Here are some thoughts from someone who’s marked exam scripts by the thousands
- Divide your time in accordance with the marking system. For example, if all questions have equal weight, spend the same amount of time on each. If one is worth half another, spend half the time on it as on the other. And so on.
- Answer the question that’s printed, not the one that you wish was printed.
- If you know little about the one that’s printed, don’t despair. When you’ve done what you can with it, twist it round to something that you know about, and keep going until time to stop.
- Treat the examiner as stupid: state the obvious. That’s very refreshing.
- Write as much as you can. Whatever examiners say to the contrary, they are impressed by volume. Many examiners look for key words, and key words in a short text will probably be awarded a lower grade than the same key words in pages and pages. So, size matters. Did you ever doubt it?
- If you don’t know what to do, write! Don’t gawp around like a decerebrate platypus. I can’t emphasize enough that anything is better than nothing. You might even give the examiner a laugh. That’s very refreshing too.
- Don’t hesitate to repeat yourself in another question: the chances are each question will go to a different marker. I remember in second year Anatomy (as a candidate) I was able to give the same information in three different questions. If you want details: I rambled on about the parasympathetic supply to the parotid gland in questions about (a) the ninth cranial nerve, (b) the parotid gland, and (c) the parasympathetic nervous system. It did me no harm.
- Be prepared to go back and add a few things to a question you thought you’d finished. The brain, when engaged on one topic, is often stimulated to recall something that can be fitted in elsewhere. So keep a separate sheet for notes you jot down as you write, but don’t hand this in for the examiner to see: it spoils the illusion! Smuggle it out somehow and burn it.
- Spelling and grammar matter. This is particularly so in a thesis, where the examiner might be hard-pressed to judge quality of work, or where the examiner might be less intelligent than you (yes, I really mean that – I’ve been a university academic and so I know!), but they will always pick up grammatical infelicities and spelling mistakes—because they are obvious.
- Never, never, never chat to other candidates after the exam about what they or you wrote. You’ll always hear something you should have written but didn’t, and you’ll feel awful. Some people engage in this devilish behaviour as sport, and tell porkies. Girls are good at it and must be avoided immediately after exams. Hoof it from the examination venue and avoid your mates.
It’s all a game.