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Exams Doctor video transcripts

Last updated on: 13/08/2008

Read transcripts of the Exam Doctor videos below, or you can download them from this page.

Video 1: How to prepare for exams

When should I start revising for my exam?
Ideally, you should start the day you start your course. I'm not sure if many people do that, but certainly, getting near the examination time you should have a timetable of what you've got to do and the time you've got left to do it, the topics you've got to cover. You should have a plan, most definitely.

How long before my exam should I work out a revision timetable?
Well the closer you get to the exams, the more important it is to have a timetable because you get more of the pressure of a number of examinations on different subjects, so you really need to be ‘on the ball' to know exactly which one you're taking and at which time. Sometimes students fail in examinations because they turn up at the wrong place at the right time. It's an important thing you know exactly where you're going and what work you've got to do beforehand - so have that revision plan.

How many hours should I revise a day and how long can I go before I have a break?
Well if you're brilliant, you probably won't need to revise at all, but not many people fit in to that category so it really depends on yourself.

How long should you revise?
Well one of the problems people have is actually starting work and they sometimes go to their rooms for three or four hours with the intention of working in that time, but perhaps only spend 10 minutes. This is where the 10-minute rule comes in: go to your room for 10 minutes, not for 3 or 4 hours. In that 10 minutes, do 10 minutes' work. Don't make that phone call and do that text message you've been thinking about, do that 10 minutes' work, have a break for 10 minutes, come back and do another 10 minutes and keep repeating that procedure until you make the working periods into 20 or 40 minutes of actual working and not doing anything else. Keep the break to 10 minutes and that way you'll be making progress. So when you're working, you work, when you're relaxing, you relax - the two don't mix.

Should I revise my more difficult subjects first?
Absolutely, because you're probably avoiding them and so maybe if you're doing two or three subjects in an evening, start with the one that you don't want to do and spend a lot of time on that and then go on to the one that you're a bit better, but still not too keen on and finish up with the one that you like. If you started with that you would spend the whole of the evening on that and not do the other ones. So don't ignore the other ones - you're going to have to do them at some point. The earlier you start on them the better it will be for you and you realise that they're not as difficult as you thought, in most cases.

Should I revise with my friend?
Probably not unless you are revising and you are at an equal stage: then if it works for you and you're helping each other, that's fine. But if you're better than your friend then you'll spend all your time tutoring your friend and vice versa. So if you're equal, similar ability and at equal stages and it's something of value where you need somebody else to revise with, then do. But don't kid yourself on that you're working when you're not actually working: it could be wasting time.

What's the best time of day to revise?
Whenever you find it to be the best time of day because it will vary, depending on who you are and what suits you. Some people are in the morning, some people in the middle of the day, some people late at night, but make sure you have a plan. Time management is the most important factor: you can get extra revision time in each day by getting up half an hour earlier in the morning or spending an extra half hour at lunchtime by going to the library, over five days, so it's two-and-a-half days of valuable studying time, which you wouldn't have used previously. It might mean that you can have an evening off because of that two-and-a-half hours you've made up during the week, so you can revise at all sorts of times of the day and times that you're perhaps not revising at, at the moment, to allow you to have more of that recreation time.

How can I stay positive when I'm revising?
Well do the work that you've got to do and build up your confidence, do past examination papers, be as prepared as possible to run the race, which effectively is what you're going to be doing. You're going to be sitting an exam. It's like being an athlete - you've got to train for it and so you've got to practice running it. So do past examination papers and the more of that sort of work that you do, the more confident you will be when you actually sit the examination yourself.

What should I do during breaks in my revision?
Whatever you want to do - you can do that text message (the one that you avoided when you were working); play with the cat, if you like; do whatever you like. Relaxation, that's what it's for - but make sure you keep to the 10 minutes. The 10 minute rule is important. Spend only 10 minutes on the break and make sure you get back to do that 20 or 40-minute studying period which you really need to do. And there're loads of other times in the day that you can do studying. You can get up earlier and go to school or college that bit earlier and do it for half an hour, for five days, you'll get an extra two-and-a-half hours at the end of the week. You could use that time to have an evening out. Come into college at lunchtime when you would normally go out at lunchtime and spend that extra half hour in the library. There're loads of times during the day that you can do that little 15-20 minutes, half an hour extra study and it all builds up.

