When it comes to studying and sitting exams, our advice is usually:
- focus on the 90% rather than the 2%
- spend the vast majority of your study time on content that is going to make up the bulk of your exam
- don’t waste time on peripheral topics and details that take up a lot of time to come to grips with, but aren’t central to your curriculum, and are unlikely to feature much (if at all) in the exam.
WE STILL STAND BY THIS COMPLETELY.
Sometimes, it only takes a sentence to show the examiner that you REALLY DO know your stuff, and to add some bonus marks to your grade.
How to quickly and easily show the examiner that you’re awesome
To get a good mark in an exam, you need to demonstrate that you understand the topic.
You don’t need to reinvent the wheel. You need to say enough for the examiner to be convinced that yes, you do understand how X works, or how X relates to Y, or what have you.
To get a really good mark in an exam, you need a cherry on top. Something a little bit extra in your answer that makes your answer stand out.
And to do this, well, it doesn’t always have to be hard or take much extra effort.
One of our favorite exam techniques for taking an answer from ‘good’, to ‘this student really knows their stuff’, is to add in a sentence or a fact or an observation that isn’t run of the mill — something that not every student is going to include in their answer.
Examples of how you can harness this super easy technique
If I was writing an essay for English… I would try to include an insightful sentence near the end of each paragraph. Something that linked the point being made in the paragraph to the overall topic of the essay. Something that I had thought of, rather than something that everyone other student would include in their essay too.
If I was writing an essay for History… I would try to include an interesting fact or insight that other students would be unlikely to include in their essays. You can do this by doing some research on your own and learning something that wasn’t necessarily mentioned in class.
For a science exam answer… I would try to include a relevant fact that I had researched on my own, or a quote or a statistic from an academic article (and reference that article!). Google Scholar is a great place to conduct some research of your own.
Why this exam technique works
Adding a little flair in this way will put the icing on the cake of your exam answers.
For instance, an examiner will read thousands of papers that adequately explain the series of key events that lead to the start of WWI (treaties, the Balkans, nationalism etc etc…), BUT — very few will say something that pricks up the examiner’s attention. Very few will say something intelligent and different that still relates to what the question has asked.
And the really great thing is — adding a little gem to your exam answer does not require hundreds more hours of study — perhaps just half an hour of you doing some extra-curricular research. And yet, doing this might be the tipping point between one grade level and another.
But remember these things —
DON’T let this additional research / study take up too much of your precious study time, and certainly not to the detriment of the bulk of your study. There is no point in you knowing ‘cherry on top’ stuff unless you understand the FUNDAMENTALS, because it’s the fundamentals that are going to give you the majority of your exam marks.
DON’T include information that’s irrelevant to the rest of your answer. Whatever you include as your ‘icing on the cake’, don’t venture away from the substance of what you’re talking about in your exam answer. You don’t want your ‘extra point’ to stick out like a sore thumb — rather, it should reinforce and/or substantiate what you have already written, and/or provide a pertinent example to back up what you have written.