In this article I offer various on the day exam tips to help ensure the highest possible grade is achieved, while avoiding losing marks due to careless errors.
The first of my exam tips is for before the exam even start. Make sure you’ve read the rubric (set of instructions on the front of the paper). Most exams are answer ‘all questions’, but some might give instruction to answer 3 out of 5 in section B. Check if there are any restrictions such as no calculators permitted.
During the exam read the questions carefully and always make sure you refer back to any key words. Often key words are in bold print. They are there to help you. For example, leave your answers in exact form. An exact answer should not be decimalised – it should be left as a multiple of π, in surd or fraction form.
Where a question says write down or state, this usually means the answer should be obvious without any detailed calculations. These questions are typically worth one mark.
Give your answer to an appropriate degree of accuracy. This is very common in physics exams. Look at the data given in the question. If the question is given to 3 significant figures, then give your answer to 3 significant figures. Do not confuse significant figures with decimals. Examiners can be very pedantic over this. They are typically teachers from other schools.
Make sure answers are presented in the required form. For example, a question might say give you answers in the form ax + by + c = 0, where a, b, c are integers. You might correctly work out the equation of a straight line as y = -1/5 x + 3/5. However, this isn’t presented in the required form. Remove all fractions by multiplying out 5y = -x + 3, then x+5y-3 = 0 is the final answer.
Check if fractions need to be given in their lowest terms. Often this is the case but not always such as in probability questions: 30/90 is often acceptable and not needed to reduce to 1/3. Be careful of units, and conversions.
Common sources of errors occur here. We all know that 100 cm = 1 m, but candidates often forget that 10,000 cm2 = 1m2. Don’t forget common prefixes such as kilo = 1000, Mega = 1,000,000, etc.
Capitalise units. Units named after people should be given in capitals. For example, Newtons is uppercase N, if you write lowercase n, you might lose a mark.
If you omit the constant of integration that is a dropped mark, remember to add +c to your indefinite integrals.
As a rule of thumb, it’s one minute per mark. Use that as a guidance as to how long a question should take to answer. If it’s taking much longer leave it and come back to it later if time allows.
Make sure your writing is legible. If the examiner cannot read your writing you are not doing yourself a disservice.
Finally, double check the LAST page. Many candidates have totally omitted a whole page of questions only to realise after time is up that questions were printed on the back page!
As you can see, it’s easy to both pick up extra marks and to avoid losing them, with attention to detail.
I hope you find these exam tips useful. If you have any questions, feel free to reach out to me directly at [email protected].