Writing Essays In Exam Conditions Workshop Workbook Louise Livesey



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Writing Essays In Exam Conditions

Workshop Workbook

Louise Livesey

This workshop will:

Introduce you to common examination formats

Offer strategies for managing the time allocated for the exam on the day

Consider techniques to use whilst writing essays when in an exam.

Teaching points:

Assessing your exam skills

Different exam formats

Reading the instructions

Reading the questions

Answering the questions

Techniques to employ in exams

Tips for exams

Apart from essay questions, what are the different formats you could come across in an exam?


Multiple-choice: usually require you to choose one answer from a selection.

Don’t forget to….



  1. Use the method of highlighting your answer that is in the instructions.

  2. Answer the questions you are sure of first

  3. If you are unsure of the answer, dismiss those you know are incorrect and see what you are left with.

  4. Do not leave any question unanswered – a guess might just get you a mark.

Technical: require you to apply set procedures or formulae to resolve given problems. Unlike essay-based answers, there is little opportunity for personalised approaches: there is usually a set, or correct, answer.


Don’t forget to….

  1. Pay attention to the details, e.g. units of measurement required and make sure these are clearly identified in your own answer and in all diagrams

  2. If you are required to include diagrams, use sharp pencil and proper measuring tools.

  3. Make it clear for the marker, e.g. write ‘solution’ and ‘differentiate’ where appropriate

  4. Show and highlight the method you are using



Short answer: tend to require actual or descriptive responses as opposed to essay-based exams which tend to be more analytical and creative.

You could be asked to…



  • List items e.g. key aspects of a piece of equipment

  • Main aspects of a theory

  • Reasons for the significance of a particular quote

  • Details of a simple experiment

  • Details of specific procedures, e.g. how to manipulate a limb

  • Main similarities and differences between two items/groups/theories/etc.

Don’t forget to…



  1. State your points clearly

  2. Avoid waffle – no padding out

  3. Be succinct – not unnecessary material


Activity
Before we look in detail about writing essays effectively in exams, complete the self-audit on one of the handouts.

Lots of people are nervous before an exam, including some people who say they aren’t. You will’ve attended lectures, completed coursework, revised and practised on past papers (if possible). You will not be in a rush, will’ve eaten, have all necessary equipment (pens, pencils, etc), and be fairly calm. It will all be over very soon - as King Solomon (allegedly said):


‘This too shall pass’
So you’re in, sorted out your desk and ready to read the questions. You don’t need luck, you will be fine.
You have been given the nod to start, so what do you do first?
Reading the instructions to check how many questions you need to answer for each section (if appropriate). This is so you can start to think about how much time to allocate to each question’s answer.
Activity Answers are in the back of the booklet
You must answer three essay questions and you have three hours to answer them.
With a neighbour, consider how would you allocate your time? What do you have to do with your time?

It’s not quite as simple as it seems.

What if you have an exam which asks you to do 20 multiple-choice questions; 4 short answer questions; and 1 essay? How do you split the time?
You will be told the number of marks or the % of overall marks allocated to each section. You need to allocate the appropriate time to gain the maximum marks available for each section.
Activity Answers are in the back of the booklet
You are in an exam. You are asked to complete 20 multiple-choice questions = 20 marks; 4 short answer questions = 10 marks each; and 1 essay = 60 marks. You have 2 1/2 hours.
How much time should you allocate to each section?
MCQ’s

Short answer

Essay
Reading the questions:
My dad always said
‘Don’t pick your pen up before you have read all the questions.’
This will stop the urge to start writing before making an informed choice about which question to answer, so you won’t waste time repeatedly starting answers and abandoning them. Read the questions twice as you may too nervous to remember the first ones.
Would you answer these?


  • Metaphysics: Describe in detail the nature of life after death. Test your hypothesis.




  • Write a full piano concerto. Orchestrate and perform it with a clarinet and drum. You will find a piano under your seat.




  • You will be provided with a rusty razor blade, a piece of gauze, and a full bottle of Scotch. Remove your appendix. Don't suture until your work has been inspected. You have 15 minutes.


Choosing your questions:
Mark all questions that seem possible and reread them, checking carefully how many parts there are to each question and whether you can answer all of these.
Check the exact wording of each question – what is it asking you to do? Key words and especially ‘command’ words will give you clues. Command words tell you what the marker wants you to do and how they want you to do it.

Activity Answers are in the back of the booklet
Have a look at the definition of a descriptive or analytical question. Which terms would you find in a descriptive or analytical question? Write D or A next to them…


Descriptive

Analytical

Descriptive questions test your knowledge of a subject and your ability to present ideas in a clear and organised way. You are expected to identify the component parts, main elements and distinguishing features of any topic under discussion.


