School of
Social Sciences
___Introduction to Sociology
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Help With Exams

"In examinations the foolish ask questions which the wise cannot answer" (Oscar Wilde)
"Judge a man by his questions, not by his answers" (Voltaire)


Exam and Revision Techniques

A First Class Exam Answer

Bad exam answers look as if the examinee was following a set of instructions like this:

"Write down whatever comes into your head on the general topic of this question. Do not structure your answer, nor write an introduction and conclusion. Include irrelevant material, and do not evaluate between opposing viewpoints."

Most exam questions can be rewritten to show how a student was reading it depending on the grade she or he received. For example, this question comes from the Sociology of Modern Britain exam paper for 1998:

"Discuss the causes and consequences of poverty in modern Britain" [my emphasis]

This is how students gaining different grades appeared to have read the question:

First Class (A) "Identify the causes and consequences of poverty. Discuss these consequences, drawing conclusions about the nature of gender, racial and class inequalities in modern Britain. Comment on the adequacy of sociological definitions of poverty in the light of your conclusions."
Upper Second Class (B) "Identify the consequences of poverty. Discuss these consequences."
Lower Second Class (C) "List some of the features of poverty."
Third Class(D) "Write down anything you can think of about poverty, in any order. Avoid giving any conclusions, but if you do, ensure that they are not justified by your answer."

Adapted from: Habeshaw et al, 1989.



How To Do Exams

Revising

1. Quality is more important than quantity. Plan your time, and make sure you have decent breaks from revision. Split your time between reading, making notes and practising exam questions.
2. Practice both making up and answering questions. You'll develop an ease with the medium, and learn what the examiners are looking for.
3. Understand that reading is not the same as revising. Once you've read something - like your lecture notes - summarise it on paper so that you can see if you've absorbed it. Then go back and see if you've missed any major points. Repeat until you can summarise all the main points without looking at the text.
4. Meet with friends doing the same exam at frequent intervals. Discuss questions with them. Do not panic when they come out with things you don't know. Focus on those things in your revision.
5. Most importantly, don't worry. If you are feeling stressed, talk to friends, and do something you enjoy. Stress is the worst thing for interfering with memory and concentration.

The exam

1. On the day before, avoid cramming. At most, go over in your head what you will do in the exam.
2. In the exam, make sure you know how many questions you have to answer, and how long you'll take for each one. Read all the questions and order them according to preference.
3. Re-read the questions you have decided to answer. Start with a good question. Re-read it again, and start answering it.
4. Write a brief structure of the answer, bearing in mind what the question is asking for. Decide what your conclusion will be, taking into account words in the question like 'how' 'why' 'explain' 'assess' 'comment' 'compare' and 'contrast'.
5. Ensure that your answer refers back to the question every so often. Don't merely write down everything that you know about the subject. Give yourself a minute off every so often to mull over what you've written. Remember to humour the examiners.
6. When you've finished, re-read all your answers. Ensure that each of them has answered the question to the best of your ability. Make minor corrections, and re-emphasise key points.



More Help On Preparing For Exams  
Exam Preparation  


These pages were originally written by: Angus Bancroft and Sioned Rogers
Redesigned and updated by: Pierre Stapley - 2010