messy but do make sure you have the same sort of structure as a regular essay – ie, my main argument is x, and it is so because of 2-3 reasons with x,y,z as examples. Pay attention to any and all advice your tutors and lecturers gave you through semester.
Past exams also identify if and where you perhaps need to do some extra research, handy to identify to fill in holes in your knowledge.
WHAT TO EXPECT ON THE DAY
There are rules and what to expect notes on the web to help you mentally prepare for the day.
You will probably find you have all your exams close together, so it is important to start early going over your notes so revision time is spread out and you can build on the recall part of your memory. When your last essay is submitted you can spend a day using the past exams, friends/study groups and the tips your lecturer has provided to go over the key points. Do this early in SWOTVAC for each subject that has an exam, including any languages, so that as each exam approaches you can spend 2-3 days really expanding on your notes and refreshing your memory. If you have all your exams back to back, one day after another, do the reverse and spend 2-3 days initially revising everything properly so that you can condense your revision to 24 hour refreshers right before. It’s tough, but the prep is always harder than the exam.
On the day, try to get up and get some fresh air first, go for a walk or jog to clear your mind of the stress. Make sure you have a water bottle, maybe a handkerchief or a tissue pack, a couple of pens and your student ID. Know your location in advance. Union Hall and the Airport Lounge (in Glenn College upstairs) are popular exam spots. Set off to uni. Have a small bag that can go at your feet and keep anything from the above list, plus your phone, myki, keys safely stowed. You will not be allowed to have anything in your pockets during the exam, and phones/ipods etc should be switched off. If you don’t bring a bag the staff will provide you with one so that everything goes at your feet. Know your student number – there will be a list outside the venue with your student id and your allocated seat number. When the doors open just before, go straight to your seat number and get out your ID and put it on the piece of paper in the top left corner. Have your pens out and your tissues and water if you think you will need them, and everything else goes at your feet. You wait for everyone to be seated, and your exam papers will be on the desk in front of you. You must wait until instructed to turn them over, or to fill out your name and details on all the different books. You get 10 mins reading time normally, and then at the start of exam time, which can vary from 1-2 hours, you must first fill in your name on all the papers so that the examiners can verify who you are while you write. Try to pace yourself, and knowing how many questions you have to answer in advance, give yourself x amount of minutes per question to help guide you through, allowing a good 10mins to review and edit. For multiple choice, check and then double check. You are not allowed to leave your seat in the first half hour or the last 15 minutes generally speaking, but in between that if you must, you can raise your hand to ask a question or to request to use the bathroom. Other than that, it is very straightforward and you get the benefit of walking out knowing you have just completed a semester!
If I can offer three tips re essay writing:
Make sure you answer the question, its easy to go off tangent when you are writing fast
Keep your essay concise. Present your argument, provide examples. That is all (no references needed)
Make sure you write enough – too short will lose marks
Generally there are no excuses for not turning up to an exam, and the only way around it is to ask for special consideration formally through your faculty – in which case your excuse for lack of attendance better be good. Of course, if you have exam clashes, or some serious reason you cannot attend your exams, it pays to first speak to your lecturer as soon as possible, you may be able to handle it through them. If you are particularly worried or have questions about the topics, speak with your tutor. If you have queries about the past exams, direct those to the librarians. While second semester’s exams will be a little more difficult (no cheat sheets for example), first semester I found to be particularly straightforward and they very much seemed aimed at easing students into what is expected in an exam format. After first year you can try to pick subjects that don’t require exams via the handbook if you really hate or have trouble with exams, or want to do said travel or internship. I prefer essays for major assessments because it gives you more time in semester to get help as required and really write out a good quality, well researched piece, and more holiday time once the due date passes just after week 13! I wouldn’t say avoid courses completely if they have an exam, but it does help to go back to the handbook and see for your second and third year, if you would prefer to plan or choose between two subjects, which subjects offer which sorts of assessments, and choose according to your strengths. Ultimately this will wind up in giving you stronger, better grades in the long run, but you can’t really make that decision until end of first year once you’ve really tried both exams and essays a couple of times.
Results typically come through mid-July and mid-December, and your overall grades will be available on students online and you will be sent an email notification to your student account. You will never actually get your exams back or grades/feedback on them.
If you are clever, prior to exams you can go back to your marked assessments throughout the term and add up the actual grades, or break down the percentages according to each assessment’s value, so that in the lead up to exams you will know just how much you need to get out of whatever its worth to pass at a certain grade. Ie, let’s say your assessment 1 grade was 16/20, and your assessment 2 major essay got 35/40, then you will know that your exam will be worth 40% of your grade and that you are currently on 51/60, or (51/60 ÷ 3 is 17/20, × 5 =) 85%. To keep the A you will need to get 80% of 40 which is a grade of 32 or higher. You can see that with a bit of playing around with the grades you can work out how to approach the exam and also afterwards, how you think you went according to how many marks each question was worth. Or is that just the nerd in me ???? Patience was never my strong point so I guess my grade long before it’s released onto students online. Of course, I also do the math again to work out how much I actually got in my exam.
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If I can give you one final tip it would be this – try to think about the positives of exams:
No more classes = sleep ins! Mental exhaustion is a very real thing
You can structure your revision at your own pace
You are more likely to succeed if you’ve been to most lectures and tutorials, without even revising – unless you have a sieve-like memory and have forgotten everything!
Each exam is just 1-3 hours of your whole life. THAT’S NOTHING. Stress accordingly – ie, keep perspective.
After that exam, that whole subject is DONE! And you will be one less exam closer to HOLIDAYS!
Enjoy your uni break people!!!!
My last post next week will be a third year reflective on my own journey, in a hope to show you how things will be for you two years from now J
In the meantime, have a great last couple of weeks as we officially hit winter!!!!