How would I make revision notes?
Well people are all different and some people do it in a very elaborate form and some people spend too much time doing revisions as such and start colouring them in and using colour pencils.

These are good techniques to use, but certainly one of the things you should do is to break your notes down. Putting them on a card is not a bad idea, highlighting them in some way so that the important factors come out and you don't have to read through all your notes every time you want to do revision. You can look at these cards with the main points on them.

That's one technique. You may find that that doesn't suit you and you may find some way of doing it yourself, but certainly break down your notes in some form so that the information is easily accessible and when you start to do past examination question papers - which you should do - then it will be easier to get the information from your notes and use them on the questions themselves.

How do I test myself whilst revising?
I'm not sure if you can very easily. One of the things you can do is do past examination papers and do them in the time allotted or do questions in the time allotted and that way you can test yourself and see whether you're managing to get the right answers, because you can get the answers on websites now from the Examining Boards.

To look at any part of your revision you really need at least somebody else to ask you questions. You can't really do it on your own because you would be tempted to look at simple questions. So it would be with great difficulty.

How do past exam papers help?
Well it's like running a race and if you're running a race, you've got to train to run the race and all the stuff you're doing in college at the moment is preparing you for that race. One of the things you need to practice is actually running the race and that's by doing past exam papers. The more past exam papers you do, and in the time allotted for them - so if it's two hours, you do it in two hours or even less if you can - then the better you're going to be used to seeing the exam paper that you will see on the day of the examination. It will be a different paper of course, but you'll know the number of questions you've got to do, you'll know if there are compulsory questions to be done and you will know which sections you want to approach in the first instance and it will give you a good idea of what's been examined over a number of years.

So certainly, you must do past examination papers and get on to them as soon as you can. Not necessarily a whole exam paper, but at least look at the questions of a topic and see how the examiner asks questions on that particular topic so you become familiar with it.

George, I know there's only going to be a few questions in my exam paper, so do I have to revise everything?
You mean you want to try and ‘question spot' which is a very dangerous game to play.

You know what your syllabus is (if you don't, you can find out on the websites of the Examining Boards); you know what you've got to study - and they usually have weightings against them as well which tells you which topics are going to be examined more than other topics. It's very foolish just to think that you can spot the questions that the examiner's going to ask: it may be that you're lucky, and sometimes some people are, but on the other hand you may be quite unfortunate and not get any of the questions that you expect.

The best thing is to know the syllabus as well as possible and to do these past examination papers so that you're well prepared. The better prepared you are for the examination, the better you'll do on the day.

George, if I've got a lot of homework to do, how do I know which piece of homework to get started on first?
Well, the most urgent. If you've got an assignment to do then that obviously takes priority over something else. What you need to watch out for of course is avoiding subjects. We're all good at that. Anything we don't want to do, we avoid it and we think of good reasons not to do it. You've got to get a grasp of these things and start on them as soon as possible. If you're studying in an evening and perhaps doing two or three subjects start with the one that you don't want to start with - the one that you hate - because you'll get to like it as you get to know it a bit better. And you know, the longest journey starts with just one step: it's a matter of taking that step, so start with that difficult subject, make some progress in it and then get on and finish the evening with the ones that you really like. You'll make progress that way. Don't avoid them: that's the worst thing to do.

Is cramming a good idea?
No, I wouldn't think so. It might work for some people some of the time, but it's not a good idea. You're hoping that certain things will come up, it's superficial and it's done because you haven't done the work for the examination.

The only way to do well in examinations - unless you're very brilliant and you won't have to do any work at all - is to have a programme of study. You need to know what's in the examination syllabus and the sorts of questions that are asked and you need to do past question papers and that way, you're likely to do better.

Cramming is not advisable - I once tried it myself. Most of the hints that I give here are because of mistakes I made myself in examinations, so I'm speaking from experience. I once even sat up all night to try and do well in an examination and it was a disaster, so I wouldn't advise it. A programme of study is the best route forward.

How can I cope with exam stress?
Well some people won't be stressed at all. Generally speaking, it's good to be a little nervous if nothing else. You ask any athlete and they will tell you before a race, it's good to be on edge because it helps you perform better. The best way to deal with it of course is -

  • to make sure of the work that you're doing
  • that you've done your revision
  • that you've done past examination papers
  • you know the sorts of things that are going to happen when you go in to the examination hall
  • you know what to take in with you, what not to take in with you

- so that you're as well prepared to go in to that examination room and sit the examination as possible. That's the best way of doing it.

