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Tips for Taking Written Exams

Tips for Taking Written Exams

Author: Mark Rossman

The purpose of this packet is to provide tips for taking written exams

This packet contains several tips for successfully completing written exams including the five magic words that should be in all exam responses, preparing for the exam, and several specific tips that will help the learner successfully complete the written exam.

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Preparing for the written exam

When preparing for the written exam, there are many techniques to consider. Reviewing class notes, handouts, and the class syllabus is a given. Here are some other ways you can prepare for the exam that you might not have thought about: Create a list of major points covered in each course. Take the time to clarify points that you may have missed in the various courses.  Discuss the topic of the exam with your classmates. Resist the temptation to cram it all in at the last minute. This generally doesn’t work as there is so much to review. A more sensible approach is to plan blocks of uninterrupted study time. Arrange to discuss areas of concerns with other learners in the student lounge or in the online chat room. Eat and sleep well. Exercise.

Source: Dr. Mark Rossman

Reviewing course notes and textbooks

When preparing for your exam, trying to memorize the text or every note from every course is impossible. To try to do this is a waste of time. It can’t be done.

When reviewing for the exam, class notes and marginal notes written in the text are especially valuable resources. Try to summarize the notes into a coherent, logical sequence or pattern. Some people have found that writing summaries to be useful as the physical act of writing reinforces the thinking and review process. Some learners write summaries on 3-x-5 cards. Some use their computer to store them on the hard drive and a disc so they won’t be lost and are easily retrievable. Learners in online classes often save discussion room postings as another useful review tool. Whatever method you use, make it easy to review this material while riding on the bus, over lunch, or whenever you have free time. 

Source: Dr. Mark Rossman

Form a study group

A Study Group is a group of students coming together for the purpose of preparing for the written exam. Many on campus and online programs form study groups to assist learners to help one another through the program.

Many learners can save time by setting up online discussion groups. These accomplish the same thing as an on campus study group but save you travel time and the need for everyone to meet at the same time. Many online chat groups cost nothing to set up. You might want to start your own Exam Chat Group either online or through your student union. Check out <> for more information about how easy it is to set up and manage an online discussion group.

There is no prescribed format for a study group. Basically, the group looks at how best to prepare for the exam. Sometimes members who are particularly strong or have a particular interest in a subject or course act as tutors or discussion leaders for the rest of the group. They may prepare and deliver a mini-lecture or paper of some sort designed to stimulate thought and group discussion. Another variation is for each group member to prepare a series of questions or concerns on a particular topic for the group to consider. The success of any study group is intimately connected with the amount of support members provide one another. A supportive and nonthreatening environment is a critical part of the success of any support group.

Without study groups, preparing for the exam can be a lonely and anxious time. Study groups provide support and encouragement to members who are feeling discouraged or who are lacking confidence about the impending exam. Discussing this with someone who is also preparing for the exam or who may be experiencing similar emotions may help eliminate the problem or reduce the anxiety. Whatever thoughts or suggestions are offered should be provided in a supportive atmosphere. The study group should not be used to ridicule weaker members or as a platform for the stronger members. The basis of a study group is to help each person recognize weaknesses, strengthen them, and successfully pass the written exam. 

Source: Dr. Mark Rossman

Five Magic Words - compare, contrast, analyze, systhesize, integrate,

The five magic words that will virtually guarantee success in the written exam are: compare, contrast, analyze, synthesize, and integrate ..

Compare – To determine similarities
Contrast – To determine differences
Analyze – To determine relationship of the parts
Synthesize – To combine parts to make something new
Integrate – To unite the parts to form a new whole

In every course, it is important to look for ways of comparing or contrasting sources of information. Exam questions usually call for more than a rehash of information presented in class. Whenever you can try to give more than the basic response indicating that you have content knowledge. For example, try to discuss the similarities and differences (i.e., compare and contrast) between and among the various ideas, thoughts, concepts, trends, and/or patterns that were presented in the course. A deeper understanding of the meaning of the subject can be demonstrated by analyzing the relationship of the various parts of a particular theory or how the course material can be applied (i.e., synthesized or integrated) within your own profession. Prepare accordingly. 

Source: Dr. Mark Rossman

Read each question carefully

Read each question carefully. Outline one or more possible responses. Be sure to include possible references to support response points. Remember the five important words discussed above —compare, contrast, analyze, synthesize, and integrate. Weave them into your responses as appropriate. Circle key words. Reword the questions so they are meaningful to you, but be careful not to change the context or intent of the questions. Make sure your responses are clear and unambiguous. Rank the questions from easy to hard, and answer the easier questions first. 

Source: Dr. Mark Rossman

The RCOW process

Application of the RCOW (pronounced “are-cow”) process can save time and facilitate completion of the exam. RCOW is the process of reading, comprehending, outlining, and writing.

Begin by Reading the exam—all of it. Don’t write anything yet. Read the directions, each question, everything. Once everything has been read, try to Comprehend what the questions are about. Think about what is being asked. What course does it relate to? What committee member is interested in this question? Whose concerns are reflected in the question?

At this point, think about which of the questions seems to be the easiest one to answer. Develop an Outline as a response to this particular question. Include the names or sources of appropriate authors or references to be referred to in the response. Outline the entire response. Think about how much time may be needed to complete this question. Just because it is your strongest response, don’t take too long answering it. Remember that all questions need to be answered during the allotted time for the exam.

After the outline is complete, start to Write. Write in full sentences with correct grammar, punctuation, and syntax. Include an appropriate mix of your thoughts substantiated with references to the research and opinions of the leaders in the field. Be sure to answer all parts of the question. If the question contains multiple parts, as many exam questions do, they are there for a reason and need to be answered.  Did you remember to respond to the second part of the question?

Once the response to the first question is complete, go on to the next. Again, use the RCOW process of reading, comprehending, outlining, and writing. Do this for all the questions, keeping in mind the time allowed to complete the exam.

Source: Dr. Mark Rossman

Success Will BeYours

The key to successfully completing any written exam is "careful preparation." Don't cram. Give yourself blocks of study time. Don't go on Facebook while studying, Don't be nervous. Give yourself time to study and follow the tips given here. When you are done, you will pass and will be proud of yourself. Good luck.

Source: Dr. Mark Rossman

Tips for Taking Written Exams

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Source: Dr. Mark Rossman