As I’m sure many students across the country can relate to, we have just finished our Term 1 exams! I turned in my last final over a week ago (12 Dec) and I could not be more excited. The last 2-3 weeks was a real push to finish projects, revise for exams, and actually take them, so I was definitely in need of some time off.
In this post I want to discuss the exam process at the university. As it is something you will not be able to avoid, I thought it might be helpful to have an idea of what to expect. I will be writing another post within the next week talking about the importance of using breaks to be productive, so be sure to check back for that one!
Exams at Aston
For Term 1 I had four modules and I had to sit for exams in three of them. My fourth exam was two 1,500 essays that we completed throughout the final week of the term. I’m going to break this section up into two parts. Part 1 will be about what to do before the exams to prepare and Part 2 will talk about what to expect during the exams.
Part 1: Preparing for Exams
Depending on the type of exam you are given, you will need to prepare and manage your time differently. For timed exams where you have to sit in the monitored room, you will need to allot more time to revising and preparation. For exams that are given to you to complete outside of the classroom, you will need to allocate designated time around your revising to complete them. As exams are given in Week 10, the university reserves Week 9 as a a review week.
For the three exams I had to sit for, I began preparing for them in Week 9. Had I not been working to complete group assignments, I would have gladly began revising earlier. Depending on your schedule and assignments, you may be able to begin reviewing before Week 9, but do not be worried if you are working on assignments until Friday of Week 8. As I mentioned, the university allocates Week 9 to be a review time, so all of your assignments should have to be turned in by the end of Week 8.
You should expect to spend a good amount of time revising for the exams (I spent roughly 10 hours per day in the library throughout Week 9). The professors are good about telling you what to expect on the exams (the topics of the questions and major areas to cover), but as this is a MSc and we want to receive a Distinction, simply giving an answer is not enough. Rather, you will be expected to provide detailed, logical arguments that incorporate facts from the given case, theories and frameworks covered in class, and empirical evidence to support your answer. As such, it is important that in your revision you are covering only the most relevant information. With so much data and material in front of you, it is easy to become overwhelmed or distracted by meaningless information. To combat this, I made it a point to routinely look over the potential questions and topics given by the professors and compare what I was reviewing to what may be asked in the exam. If I was not able to use the information in a meaningful way, I would rethink my approach and change topics.
One last tidbit I can give to you is that, while Week 9 is dedicated to revision, your exam preparation will continue into Week 10. For example, after completing an exam that ran from 9:30 am to 12:00 pm on Monday, I spent the next 9 hours in the library preparing for an exam on Wednesday. I then worked all of Tuesday on my essays, and after completing the exam on Wednesday at 12:30 pm, I spent the rest of the day revising for my Thursday exam. While it can seem a bit overwhelming, once you realise you have this additional time during Week 10 to revise, yuo become oddly thankful you get to spend the entire day studying (It’s weird, I know).
Part 2: Taking Exams
The exams I sat for were held in the Sports Hall on campus. There are different time slots, but mine were all from 9:30 am onward. The Sports Hall itself can be a bit intimidating the first time you go in to take an exam. Basically, it’s a massive room with rows of desks for test-takers, and approximately five test monitors observing to ensure all rules and regulations are followed. Your name is printed on a sheet of paper outside the hall, and next to your name is a number which indicates your assigned seat. There are very strict rules and guidelines for exams which can be found here. I won’t go into detail about them here, but be sure you abide by them to avoid any issues with your results.
The three exams that I had to sit for lasted between 2-3 hours each, depending on the number of questions and the case study. In one of my modules, the professor gave us the case two weeks before the exam, so we had a chance to read over it and prepare. In that particular exam, we were given just two hours to complete three questions. While that may seem like a lot of time, the professors usually expect your responses to cover a minimum of two pages each.
For the two exams where the case study was not given beforehand, one was 2.5 hours and the other was 3 hours. Each had us answer two questions, and reading the case usually took approximately 30 minutes. In these exams, it was very important to thoroughly read the case study and highlight any important parts. My strategy was to read the questions first to have an idea of what information I would need, and then read the case study to find the answers and supporting info.
No matter which of the formats you find yourself in, the most important thing to remember is to manage your time wisely! I cannot stress enough how important it is to work decisively on the questions. There is not enough time to work halfway through a question and decide you would rather answer a different one. After speaking with many of my colleagues, nearly all of them said managing their time was the most difficult aspect of the exams.
So how do you do this? Well, as I said earlier, my strategy was to read the questions first and then go through the case study with them in mind. From listening to what others had to say, they may have spent too much time reading the case studies. This can be a difficult task, and I’m going to leave it to you to decide how thoroughly you want to read them. However, I will say that if English is not your native language, it may be worth spending a few extra minutes reading through them to ensure you are comfortable with the content.
The next piece of advice I will give is to allocate a proportionate amount of time to each question. If one question is worth 75% of the total mark, it is in your best interest to reserve more time to answering that question. If all questions are weighted equally, I would suggest completing the ones you are most confident with first to ensure you get as many points as possible on those. Regardless of how you choose to answer the questions, it is important to stay aware of the time and work accordingly.
Well I have made this post long enough! If you have made it this far I would like to thank you for reading. I know exams can be a stressful time for all students, but I want to assure you Aston and its professors go to great lengths to prepare you for them. From the dedicated revision week to the outstanding lectures given throughout the term, the university gives you the tools and time you need to do well on your exams. If you are willing to put the time in to review, I am positive you will be ready for anything they throw at you!
Thanks for reading! If you have any questions leave a comment below.