The other thing is, of course, that once you get into the exam room there are simple things you can do like

  • taking six deep breaths to help you to relax and then sit down
  • read through the question paper as it's presented to you
  • settle down generally
  • put little notes on your question paper 
  • if you remember a formulae, jot it down on the paper before the examiner tells you to start working on the examination paper itself.

There are little techniques like that but it's all down to getting up your confidence, being prepared and relaxing as much as you can but realising that you will be nervous.

In the examination, do questions that you feel that you can do; do questions that are worth only a few marks initially to build up you confidence in the examination itself.

When should I stop revising for an exam?
Well probably never in a sense. On the one hand, you shouldn't be cramming, as we said before.

Ideally people will say that the night before an examination, you shouldn't really be trying to do new work. You should be trying to relax, if at all possible; doing something differently certainly; checking through that you're taking the right things in to the examination room - is a calculator going to be supplied? is it allowed? do you need to bring it yourself? all that sort of business. But not cramming the evening before you go into an examination.

But once you're finished an examination, the important thing is to forget about the examination that you've just taken, because there's nothing you can do to influence the mark on that examination. But there's a lot you can do for the next examination you're going to take. So the examination paper: take it out of the room, put it in a drawer and never look at it again until your grandchildren ask to see it. Certainly don't have a post-mortem on your examination and don't try and work out yourself how it will be marked and whether you passed or failed. You should be back into revising - not for the exam that you've done but the next one - so it's something that goes on right through the examination season.

Certainly don't cram things in the night before the examination and think of other subjects you've got to do.

How can I make sure I don't forget what I've revised?
People have different techniques in remembering what it is that they've revised and some people don't have a problem with this at all, but most of us have got to recall information in some way - especially if we're sitting a number of examinations - and writing things down on cards and making your notes more concise, that's helpful.

People draw diagrams, sometimes called spider diagrams: you get that central theme and little things branching off from that, related to that main topic. Or you can make up silly rhymes that mean nothing to anybody else apart from yourself.

Even some from my past, you know, the days of the month, ‘Thirty days have September, April, June and November…' - I've got that right, have I? - ‘April, June and November, yes, all the rest have 31, except February alone, which has 28, except in a leap year, where it's got 29.'

I mean there are things I've learned back in Primary School which I still remember. There are lots of rhymes like that and even ones that are not well known, if you can make them up and it suits you, then these are ways.

You can have pictures in your room, notes in your room, picture your room and where these notes are and remember, ‘Oh, on that one, this is where that information was' and when you sit down to the examination itself jot on to the examination paper before you start writing, things that come to your mind. You see a question, you remember a formula, you remember a date, you remember one of your silly rhymes or a word that you've made up, jot it down on the exam paper so when you come back to do that question later on, that comes back to your mind and then again, you build up confidence.

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Video 2: What to do in an examination 

How would I avoid panicking during an exam?

Well if you've done your work before the examination, you will know that you know your stuff.

If you've done past examination papers, if you know the sort of compulsory questions that you've got to do, you know how many questions you've got to do and you know the time you've got to do each question, you know it.

It's really a matter of settling down to begin with, looking through the examination paper, choosing your questions and starting off with what you consider to be the easier ones, the ones that you can definitely do and ignore all those people round about you who are rushing on as if you know, they're going to be finished before everybody else.

It's your examination and it's for you, so you sit it in your own way and try and keep to time and once you've got a few questions done that you feel confident in, it will build up your confidence for the rest of the papers.  But know that you know your stuff when you go into the examination room and you'll be okay. Have a sweet if you're allowed to have a sweet - a glucose sweet preferably - and get some energy up to your brain just when you get in to the examination. Make sure the sweet paper doesn't crinkle so that it upsets other people. But have little habits when you get in to the examination room just to help settle you down and have a routine which you can follow.

But if you've done your stuff beforehand, you'll be okay.

What do you think the first thing we should do when the exam's started is?
Well, you've got in to the exam room, you've avoided your friends, you've had some deep breaths, you've settled down, you've read through the question paper, you've ignored all those people that are rushing on doing the questions and probably doing the wrong ones, you're going to then select the questions that you want to do and you're going to write notes on your paper and you're going to start with questions you feel confident with. They might be some of the shorter questions with few marks available for them but it will help to build up your confidence. Once you get one or two questions done you'll feel that you've got it in the bag, you know, you've got enough questions to pass and you'll feel more confident and then you can tackle the questions which you're not so sure of, the ones that you are wishing weren't in the examination paper but you have to do. Make sure you do all of the questions, because again, if you do all of the paper, you've got a chance of 100% of the box, if you only do 50% of the paper, you can only get 50% of the box and that's if you do it perfectly.

