On the eve of the Victorian Year 12 Drama and Theatre Studies written exams, I thought I’d share some thoughts with you about the whole exam process.
Sometimes students and their teachers get bogged down in content, content, content. All everyone worries about is content, because ultimately, the exam paper has a number of questions on it that will test the students knowledge of various parts of the course. It seems pretty logical.
Granted, without knowledge of content, a student cannot complete a successful examination paper. But sometimes in the flurry of concern over whether students know their content properly, one important factor has not been given due attention…
And without good exam techniques, I’d argue you can have all content knowledge in the world and you won’t complete a successful exam paper without these either. Because without proper exam techniques, you won’t even finish the paper! You’ll walk out of the exam room with the responses to three questions still running around in your head, when they should have been written in the script booklet, instead.
I don’t consider myself an expert on exam techniques by any means, but I hope these few tips for students help in some way. Here’s the exam techniques I teach my students:
It all starts the night before the exam. Be well rested and arrive to the exam centre in plenty of time. Make sure you’re both physically and mentally fresh, because your brain is about to get a whirlwind of a workout in a very short space of time.
Use Reading Time Wisely
The most underrrated part of the exam is not even a question on the paper. It’s the paper itself! So reading time, the so-called boring bit before the real exam starts, is actually one of the most important parts of the exam. Reading time is well utilised by the smarter students and often wasted by the weaker students. You should read the paper carefully and at least once. Many students read it twice. You must formulate how you will respond to questions during this time. A small proportion of students answer questions out of order (as they appear on the paper) every year, so if you are a candidate for this (and it is quite acceptable to do so), then determine the order of your responses during reading time. It is not a time to stress about what you can or cannot recall, but rather a time to use wisely and plan your upcoming 90 minutes properly.
Before You Start
Once reading time is finished and candidates are given the instruction to commence writing, the very first thing my students do is underline key words in every single question on the paper. These would generally include words such as describe, discuss, analyse and evaluate. Sometimes, they could be words that ask for a number of examples, such as three. Or it may be and or or, between two content parts of a question. If you’re swift, this should only eat up about two or three minutes of writing time, but the rewards are many and definitely make this process worthwhile. Having done this, you’ll be unlikely to miss vital parts of the exam questions and can at least rest assured you responded, to the best of your ability, to what the question asked. Otherwise, it is so easy to respond to half a question by accident or forget to evaluate something etc.
No Such Thing As A Favourite Question
Spend too long on your favourite question because you know the answer really well and you can write your ticket to an incomplete exam paper. There is no such thing as a favourite question. You may want to answer an ‘easier’ question first to get the ball rolling, but whatever you do, do not spend a disproportionate amount of time on it.
Divide and Conquer
You must look carefully at the marks awarded for each question and divide your time accordingly. Do this in reading time and get a fair idea for yourself in advance of writing. It is only the weak students who pay little attention to the allocation of marks. There’s nothing wrong with jotting down an approximate time allocation next to each question on the exam paper as soon as writing time commences, if you are able. Alternatively, there is definitely something wrong with spending ten minutes on a response worth just two marks.
Finish The Paper
This is not intended to sound cocky, but for a lot of my students this year, content is not the problem. They have a good grasp of what the course is about for the exam. Time management is Enemy No.1, not knowledge of content. And it all comes down to discipline in your exam techniques. If you have the discipline to finish a response and move on to the next one because it is time to do so, then you will likely finish the paper. Let’s face it, the alternative is rushing like a crazy person in the last fifteen minutes and you’d have to question the quality of those last couple of responses under those circumstances, anyway. It’s certainly not going to be your best work. But more often than not, one or more questions remains unanswered at the end of the exam. There is not a worse feeling in the pit of your stomach than leaving the exam room with a bunch of questions unanswered, because exam paper in hand, you can count the marks you will never get. There is simply no excuse for not finishing the paper. Wouldn’t you rather answer all questions and get a couple of 4/6 responses than get one 6/6 response and leave 12 marks not awarded because you never got to those questions?
Save your dreaming for schoolies. Do not dream in the exam room. There simply isn’t the time. It is not an exaggeration to say your eyes should never leave your exam paper and script booklet for the entire length of the examination. Let’s offer a scary example as proof. The 2005 Drama exam, under the broad number of four questions, was actually eleven questions long. Although students should have divided their individual response times according to the weighting of each question, the average response time allocated was just over 8 minutes per question (90 minutes divided by eleven questions). Now that means you need to be writing furiously the entire time. If your writing hand isn’t hurting half way through, you’re taking it too easy. If you’ve got ten minutes to spare at the end, something is seriously wrong! On that note, if you are fortunate and find yourself with a couple of minutes at the end, well done, and use this time for a quick scan over your responses and make a few adjustments along the way if necessary.
I’d say ‘good luck’, but luck plays little part in completing a successful Drama or Theatre Studies exam. Armed with the necessary knowledge in your head, it’s all about the execution of that information in the exam room and this is where proper exam techniques play a vital role.