I was asked by the Pearson (the publishers) to contribute a session to the annual Law Express revision day. They asked me to talk about exams and in particular about how you survive them.
I never liked exams as a student and I wasn’t initially all that good at them. I just didn’t get the point. After a conversation with my tutor at university I realised that I didn’t have to get the point, I just had to treat taking exams as a skill that can be learned like any other skill and I had to let go of the idea that to do well in an exam you have to know everything and remember it.
So that really was the message I wanted to share – if you’re taking an exam just remember that as long as you have attended classes, done the work you’ve been asked to do as you’ve gone a long and have done a sensible amount of revision, you will know and understand a lot of stuff. You do not need to learn everything, you need to understand it and then there might be one or two things you absolutely have to remember (and they can be written down very quickly) but the rest you just need to think about. Trust yourself and remember to use your brain when you get into the exam.
The other key message is this: There is no right way to prepare and to deal with exam pressure and stress – work out what works for you and stop worrying about what others are doing. To be honest people who start writing the second the examiner says ‘you may start’ freak me out a little. I still wonder what the hell they are writing – I’d like to at least read the question paper before I start writing but then I guess others get panicked by the fact that someone next to them isn’t writing immediately. It’s about what works for you and we’re all different.
I still don’t really like exams, luckily I don’t have to take any but I don’t like setting them either. Exams are weird, artificial and sometimes unnecessarily hostile with the uncomfy chairs, too small desks, loudly ticking clocks and stern looking examiners/inivgilators. Pens never run out in lectures, they save that for exams, water bottles only leak in exams, your usually comfy pants suddenly make you feel really self-conscious and then you can’t remember anything at all… But try and remember this: Exams are there to test your ability to apply what you know to a practical or theoretical question within a given time. They are not a memory test, so it is not about remembering lots of information, it is about understanding stuff and if you understand something you will be able to think about it, use it and develop it when you get into the exam room.
Anyway, just in case they are useful to any of you, my slides from the day are here: