5 Ways to Score Bonus Marks In Exams
Many students end up with disappointing results, not because they haven’t studied or don’t understand the question. It is their study techniques and preparation that have let them down.
By being aware of these pitfalls and adopting specific study strategies to overcome them, you will easily gain bonus marks that many students leave on the table.
Think about how you typically go in exams.
You’ve spent weeks studying and revising and have always stuck to a rigid preparation system. The night before the exam, you had a good night’s sleep and this morning you’ve eaten a proper breakfast. You’re well hydrated, calm and focussed.
At least, you are while you’re outside of the exam room. But once you walk through that door things start to fall apart. Your mind goes blank, you panic, you rush through the paper hoping to get the ordeal over quickly. And then you spend the rest of the day kicking yourself for all the careless mistakes you know you made and all the things you knew but didn’t write on the paper.
It doesn’t need to be like this.
The top students know exactly how to overcome these hurdles and get every bonus mark possible on the exam paper. These are simple things that every student can do and situations we can all control. But only the most organised and self-disciplined students actually put them into practice.
In other words, just by following these simple tips, you can give yourself a definite educational advantage.
Here are 5 top study tips to help you score bonus marks.
1. Use Your Perusal or Planning Time Effectively.
When you first walk into the exam room your head will be buzzing with facts, key words, dates, names, formulae etc.
We may think that we will remember them, but the truth is that once we get distracted by the questions it will be very hard to come back to these thoughts.
The best thing to do is to write them down as soon as you are allowed to do so.
It may seem as if you’re wasting planning or working time in doing this, but believe me it will save you lots of time and heartache in the long run.
We’ve all had that annoying feeling when something we know really well is on the tip of our tongue, but we just can’t quite get to it. Writing things down in your perusal or planning time will help alleviate this issue.
Use the rest of this time to plan your response. The more detailed your plan, the easier it will be to write your response as you will have done all the thinking. Your response will be better structured, more logical and more detailed if you take the time to plan properly. It also means that if you lose your train of thought during writing, you’ll be able to get yourself back on track easily and quickly.
2.Think Carefully About The Order In Which You Complete The Paper.
You can score bonus marks just by choosing to answer the questions in a different order.
There is no rule that says you have to start at question 1 and work your way systematically through the paper.
During your perusal or planning time, look carefully at all of the questions. There will be some that seem ‘easier’ for you than others. Start with these questions.
If the paper has different types of questions on it, decide whether you will do the multiple choice questions first and get them out of the way, or leave them until the end in case you have to answer them in a hurry. Completing past papers before the exam itself will help you decide which way is most effective for you.
Starting by attacking the questions you are sure you can answer will help to boost your self-confidence and gain you a bit of extra time as you should be able to get through these questions quite quickly.
Then you will have time to move onto the more difficult questions.
Do any parts of any question that you possibly can.
Even if you don’t totally understand the question or aren’t sure of the answer, don’t leave it blank. Complete any elements that you can and show all of your working. Provide as much detail as possible so that the marker can understand and follow your train of thought.
You may pick up a few bonus marks in doing this. They might only be half marks, but hey, those halves add up!
3.Keep An Eye On The Time.
Watching the time is a definite must if you want to get as many bonus marks as possible.
During perusal or preparation time, calculate how many marks there are on the paper and how many minutes you have to complete the exam. This will enable you to work out how many minutes of working time you can allocate for each mark.
There’s no point in spending 15 minutes on a 2 mark question and running out of time to start a 10 mark question!
Don’t underestimate how long it might take you to write an essay. A good study technique is to make sure that practice completing questions under timed conditions during your revision. This will train you to be able to work quickly.
Make sure you use a pen that is familiar to you. This way you will be able to hold it comfortably and write at your usual speed.
Don’t ever finish a paper early. If you finish answering all of the questions, go back and look at your answers. Make any necessary corrections. Try to expand your answers to make it easier for the marker to follow your train of thought. Replace vague, generic nouns and verbs with more specific ones that do more heavy lifting for you.
Avoid going to the toilet, being distracted by other people, or by general movement in the room. If you know you usually write a lot, ask for extra paper at the start of the examination rather than having to put up your hand and ask for it when you are in the middle of writing your response.
4.Keep Your Paper Neat And Organised.
Your marker can’t give bonus marks for neatness, but you can certainly lose marks if they can’t find or read your answer!
Remember that your marker will be marking hundreds of papers. Each paper has to be scanned and uploaded onto the QCAA system.
Writing in pen will make it much easier for your marker to read your answers.
Make sure that your writing is legible. I have had students in the past whose handwriting has been so bad that I have had to type out their answers to be able to read them fluently. Your marker will not have the time or the opportunity to do this. If they can’t easily read what you have written, they are not allowed to make assumptions about what you might have said.
Keeping your handwriting legible will help you stay on the marker’s good side – no one wants to have to struggle to read a paper.
Make sure that you number all of your questions carefully – especially if you complete the paper out of sequential order. If you cross something out or want to add an extra paragraph in, make sure that your marker knows exactly where to look to find the information you actually want marked.
The easier you can make it for the marker the better. Remember, these people don’t know you or anything about you. That can definitely work to your advantage – but it also means that they are not going to give you the benefit of the doubt by being familiar with your writing.
(While we’re talking about being kind to the marker, please remember that this is not the time to have a go at the education system or to express your views on the exams. Don’t write anything that would be seen as inflammatory or offensive. Your job – and your only job – here is to show the examiner what you know and to demonstrate the skills you have learned across your 13 years of education).
5.Keep Things In Perspective
Just staying calm gives you an advantage over many others in the room.
Have you ever walked into an exam room confident in your preparation, with a head full of facts and a sense of confidence, only to have your mind go blank and a cold sense of fear creep through you, making it impossible to think straight? Rest assured, you’re not alone! Just about everyone will experience something like this at some stage.
The human body has a built-in preservation system, often referred to as the ‘fight or flight’ response. This means that when we perceive a threat or danger our bodies prepare to either stay and fight, or to run away from the situation as quickly as possible.
To enable us to do this, our bodies start pumping adrenaline and cortisol, push blood into our arms and legs ready for physical activity, and shorten our breaths.
The body wants to respond physically to the threat, rather than mentally or emotionally. This means that we follow our non-logical, emotion driven impulses rather than our calm, rational thought processes.
The brain wipes its working memory and disrupts our ability to recall information in order to focus on what the body needs to physically respond to the threat.
While this may be very helpful if we are needing to fight off or run away from a wild animal, it’s not so handy when it comes to sitting exams. In fact, it’s the exact opposite of what we need our bodies to do.
To be able to perform well in exams we need to be able to think rationally, engage our working memory, and access our memory retrieval system – all of which are inhibited by adrenaline and cortisol.
While everyone experiences some level of performance anxiety in exams, there are ways that you can reduce the impact.
How to control your fear
1. Accept that this is a natural physical reaction and that everyone experiences it – it is not just your problem. The human body is wired this way and therefore we have learned ways to counteract the effects. The blank mind, shortness of breath, sweaty palms and rapid heart rate are all normal and expected. What’s more, they can all be overcome.
2. Before the exam, engage in some basic meditative practices that will help you control the response and reduce the levels of stress hormones in your body. Now repeat these actions in the exam room. Take long deep breaths and release the air slowly. Drink some water. Talk calmly to yourself (internally) and remind yourself that this is a normal reaction and will soon pass. The more often you perform this routine outside of the exam room, the more natural it will seem and the faster your body will respond.
3. Make sure that you practise under similarly stressed conditions when you are studying. There is no point in training our brains to respond slowly and comfortably during revision sessions and then suddenly ramping up the pressure in the exam. Think about soldiers. Their practice drills are almost as stressful as their armed combat. This is a deliberate training regime to ensure that they respond automatically and effectively in high stakes situations.
4. Reduce the negative self-talk and forget about past experiences. Just because you have performed badly in previous tests does not mean you will perform badly in this one. Allow yourself to have a clean slate and no preconceptions. Telling yourself that you are hopeless and always fail this subject will result in a self-fulfilling prophecy. You probably will fail the exam just because you have convinced yourself that you will.
You need to trust yourself and your preparation. Remember, your marker has no idea who you are or what marks you have achieved up until now. They will be judging you on your responses to these questions only.
5. Remember that your results are not the end of the world. Yes, exams will feel like a big deal – especially with all of the social hype that builds up around them. And yes, it would be great if you got fabulous marks and could do anything you wanted after school.
But the fact is that no matter how important these exams may feel they are not actually life threatening. There will be ways for you to get where you want to go – you may just have to take a slightly indirect route to get there. The less emphasis you can place on your exams, the less stress your body will face – and, ironically, the better you will do!
So, armed with these tips you should be well prepared to score as many marks as possible – easy ones that many other students will leave behind.
For more help for students and a range of study techniques that will help you score bonus marks, watch our Youtube videos of study tips.