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Friday, 5 October 2012

Taking exams: getting organised

Revising for exams is about more than just reading through the notes you made in class. It also means knowing how to answer the questions for real when you're in the exam. Practising with old exam questions can improve your chances of doing well.

Preparing for the exam - why it's important

Revision works best when you practise what you'll be doing in the exam - and that means answering questions. By writing out what you know as exam answers, you'll be making it easier to remember what you learned in class.

Knowing what you will be examined on

In the exam you'll be expected to answer questions on the subjects you studied in class. This means you'll need a full set of notes to revise from. If you missed some classes, your notes may not be complete.

To make sure your notes are up-to-date, check your notes against the subject revision checklist (if you haven’t got one, ask your teacher). If the checklist shows you are missing notes on some subjects, ask your teacher which chapters of the text book you need to read, and make notes to fill in the gaps.

Get hold of past exam papers

You’ll usually start getting copies of old exam paper shortly before you sit the exam. These are an ideal way to practise answering exam questions.

But you don't have to wait until then to get some practice: most text books have example exam questions.

You can also download practice exam questions, along with answers (known as the mark scheme), from your awarding body’s websites. Awarding bodies are sometimes known as ‘exam boards’. Schools and colleges can choose which of the five recognised GCSE and A Level awarding bodies they use. The three GCSE and A Level awarding bodies based in England are:

  • Edexcel
  • Oxford, Cambridge and Royal Society of Arts (OCR)
  • Assessment and Qualifications Alliance (AQA)

The exam boards in Wales and Northern Ireland are:

  • Welsh Joint Education Committee (WJEC)
  • Council for the Curriculum Examinations and Assessment (CCEA)

Use exam papers to organise your revision notes

Past exam papers are very useful when organising your revision notes. Arrange your notes in the same order as the topics appear in the exam paper. Once you've done this, try to list the key facts for each topic. You'll find that organising your notes makes them easier to remember.

Have a go - practise doing the exam

Passing exams with top marks means knowing what to write about, and also what to leave out. You don't have to write down everything you remember, and getting this right needs practice.

Before you start writing, check the number in brackets after each question. This tells you how many points each question is worth. It also gives you a clue to how much you should write.

For example, a three-mark question means you'll probably have to make three points. A question worth more marks will need a longer, more detailed answer.

You might also find clues in the way exam questions are worded: what exactly is it asking you to do?

Exam arrangements

Make sure you know when and where you’re taking your exams, and give yourself plenty of time to get there.

Your school or college will usually make the arrangements for you to sit exams. Ask for an exam timetable if you haven’t got one - or check online at the 'examinations timetable' website.

Taking exams: if you have a disability or learning difficulty

If you have a disability or learning difficulty, your school or college must make a ‘reasonable adjustment’ so that you are assessed fairly during your course.

The type of help available will depend on which course or qualification you take. For example, if you have a visual impairment, it may be ‘reasonable’ to get help with reading the exam questions. But if the qualification assesses your ability to read, this type of help might not be reasonable, as it could give you an unfair advantage.

Check before you start your course about ‘reasonable adjustments’ for particular qualifications. You can get advice from your school or college’s Special Educational Needs Coordinator (SENCO). They are responsible for assessing what reasonable adjustments could be made.

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