Study Skill

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10 Preparing for specific exams

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Multiple choice Short answer Essay questions Open book Laboratory exams Auditions The medical viva Practical exercises

Examinations are firmly entrenched in the academic system, much to the chagrin of most students. Regrettably, just about


Preparing for specific exams


every subject you will study will conclude with some kind of assessment. Visualise this end of year scene. You see yourself approaching the gathering of anxious students at the entrance to the examination venue. `Will X, Y or Z be covered on the exam?? What if a question is asked on topic X? I just dashed through that last night! Do I really understand it?? Not well enough. What if I fail? What an embarrassment!' That frantic, downwardly spiralling monologue is familiar to most students. As much as you would like to see some new, less anxietyprovoking process replace examinations, I regret to say that examinations are here to stay — at least for the near future. Given that reality, let me offer some encouraging words about how to deal with these assessments. Preparation is the key to a more confident and competent approach to these testing ordeals. The more you know about the type of exam you will be confronting, the better you will be able to prepare for it. As will become apparent from the sections of this chapter, different types of exams require different types of preparation. Let's look at some of the varieties of exams which you may well have to confront.

Multiple-choice exams
Multiple-choice exams have become increasingly popular with teaching staff, especially with the advent of very sophisticated computer technology. Optical scanning of answer sheets makes marking a very simple chore. The computer can individually analyse each student's performance and provide questionspecific information for follow-up learning. Given the popularity of multiple-choice examinations amongst examiners, it is best to be well informed about what to expect and how to prepare. You will want to know everything possible about the multiplechoice exams you are scheduled to take. Ask your teaching staff for information about the types of questions which you can expect. It's perfectly reasonable to ask about: the numbers of questions in the examination; the different types of questions (problem solving, definitions, case studies, theory-based, etc.); any differential weightings for the various sections of the exam;


Study skills for successful students

and, of course date, venue and the starting and finishing times of the exam. If you find that multiple-choice questions will be a prominent part of the exam, then a considerable part of your preparation should be geared specifically for this form of question.

Preparing for multiple-choice questions
Martina enrolled in a science course with the intention of majoring in psychology. She enjoyed the lectures and prepared for her mid-term exams as she had done in high school, by writing summaries of her class notes. She went over these summaries many times and walked into the exam full of confidence. Martina was shocked when she found that she had failed the multiple-choice part of the exam. Her tutor referred her for counselling and in the referral note, she mentioned that Martina needed to improve her examination skills, specifically her preparation for multiple-choice tests. During the first counselling session, Martina was surprised to find that studying summaries is generally not a recommended preparation for multiple-choice exams. Why? Because summaries are too broad in scope and multiple-choice questions (MCQ) can be very specific. The details which you would not consider including in your summary could well be the focus of MCQs. The best preparation for multiple-choice exams is to read over your refined notes — your class notes which have been supplemented with additions, corrections and side flaps (see the chapter on note-taking...
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