Exam Scripts: From the Other Side of the Fence

Now that exam season is well and truly over, I thought it would be timely to post for those who will be continuing on a taught course at university, (particularly Psychology students) reflecting on what exams look like from my side of the fence. While I don’t experience the stress of exam preparation that students do, I do experience high levels of frustration when I can’t credit students as highly as I would like to, because the evidence they present for that credit isn’t explicit enough to attain the marks.

So – here are some tips for your next round of exam preparation.

1. Answer the question(s) you’re asked. Even if your in-class-prepared response was first class, if it doesn’t address the question on the exam paper it is unlikely to score as high as it could otherwise. The first thing I look for when I scan an exam essay is information that is relevant to the title.

2. Plan your answer. From my experience, fewer students do this, than seem to skip this bit entirely. And it shows later on. Taking a few minutes at the start of the exam to breathe, and brainstorm your response into a logical sequence will help, because some marks are awarded for clarity of expression.

3. Relevant information isn’t enough if you’re after the top marks. Information that evidences argument is needed. That is, have you thought critically about, rather than simply reported, research findings? If you’re not sure, go through your answer with a pencil and underline or number the critical points you’ve made. That will highlight how much of your essay is simply description.

4. Find out whether you are expected to have read beyond lecture slides or key readings. If this is an expectation, make sure you season your answer with relevant research evidence (and associated criticism of this reading). Read through your marking criteria. Hours went into writing these, and much discussion, and it will help you see what we’re after.

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5. Drawings like the one in this post won’t get you higher grades. But things like this, and double spacing your writing, and writing clearly, and filling out the frontsheet properly, makes markers’ lives much easier. And your exam script might be on the bottom of the pile. … Assume that it will be. Markers are human, and prone to tiredness. Make your brilliance obvious to us, so we don’t miss it.

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