Am I allowed to take anything in to the exam to help me?
Well you will know what you can take in. If it's a Maths exam then you'll probably have a calculator but not necessarily for all Maths exams. Don't take in a mobile phone because you could be disqualified from that examination and perhaps other examinations as well, and it won't be the first time a mother has phoned to see how their son or daughter has got on in an examination and it's gone off in the examination room and that person has been disqualified. So don't take a phone in with you and make sure that what you do take in is what is allowed and there's usually a facility at the front of the examination room to leave anything which you shouldn't have and make sure you just abide by the rules and the school make it clear to you, or your college, just exactly what you can't take in and what is allowed, but don't take anything in that's not allowed.

What shall I do if I can't answer a question?
Leave it and go on to the next one. This is why you've got to do the questions that you know how to do first of all to build up your confidence. But if you can't do a question then don't labour over it: don't spend an hour on a half-hour question because it's not going to be worth it. Leave it and go on to something else. This is why you've got to choose your questions carefully to begin with so that you end up with the ones that you can do, but don't get stuck. The examination paper tells you how many marks for each question, so don't struggle over something that's worth two marks and spend 20 minutes on it. Leave it and go on and do something that you can do. Don't spend time on things you can't do.

How could I manage my time in an exam?
Well you know how many marks are available for on each question because you've looked at past examination papers and you're able to then decide whether it's a half hour question or a twenty minute question or whatever and you have a watch with you and you look at that watch or there'll be a clock in the examination room, then you'll spend that amount of time on it. Don't spend more than the allotted time. If you've got time at the end of the examination, then you can come back and do that question later but don't spend the whole of your examination on the first question because you're just not going to make any progress. This is why you need to discipline yourself in the examination room and not spend too long on any one question. You need to know within yourself if you're spending too much time and you need to move on because there'll be lots of other questions that you can't do.

What shall I do if I run out of time in an exam?
Well, hopefully you won't run out of time. But if you've only got 10 minutes left and you've got a 10-minute question to do or a half hour question to do - let's say it's mathematics - approach that question by writing down the formulae that you would use to solve the problem, saying where you would get the information from and how you would use it. If you do that in 10 minutes it would demonstrate to the examiner that you know how to do the question and put a little note saying you don't have the time to finish the question. This is how I would do it: you'll get more marks that way than trying to do it as if it's a half-hour question. Same with an English essay. If you write down the important details or the main points you would like to make, the main points of your argument and you would say this is what I would say and write it in sentence form or point form and say unfortunately you don't have enough time to do that, you'll get more marks that way because you'll demonstrate that you know the subject, you know what you're talking about, you just don't have the time to write it out in full. You'll get far more marks that way than you would do if you approached it as though you had the full 20 or 30 minutes to do it.

Will I lose marks for poor spelling or messy handwriting?
You will for spelling. I'm sure it's about 5% for spelling, punctuation and grammar. We call it ‘SPAG' - S-P-A-G - but you can still get 95% in the examination and get an A*, but there are a few marks available - generally only 5% -  but in some subjects then it might be more if spelling is one of the things that's being measured.

Messy handwriting is not marked as such, but it does make it more difficult for the examiner to read. The examiner will spend a lot of time trying to read your script but if finally he cannot read your script then he cannot mark it. But having said that, you've come through the whole of the schooling system and people are being able to mark your work in your previous examinations, it's unlikely that examiners are unable to read your work. But they like tidy work but don't spend an inordinate amount of time making something tidy which you wouldn't normally make tidy. The most important part in the examinations is to answer the question and make sure that you do.

