Starting Your Exam Right

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This is the fifth and final blog in this series on how to successfully prepare for an exam. If you found these blogs helpful and want to see more, be sure to follow me on LinkedIn, “Like” SeeWhy Learning on Facebook, and subscribe to SeeWhy Learning’s YouTube channel, where we periodically post free videos.

Because I only have your attention for a few minutes, I thought it would be appropriate to focus this blog post on the most critical phase of your exam: the beginning. To start off on the right foot, we recommend doing a two-minute brain dump and then creating a road map.

Have you ever known something like the back of your hand, but when you were put on the spot and asked about it, you froze, and your mind went blank?

The next time that you’re at a dinner party, ask one of your married friends when their anniversaries are, and you’ll see what I mean. Even if they remember, for a split second you’ll see that deer-in-the-headlights look, especially if their spouse is paying close attention. Not only must they answer correctly, but they must also answer quickly. Temporary amnesia can happen in other situations as well. I was once asked for my parents’ phone number, which hasn’t changed in more than twenty years, and my mind went blank. I simply couldn’t remember it despite the fact that I had dialed it hundreds of times before. Of course, when I looked at the dial pad on my phone, the numbers came rushing back. But when it comes to an exam, you usually aren’t allowed to consult your textbook to jog your memory.

For this reason, we recommend doing a two-minute brain dump the moment your exam begins. In other words, create a list that includes formulas, acronyms, memory aids, or other facts that you have learned recently—anything that you’re worried about forgetting. This isn’t a list that you should randomly develop on exam day. It should be a living, breathing document that you update throughout your studies. If you follow this tip and practice, you will be amazed at how much you can remember and how much information you can jot down in only a few minutes.

This strategy is so effective, it may feel like cheating. But it isn’t! It is part of writing a smart exam. However, this strategy comes with an important warning: be sure to write your brain dump on paper that the exam proctor has provided or on the back of the exam so that you can easily prove that you didn’t bring it into the exam with you.

After completing your brain dump, the next step is to create a road map.

In a stressful exam environment, it’s easy to lose track of time. I bet at least once in your academic career, the exam invigilator called out something like “time is half up,” and you looked down at your exam and realized you were way behind. To help prevent this from happening, create a road map. You wouldn’t hop in your car and drive to a destination like Florida without mapping out your route ahead of time, and you shouldn’t write an exam without doing so either.

Let’s assume you are writing an exam that starts at 6:00 p.m., consists of 100 questions, and you are allotted 2 hours to complete it. This means that you need to answer an average of twenty-five questions every thirty minutes. Map out your route by immediately going to Question 25 and writing 6:30 beside it. Then go to Question 50 and write 7:00, and finally go to Question 75 and write 7:30.

I expect most students to fall behind initially because they are too careful at the beginning of the exam. For example, nobody wants to start off “0 for 1” or “0 for 2.” If they don’t know the answer, they keep staring at the question as though the answer is going to magically pop into their head. On the other hand, if they think they know the answer, they often keep thinking and thinking about it. Either way, students can waste valuable time contemplating the first few exam questions. For this reason, consider mapping your exam route in even further detail. Continuing with our example, let’s add an earlier pit stop and write 6:15 beside Question 12. At this point, you should have completed 12 or 13 questions. Even if we account for your two-minute brain dump at the beginning of the exam, there’s still plenty of time left to finish.

When you reach each of these checkpoints, it will almost force you to look at your watch and gauge your progress. It’s as though your trainer is tapping you on the shoulder and saying, “You were supposed to be here by 6:15. How are you doing?” If you’re behind, this will be your wake-up call to stop second-guessing yourself and hold yourself more accountable to time. Put your foot on the figurative gas pedal, and try to hit your next checkpoint on time.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this series, but keep in mind there is only so much I can cover in a short weekly blog. For more great content, check out our social media platforms and With Labour Day come and gone and the kids back in school, perhaps it’s time you think about taking a course with us. We have recently launched a ninety-minute video series titled Investment Fundamentals. If you are considering a career in financial services or want to learn more about this topic, you can try this series for an introductory price of only $14.99. It’s an easy way to get started!

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