Academic Writing

Examinations in English

Almost all students at all levels will at some time be expected to write an examination. Examinations need to be prepared for and revision needs to be done. Finally examinations need to be taken.

Introduction

Institutions use many different forms of examinations, but the two main types are:

  • Closed examinations, where students are not allowed to refer to books or notes during the examination. They are usually given a time to complete a certain number of questions;
  • Open examinations, where students can refer to books and notes during the examination period. In some cases, it and may be possible to take the question paper away and return it at a later time.

You may:

  • Take the examination in the traditional way using a pen and paper.
  • Take the examination using a computer, either in an examination room or on-line at home or in a public library.

The types of written examination questions that students may be expected to complete are:

  • Short answer questions: These questions may require anything from a few words to a paragraph or more.
  • Multiple-choice questions: In a multiple-choice question, you are given a number of possible responses, from which you have to choose one or more answers.
  • Essay-type questions: These are questions that require an essay-type answer. Essay-type answers are usually argumentative and can be anything from a few paragraphs to a few pages long.
  • Problems/mathematical exercises: This type of question requires you to solve a problem using facts and argument or mathematical calculations.

Exam preparation

Be well organised and prepare well in advance.

  • Make sure you know the exam date, time and place.
  • Organise your time: make a revision timetable for all your subjects and use it.
  • Look at past exam papers if you can obtain them.
  • Look at your course specifications and handbooks to check the aims and objectives, and what you should have learned.
  • Re-read lecture and seminar notes, making sure you have covered everything.
  • Write plans for common topic areas.
  • Practise writing by hand - you might not have had much experience recently!

On the examination day:

  • Make sure you know the examination date, time and place.
  • Check that you have all the equipment you need.
  • Ensure that you have the necessary ID.

Taking the examination

  • Listen carefully to the invigilator's instructions at the beginning of the examination.
  • Read the instructions on the paper carefully. Check the number of questions you need to answer. Check if there are any compulsory questions.
  • Read all the questions carefully. Choose the questions you will answer, that is the ones you can obtain the best marks from. Cross out the ones you do not intend to do. Decide how much time you can allow for each question.
  • Re-read the examination questions to ensure you understand them. Focus on the exact question that has been set, not the question you want to be set. Be clear exactly what the questions are asking you. Highlight any key terms in the question, including instruction words. See: Preparing: Understanding the Task
  • Start with questions on familiar, well-known subjects.
  • Quickly plan your answers, making sure the structure you choose will answer the question. Make quick notes to help you to remember. Write down any formulas or theories you may need to use.
  • Start to write. Be well organised to quickly remember the data, quotations, examples and arguments that you plan to use in your answers. Provide quality not quantity.
  • Leave a space after any questions which you think you could write more on later.
  • Provide relevant evidence from your lecture notes and other reading.
  • Watch the time during the examination.
  • Continue to check that you are answering the question that has been set, not just writing down everything you know.
  • Write clearly so that your answers will be easy to read and mark.
  • Make sure you leave enough time to check, edit and proofread your work.
  • Check that you have answered all the questions you are required to answer.

Advice

Short answer questions

  • Read the instructions and plan your time.
  • Keep your answers short – do not rewrite the question.
  • Make sure you answer the question that has been set.
  • Quickly plan your answers before you start to write.
  • Do not give more information than you are asked for.
  • Mark the questions you are not sure of so that you can come back to them at the end, if you have time.
  • Answer all the questions.

Multiple-choice questions

  • Quickly read through all the questions and the choices before you start doing the examination.
  • Mark the questions you are not sure of so that you can come back to them at the end, if you have time.
  • Start by answering the questions you are sure about.
  • Then do the others questions. Start by deleting the obviously wrong answers.
  • Be careful of negative questions: "Which ... does not ...?"
  • Keep to your time allocation.
  • Usually, answer all the questions even if you have to guess. Check whether marks are deducted for incorrect answers.

Essay-type questions

  • Read the questions carefully and then analyse each question so that you know what they mean.
  • Underline the instruction words and other key words and make sure you know exactly what you are required to do.
  • Plan your answer.
  • Write down some key words.
  • Start your answer by paraphrasing the question in a short sentence or two.
  • Leave a few empty lines between paragraphs in case you want to add more information later.
  • Leave wide margins.
  • Keep to your allocated time.
  • If you run out of time, list the main ideas and key words. You might get some marks in this way.

Problems/mathematical questions

  • Read the questions and the instructions very carefully.
  • Underline the instruction words and make sure you know exactly what is required.
  • Once you have decided what you have to do, write down the formulas or methods you need to use.
  • Always show your workings; if your answer is wrong or not finished, you may still get some marks for showing you understand the process.
  • Use a pencil for drawings and diagrams so you can change them later if necessary.
  • Label drawings and diagrams and include headings.

On-Line Tests

Before the examination day:

  • Make sure your computer, especially if you are working at at home, is technically capable with regard to: security settings, screen display, internet connection, browser options, etc.
  • Understand the login process to access the examination. Check that you have the required passwords, ID etc.
  • Make sure you know:
    • whether the time you take to complete the examination is measured and if is there a clock; 
    • whether you can save your examination and come back if you are interrupted;
    • whether you must answer the questions in the sequence given;
    • whether or not you can change your answers later;
    • whether or not you can check your work, or check for unanswered questions;
    • whether you can type your answer in a familiar word-processing program and paste the answer into the examination page.
  • When you have finished answering your questions, make sure you know:
    • how to save your work and exit.

The questions will probably be short-answer questions or multiple-choice.

  • Short answer questions

    • Keep your answers short – do not rewrite the question.
    • Quickly plan your answers before you start to write.
    • Do not give more information than you are asked for.
    • Note the questions you are not sure of so that you can come back to them at the end, if you have time.
    • Answer all the questions.

    Multiple-choice questions

    • Quickly read through all the questions and the choices before you start doing the examination, if you can.
    • Note the questions you are not sure of so that you can come back to them at the end, if you have time.
    • Start by answering the questions you are sure about.
    • Then do the others questions. Start by deleting the obviously wrong answers.
    • Be careful of negative questions: "Which ... does not ...?"
    • Keep to your time allocation.
    • Usually, answer all the questions even if you have to guess. Check whether marks are deducted for incorrect answers.

 

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