The key to doing well in your exams and tests is all in the preparation. Watch the video below for some inspiration from fellow students.

The learning process

To be successful in tests and exams you need to learn your subject. Making notes is an integral part of successful study and learning. The Cornell System of note taking and note making incorporates the 6R’s method. The 6R’s are record, review, refine, reduce, recall, and reflect. Learn more in the activity below.

Multiple choice test tips

Study the unit guide and understand the learning outcomes, because the test or exam will check you have achieved the learning outcomes.

It might seem obvious but don’t think just because you will be given the answers that you don’t need to study for the test. Multiple choice tests will normally test you on facts and definitions or calculation and problem solving/data processing. Go over your lecture notes and learn definitions, facts and key concepts.

Know what sort of questions will be asked, how many there will be and how much time you have to do them. Will some questions need multiple responses? Do practice questions if you can.

Identify key words or qualifiers. Does it need deductive or inductive analysis?

  • Deductive analysis: a theory or outcome is given from which you are asked to show evidence to prove its validity.
  • Inductive analysis: an observation is given from which you are asked to reach a conclusion or choose an already established theory.

Also beware of expressions in the negative because often when we are reading quickly we can miss the part of the statement that makes it opposite to the assertion. Let’s consider an example question from a quiz; Choose the one that is least likely to determine a pandemic. Most often our brain is wired to look for the fact. In this case, if you haven’t read the question carefully, you may start looking for the ‘most likely’ reason, which isn’t what the question is asking.

Check out the example arguments from our Critical Thinking guide.

By doing this, you will notice the answer that matches yours more readily. Be careful of the wrong answer that is very nearly correct. In a well written multiple choice test, all the answers can be plausible, so it’s important to take this step of thinking about the answer before looking at all the provided choices.

Go through the test, answering the questions you know the answer to first; then do the questions you have some idea about; and finally do the questions you have no idea about. Check you can go back to the previous page before taking this approach. It is better to take an educated guess than leave it unanswered. If you do not do the test sequentially, be extra careful to fill in the answer for the right question. Leave yourself time to check things over.

After the test, identify the gaps or errors in your knowledge from the test result and reflect on what you learnt to improve your next test-taking experience.

Exam tips

Schedule your exam preparation and start preparing early in the semester. Read unit outline, revise notes frequently. Use mnemonics, concept maps, colours and illustrations for better memory recall. Find out what to expect of the exam: the time frame, the type of questions, how the marks are allocated, and make a plan for how you will undertake the exam. If the exam includes an essay you will need to prepare your quotes and evidence and memorise it for likely questions. Review past exams (you can find some of these in the library).

Eat and sleep well around exams. Exercise focus techniques and take short breaks regularly while studying. Remind yourself of past successes and avoid talking with other candidates about how much work you have done. Get to the exam in good time and be sure to have what you need for it including spares and water.

Essays are still essays in exams and need the correct structure. Short answers require a clear and concise answer (not everything you know) that answers the question. Stick to the word limit. You are not normally expected to use full citations in exam essays, unless you are allowed to have notes with you or it’s an open book exam. However, if you are citing researched evidence, it would be expected to cite the author. If the exam is mathematical - show your working out clearly.

Start the exam doing the questions you find the easiest to warm up your brain. Then move onto the most difficult questions while your brain is at its most focused. Lastly, do the middle order difficulty questions. Be sure to complete all the questions you need to and clearly label each answer. It is a good idea to leave space after each answer in case you want to add more later. Alternatively, if you run out of time then jot down notes or bullet points. These can still gain you some marks. Plan to have time at the end for looking everything over.

Open book exams

The purpose of open book exams is to test your ability to quickly find relevant information and then for you to demonstrate your understanding of the relevance of this information to your answer.

You need to study for an open-book exam as much as for any other type of exam or test, but you don’t have to memorise lengthy text. You do, however, need to know about and understand the information within the text, before the exam.

Check with your tutor if you are unsure what you can have with you at an open book exam

Online exams

While usually convenient, online exams come with their own set of challenges. Overcome them with a little preparation!

Before the exam

As with any test or exam, make sure you are aware of the unit content. Read over the unit outline and pay attention to the learning outcomes. Find a way of studying that suits you - taking notes, making flash cards, or having revision sessions with friends. Make a note of any concepts you maybe having difficulty with early on and give yourself plenty of time to work through them, with extra time to find different resources if necessary. And don’t be afraid to reach out to your tutor or unit coordinator with questions.

If you’re sitting the test in your own space, you’ll need to take some time to make sure you have everything and that it’s working. You don’t have to worry so much about setting it up if you’re going to a test centre, where this is done for you, however, you still need to make sure you are aware of the date and time of your exam, as well as where you need to go and what you need to do to access it. Also make note of the time you’ll have to complete it. Be sure to check with your unit coordinator or tutor if you have any questions about how the exam will work.

With the technology sorted, find out all you can about the format of the test. For some online tests, you can go back and forth on the questions, for others, once you move onto the following question, you can’t go back. Find out whether you can or can’t, before you sit the test. It’s knowing these little things beforehand that can make you feel more comfortable about sitting the test.

Ensure you have a plan for where you’ll be taking the exam. Somewhere with a strong internet connection, where you know you will be left alone to complete the exam for the duration. You should also take care to limit any distractions you may have while taking the test or exam. Make sure the area you choose works for you, while also being free of unnecessary interruptions.

If you are provided with a practice test or exam, do it. If you are not given a practice test or exam, feel free to make your own. Use your textbook or the information from your lectures and tutorials to create your own questions, and practice completing them under exam conditions, including giving yourself a time limit. Online exams, while not historically common, are becoming more of an option, and the more practice you have the more confident you will feel in using a computer in an exam situation, as well as any software you may not have used before.

Ensure that you have checked that everything is ready to go, and make sure you do this before the day of your exam. This will give you one less thing to worry about on the day and gives you time to work through technological issues you may have. Be sure your computer is either fully charged, or can be plugged in while taking the exam, and that all available updates have been done. Also make sure you have downloaded any software you may need for the exam. Curtin’s Intelligent Remote Invigilation System (IRIS) is a computer program that you may need to utilise in your exam. For more information, visit Curtin’s preparing for and attending your exams page and select ‘Online exams using IRIS’. If you experience any issues with IRIS, or have any questions, contact Curtin Connect

During the exam

Set timers for yourself during the exam. This will help you to be aware of the time that has passed and ensure that you are working efficiently. It is often helpful to set timers for when you have 30 minutes and then 10 minutes of your exam remaining. Also if it’s open book, be aware of how much time it’s taking to look up information, deciding whether you’re going to use it, and paraphrasing it into your answer.

Try and give yourself time, either as you go or at the end of your exam, to check over your work. While it can be difficult to account for this time, it may help you to feel more confident about the work you are submitting and assist in avoiding any easy-fix mistakes you may have made.

First rule of online tests: don’t leave the test page during the test. If you need to open other web pages, open a different browser. If you do experience any technical difficulties contact your unit coordinator or tutor immediately. Tell them exactly what the problem is, and if an error message appears or your screen changes try and send them a screenshot. On a Windows computer a screenshot can be taken by holding the Windows key and pushing the Print Screen key. On a Mac, a screenshot is taken by holding down the Shift, Command and 3 keys together. By taking a screenshot and sending it to your unit coordinator or tutor, you’re giving them a better view of the situation and they may be able to help you overcome the issue.