Analytical questions test your knowledge of a subject – but they are more concerned with your ability to get below the surface of a subject. You are expected to examine it from different perspectives, points of view and (if applicable) to propose alternative ideas, models, and practices.

Account for Discuss Demonstrate Show how

Analyse Comment on Consider Define

Identify State Summarise Compare and contrast

Evaluate Classify Interpret Trace

Demonstrate Justify Explain Criticise Outline

Distinguish between Illustrate Describe Examine


If it helps, scribble down quick notes of relevant material you know you could include for each answer. If you have learnt mnemonics or other memory techniques, jot them down on the exam paper, spare paper or the back of your exam book if you have one. This especially helps if you have a number of possibilities and no ‘favourites’ to immediately choose from.
Don’t start writing your answers until you are sure you are going to complete them, but do start writing as quickly as you can, even if your plans are not complete (are you putting off starting to write your answer?).
Answering the questions:


  • Do a plan ensuring it covers all aspects of the question. Try writing headings with key words, references and examples beneath it. You can then add to these if you remember other points during the exam, and cross points off as you write about them. Jot down alphabetically or numerically the order of the points you are going to make. Neatness isn’t necessary, unless your plan is being marked.


Activity Answers are in the back of the booklet
Working backwards, read the short text below and jot down what your plan would be for the question:
Provide a brief overview of Mary Seacole’ life making particular mention of her work in the Crimea.
Mary Seacole was born in 1805 in Kingston, Jamaica. Her mother practised as a ‘doctress’, using medical knowledge which women had brought from Africa and developed in the Tropics. From her mother, Mary inherited her medical skills as well as her ability to run a boarding house. From her father a Scottish military man, she inherited her fascination with army life.

Mary’s own medical reputation was established during a series of cholera and yellow fever epidemics. She made her own medicines and emphasised high standards of hygiene as well as enforcing strict quarantine on victims. By these methods she saved many lives.

On the outbreak of the Crimean War, Mary volunteered her services to the British Army. Although she had worked for the army before, at its own request, this time she was turned down. Undaunted, Mary made her own way to the war zone. Once in the Crimea, she not only nursed the soldiers, but also ran a hotel and sold food, wine and medicines.

After the war, Mary was treated as a celebrity. She was decorated by the governments of four countries. In England, a poem in her honour was published in Punch and even the Royal Family requested her company and medical expertise.


Your plan:


  • Keep an eye on the clock to ensure you stay on track for all questions.




  • Make sure you are answering the question as you write.




  • Keep checking your plan to stay focused so don’t repeat yourself or waffle.




  • Write your answer as if you were writing any essay. It should have:




  • An introduction

  • A main body with the points you wish to make supported by evidence

  • A conclusion drawing together your reasoning




  • Don’t try to be clever and include jokes, or over-long quotations, or lists of questions, or anything else ‘bizarre’ or ‘new’ (unless specifically asked to do so)




  • Don’t ‘save time by just writing down ‘everything you know’ when marks are given for critical analysis, argument, evaluation and selection.



  • Include references in the text. You do not need to write a list of references or to give the titles of works as your markers will usually know the works to which you refer.




  • Read through your answers to edit and proofread – is it legible and does it make sense?


Techniques to use whilst writing essays when in an exam.
Use your first page as your ‘plans’ page and remember to put a line through them at the end (unless you are told any plans are marked)
Write on every other line for editing and proofreading purposes
Write on every second page to indicate where extra information you have just remembered should be inserted when you are editing
(Demonstration)
Take in coloured pens to show markers where additional information is inserted
Tips
Take a bottle of water in with you. Sip it slowly throughout. It’s a good way of remaining calm. Also, you can get through a lot of nervous sweat during a hard exam. Your body will work better if you replace it. There is research that suggests this can make a significant difference to your grades.
Check the back of the paper to see if there are further questions - many people forget to do this.
If there are four marks available for the description of XXX, then the marking scheme will probably have four key points. Mention them all, and you get the marks. Often, tutors will have a list of five or six points, and give one mark for each of them, up to a maximum of four. One thing you can be (reasonably) certain of: if you haven’t made four key points, you’ve missed something.
If you go blank, brainstorm words and ideas onto a sheet of rough paper or onto the back page. These will eventually begin to stimulate your ideas. Leave a space and go onto something you can do rather than sitting with the same problem. The information will probably come back to you later- and if it doesn’t, it may not be critical. Find a point of calm. Breathe slowly.
What do you do if you're running out of time?

  • You've time left to do one question, but two questions left to do. Which one do you choose? The way to maximise your marks is to do the first half of both of them. You gain marks faster at the start of a question than at the end.

  • If you don't have time to write sentences, but you do know what to include, then just write bullet points.

  • If you don't have time to do the calculations, write and explain what calculations you would do. You may get marks for method


Never leave an exam early. There is always something you can do to improve your paper. Check, and check again. When you’ve finished, start back at the beginning, and try to do the questions in different ways, and check they agree. Add more explanations.
What are your tips for other students?

