Exam Preparation – The Practicalities

Structure of the exam paper

Knowing how your exam paper will look and be structured is really useful to exam preparation. In a later section, we will explain the benefits of obtaining copies of past papers & mock papers and using them for practice purposes, but here, let us list the types of paper you can expect:

  • Short answer questions
  • Essays or assignments
  • Open book exams
  • Oral exams
  • Task-based exams or assessments
  • Multiple-choice questions

What sort of examination are you planning to take?

For higher level examinations, there is often a combination of requirements within the paper, for example, a number of short answer questions followed by a number of essay questions.

Requirements for answers or assessments

Know what it is the examiner is looking for.

For example, with multiple choice questions, how exactly do you indicate which is the correct answer?

What length should your answer to a short answer question ideally be?

Where the paper is combined, which questions are optional, and which are compulsory? How many optional answers must be provided?

How are the marks allocated – do some questions carry more importance than others?

Also, does the examining organisation have any specific requirements for answers such as:

  • Avoiding use of certain terms, coloured inks, correction fluid etc
  • Presenting answers in a particular fashion (for instance, showing costings or calculations)
  • Referencing sources of information

Find all of this out well before the exam, either by reading through the examination instructions or a student handbook, or by getting some help.

Allocation of time

The duration of the exam and the structure of the paper will tell you how you should allocate your time during the exam. If you are sitting a 1-hour multiple choice examination with 60 questions, then clearly it is designed for you to spend an average of a minute on each question.

If you are sitting a 3-hour combination type paper with, let us say 8 short answer questions and 4 essays, you can estimate spending 1 hour on the short answers and 2 hours on the essays, including preparation and reading time.

How you allocate time will depend on the expectation of the examiner for the length of answers. It will also take into account how marks are allocated by the examiner.

There is little sense in spending an hour on 8 short answer questions if they are worth only 2 marks each whilst the 4 essay questions are each worth 25 marks.

Materials/equipment allowed

There are usually strict rules about what you may and may not take into an examination room. Unless you are taking an open book exam, you will not be able to take any study materials with you.

It is also unlikely you will be able to take any electronic equipment with you, beyond perhaps a basic calculator (the make and model of which is often required to be stated on the examination paper).

Check what type of writing equipment you need to take – pens, pencils, rubber, rulers etc. Multiple choice papers often come with an answer grid for completion in pencil.

For professional qualifications, membership numbers and a form of identification (usually with a photograph) are required so that you can verify who you are.