How to Pass Every Exam
Updated: a day ago
Exams, in general, are feared by all students. They exist as the ultimatum point in your academic career to where everything you've done so far has built up to this very moment. Though every exam is not created and conquered equally, we'll concentrate on STEM exams, which have their own tips, tricks and techniques in order to fetch a higher than average mark!
In case you're not familiar with STEM, it's an acronym that stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.
If you're one of the boffins involved in STEM, this might be your ideal study guide.
These are regarded as tough exams because the questions can be as difficult to consume and understand as they are to answer, equally you can be interrogated in so many different ways.
If your exam isn't one of the STEM subjects, consider reading on anyhow, I assure you there will be a few lightbulb moments to follow anyhow!
These techniques will pretty much apply to all levels of exams, be that at the middle school/high school or at the university level.
This is all about being strategic and increasing your chances of success, so be free to take notes if you wish, mental or otherwise.
Note: Some exam formats have changed this year thanks to the pandemic exams. Though some of the tips below have been 'diluted' by these new covid safe procedures, the sentiment of each tip will probably still apply whether your exam location is a 'typical' venue or done from home.
The Most Valuable Resource
You know the exam time limit and you know how many sections will appear in the paper, you even have a pretty good idea of which topics will show their ugly head.
But you know one more bit of crucial information, especially if you're in college or university.
It's possible that you know who will be marking your paper, it's more than likely to be your lecturer or professor for the relevant course/module.
The significance of this is the following, you may think that there's a defined one-way system of how to 'count' a correct answer or when to be lenient.
There's not - of course, there's a marking 'guide' but it's more than likely at the professor's discretion to how they interpret a truly correct answer.
Meaning, it's almost entirely up to how the professor to what counts as a tick and what counts as a cross - this might sound like a disadvantage, but there's room to manoeuvre here.
With that, let's think about our options a little bit...
We know who will mark the paper and from this, we might be able to deduce how it will be marked. For this, we need to do some research with regard to the person marking it.
The best way for this of course is to have a good relationship with your professor and simply ask some if not all of the following questions (and more!) The more information the better, it's time to be strategic about this!
Some of the questions you should ask are:
How are "these 3 marks" for this question awarded? choose whatever question)
How many marks do you give for working out the answer? (they may provide a %)
How many marks do you give for a correct final answer?
Do you mark only on keywords?
Do you allow analogies or only scientific answers?
How important are diagrams/sketches, how many marks do you give for these?
What things do you 'like' to see in an answer?
Will you be marking this paper?
Do you have any tips for the exam generally?
You may look at the questions above and think 'this sounds like an interrogation!'. But, if you have a good relationship with your lecturer, asking these can be done in a friendly and casual way.
On occasion, professors are too busy to mark their own tests and they give the papers to their PhD students/assistance to mark.
Though it sounds like all of the above is now ruined, the PhD students/assistance are taught how to mark by the professor meaning the habits of the professor should be passed down to the PhD student or assistant.
Nevertheless, if you can get to know the person marking...it might be a friendship worth having. That said, I'd go to the professor as well as the marker regardless.
This section is all about using resources that are genuinely available to you, professors are allowed to give you this kind of information and you are welcome to it..but only if you ask!
As a general rule, I'd highly recommend having a great relationship with your professor (or whoever your teacher is) because it's more often than not they will go above and beyond to help you while maintaining a professional discipline.
Also, don't just do this for your exam but all types of assessment in your module/course. Again, all of this is available to you but only when you ask.
So if you still have time, be friendly..be genuine about the friendship and of course be polite. You will have access to some powerful information and be all the better for it.
Tools Make Things Easier
You might be an engineer, this will mean you're in favour of creations that make things easier for humanity.
One of these 'things' created, and allowed in your examination is...the calculator!
Now, this can't be a programmable one or a GCD calculator, but you can have a pretty advanced mathematical mind in your hand while you rattle through the questions.
Though this sounds great, it can only be used to its full potential when you know how to use the calculator to its full ability and be completely confident with it.
Additional to this, you'll need to use the tool with haste and be quick enough to really save time with a small chance of error.
So you must spend time on any tool you can learn prior to the exam and then invest additional time into methods of doing them quicker.
For example, if you're expected to do quadratic equations in your exam there is actually a handful of methods to solve these.
Learn the quickest and most appropriate way and even if you depend upon the most lengthy method, learn how to speed type any equation in so you're popping out answers in seconds!
Now, a calculator is one of the many tools you may have but there exist many others.
Things like graph paper to produce clear and concise data is another example. This might sound basic but learning the best way to do create graphs beforehand is of huge value.
Graphs are straightforward marks, but they are marked strictly. Elements of every graph are simple but often overlooked. Be sure to have a method of placing in the axis, units, title, scale etc first - these are easy marks.
This sentiment extends to other tools like pressure tables, smith charts, impedance charts, and any other graphical reference solving tool you have been taught during your syllabus - learn it well beforehand and become super confident with it! Put serious time and do not let it be the factor that cripples your chances.
Be Equipped, Be Successful
There's always that one person in an exam that forgets something like a protractor or god forbid, their own calculator.
It's important that this numpty is never yourself, not just for the sake of saving face but for the sake of experiencing an avoidable bad day.
Don't ever let the reason you didn't do as well as you could of be because you showed up unequipped! This exam does contribute toward your future, so you must prepare for the cause.
There are easy tricks with this one, like, don't bring one pen/pencil - bring many etc etc.
Bring any mathematical tools you require them like a calculator, protractor, ruler, compass or whatever you need.
Remember those erasers and pencil sharpeners too as they are there to support your other more essential tools (we've got a list of quick buys below)
But if you want to prepare for redundancy, I'd say maybe even bring two calculators, two protractors and just double of anything you may not expect to be a problem initially.
On top of this, if a friend of yours is identified as the numpty mentioned above because of a sudden red completion on their face and steam coming out of their ears at t-4 seconds to the exam... you can help them out and be owed a big thanks after the exam period!
As I say, these are simple things. But we can get smarter about this...
We know the names of the tools we need, but there exist different designs of tools that offer advantages over some 'lesser' designs.
It would be worth looking around for the best 'kinds' of the tool you need, as an example, you could get a typical protractor that you are probably imagining at the moment or you may benefit from a design like the one below.
So this is a protractor, but notice how it has a swing arm integrated into its design.
This allows you to quickly mark your angles. You might think 'what's the point, you save maybe half a second?'
That's true, for this tool! - The point is, there exist better designs of every tool you can think of and it may be worth searching for those products to gain even more of an advantage when you're against the clock, just food for thought.
A better example for those of you who will actually be using a calculator is... the generation of your calculator! As mentioned before there are limitations to the capability of this tool but there's possible room to improve on your current number-cruncher.
The first thing you need to do is get a list of acceptable calculators that can be used in the exam, It's likely you'll need some kind of 'approved calculator' sticker on your calculator to use it during the test.
There are a good handful of acceptable calculators but some of the most popular ones are the CASIO series, it's more than common that students have the Casio fx-85GT PLUS