What shall I do if I have a problem in an exam or feel unwell?
Well there'll be somebody walking up and down the exam room, usually called an 'invidulator,' and that person is just to make sure that all the things to do with planning an examination are done in the way that they should be. If you get a problem then you'll speak to that person and if it's a case of you feeling unwell or whatever then the appropriate action will be taken to make sure that that's catered for. There are concessions can be made during examinations: you can get extra time; you can leave the exam room but you've got to be supervised, etc; but the invidulator will be well used to dealing with these situations - any problem at all. Even once I had an invidulator who walked up and down the room in a regular pattern and it was a he and his shoes squeaked and because he was doing it in a regular pattern that annoyed me and then I couldn't do anything else but listen to this man walking up and down and I said to him, I said ‘Would you mind not walking up and down like that?' and he stopped doing it. If there is anything annoying you at all - if it's an outside noise in the room, anything at all like that - there is somebody there that you can speak to, to have that put right.

After an exam, if everyone seems to have answered a question differently to me, what shall I do?
You know well you shouldn't do anything about it. You shouldn't have a post-mortem on each examination and this is another thing, you shouldn't really speak to friends after your examination because this is a problem; everyone's done it a different way and you think you've done it the wrong way and what happens is you worry about the examination that you've taken and there's nothing you can do to influence the marks on that paper so you should be going home or doing whatever you're going to do next but not having a post-mortem on the paper you've just taken, and concentrating on the next exam that you have to take, because that way you can influence the marks on the next exam.

Forget about the examination that you've just taken, put the paper away in a drawer and look at it when your grandchildren ask to see what your examinations were like all that time ago.

Everyone says they've written much more than I have in an exam - does that matter?
No, it doesn't matter at all. I mean the one thing that matters is what you've written on your examination paper. They may have written rubbish; they may not have written as much but somebody else has said that they wrote a lot and so they want to keep up with everyone else. Forget about the examination you've taken, there's nothing you can do about it. Concentrate on the next one that you've got to take.

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Video 3: What to do when you get your results

If we get our results and we think they should be a grade higher, what do we do?
Well the first thing you do is you speak to your tutors in the school or the college because you can make an approach to the Examining Board to say that you think there is something wrong in the marking. But it's got to be done through your school or the college so they have to agree that there is something which isn't right and there's lots of things that could be done. You could get a copy of your actual examination script or you can actually get the examination script itself so that you can actually look over it and see how it's been marked and, if you feel that it's been wrongly marked, you can ask for them to remark it.

You can ask for a clerical recheck which means they just add up the marks, make sure they've got all the marks on the paper and all the questions have been marked.

So there's lots of things that could be done, but it must be done through your school and college. They must agree that there is a procedure that needs to be gone through. The other important thing is of course that your university place may depend on that or a college place, so you need to get on to that college, immediately and just explain what the situation is with your marks and see what the procedure is with them. Because in some cases you may not need to get exactly the grades that were, sort of prescribed for you but, in other cases, you might need these grades. So you need to get active so you shouldn't really be away on holiday in Ibiza or anywhere else like that, you should really actually be here so that you can actually take action if necessary.

If you get a remark, can your grade go down?
Unfortunately yes, because if your script is remarked, it can go up or down so this is why you've got to be sure. I mean if you were very near the bottom of the grade boundary and if you'd looked at the examination script with the school or college and it seemed like you know, the paper was marked appropriately and so forth, then it's just as likely the mark will go down or it might go up one or two marks. It's really if you're near a border line that you could get extra marks unless you find it was a question that's not been marked for some reason. Now that does happen and it can happen but not very often, because the scripts are checked and they're double checked, the marking's checked, but you know, if the school feels that you should have done better and they feel that there are reasons to raise issues about your particular grades then you know, they will take that up and they will go with that.

What shall I do if I don't get the grade I hoped for?
Well it depends how far off you are from what you're expected to get and the university may in fact of contacted you already and said that you're not having a place. You need to explain the situation to them, especially if you're having a remark or somebody's investigating the mark on your script, but you certainly don't need to sit around because those that sit around are left lying around. You need to get on to the telephone, you need to make certain that your university of first choice is not going to take you if somebody else is offered your place. You need to check that out. You need to phone around. There are plenty of places that will be available, you don't just grab at the first one. I mean if your marks are not going to change and your grades are not going to change, certainly don't just take the first one that you're offered. Make sure that you investigate where the university is, go and see it, see the faculty and look at the course, see if it's what you really want to do, see if you like the social life that it offers, the accommodation, because you don't want to be ending up in a place where you're going to spend the next three years of your life and you're not going to enjoy it.

So you need to be active at that time and this is why it's not a good idea not to be around when your results are there, because if you are, then you're likely to be one of the ones that will lose out eventually.

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