References
Cottrell, S. (2007) The Exam Skills Handbook. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan
Palgrave Study Skills

http://www.palgrave.com/skills4study/studyskills/exams/techniques.asp Accessed 18.3.14


University of York

http://www-users.york.ac.uk/~dajp1/Exam_Hints/Exams.html Accessed 18.3.14


Answers
Time allocation – 180 minutes
Time to read instructions and complete student details: 5 mins – 175 mins

Time to read questions: 10 mins – 165 mins

Time to choose questions: 10 mins – 145 mins

Time to plan an answer: 10 x 3 = 30 mins = 115 mins

*take away 15 mins proofreading time leaves 100 mins ÷ 3 = 35 mins approx

Time to write an answer: 35 x 3 = 105 minutes EACH

Time to proofread answers: 15 minutes
I have slightly over-estimated how long to do all the stages APART FROM THE WRITING STAGE, but if you use this as a guide, you will only ever have MORE time to write your answer.

Time allocation – different formats

2 1/2 hours = 150 minutes




  • 20 multiple-choice questions = 20 marks so 1/6 of marks so 1/6 of time = 25 minutes

  • 4 short answer questions = 10 marks each, so 40 marks so 1/3 of marks so 1/3 time = 50 minutes

  • 1 essay = 60 marks so ½ of marks so half of time = 75 minutes

Total marks = 120



Descriptive and analytical question terms


Descriptive

Analytical

Descriptive assignment questions or tasks test your knowledge of a subject and your ability to present ideas in a clear and organised way. You are expected to identify the component parts, main elements, and distinguishing features of any topic under discussion. Descriptive command words usually include:


  • Account for

  • Classify

  • Define

  • Demonstrate

  • Describe

  • Explain

  • Illustrate

  • Identify

  • Outline

  • Show how

  • State

  • Summarise

  • Trace

Analytical questions or tasks test your knowledge of a subject – but they are more concerned with your ability to get below the surface of a subject. You are expected to examine it from different perspectives and points of view, and (if applicable) to propose alternative ideas, models and practices. The command words for analytical questions typically include:


  • Analyse

  • Comment on

  • Compare and contrast

  • Consider

  • Criticise

  • Discuss

  • Distinguish between

  • Evaluate

  • Examine

  • Explore

  • Interpret

  • Justify


Command word

Descriptive terms

Action expected

  • Define




  • Describe




  • State




  • Classify




  • Identify

You are expected to locate, identify, and present the main features, elements, or components of the topic under discussion and, if applicable, the underpinning theoretical knowledge of the subject.

  • Demonstrate




  • Illustrate




  • Show how

As above, plus you would be expected to present and explain examples to show that you understand how something works, e.g. how a theory, model, idea, or practice can be applied to a given situation.


  • Outline




  • Summarise

You are expected to identify and summarise the main points of the topic under discussion.

  • Trace

This means that you identify and outline the stages of development of the topic under discussion.

  • Account for




  • Explain

You would clarify why something is as it is, or what happened in any given situation.

Analytical terms

Action expected

  • Discuss

  • Examine

  • Explore

  • Evaluate

  • Consider

  • Interpret

  • Comment on

If you see any of these command terms you are expected to identify and explain the main features of the subject under discussion, including the main theories, ideas, models, or practices underpinning the topic.

If applicable, you would be expected to know of and weigh up any counter-arguments and to make connections between different ideas, models, or practices.



  • Analyse




  • Criticise

This involves a detailed scrutiny of the topic in question. This could include explaining the origins, structure, organisation, or development of the topic in question, the positive and negative features of it, and the connections between theories, ideas, models, and practices. You would also demonstrate your awareness of any flaws in particular points of view, and your knowledge of alternative viewpoints.

  • Justify

This involves making out a case and giving reasons to support a particular viewpoint, position, judgement, or decision against other possibilities.

  • Compare and contrast




  • Distinguish between

This involves a close study of the differences between one idea, phenomena, or situation, and another. You would need to identify the structure or features of one and make comparisons with another. You may be required to make a judgement on which is more applicable or relevant for the situation in question.

Plan/template – use whatever format you prefer. Extra activity – fill in gaps.



Arguments

Main Information

Supporting Detail

Ideas, theories, opinions and line of reasoning that you want to include in your assignment. These don’t have to be in the final order you will use in your writing.

Main examples and types of evidence that support your line of reasoning.

Lesser details, facts, names, statistics, dates and examples that support your main argument.

Mary Seacole example: try to fill in the gaps below

General background information




Born in Kingston, Jamaica

Early medical reputation

Made own medicines: newspapers from the time, eye witness accounts, later text books





The Crimean War








After the war










www.brad.ac.uk/academic-skills




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