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Succeed at Exams

What is a short-answer exam?

  • On a short-answer exam you are asked to provide a concise, yet thorough, written answer to a question, usually using complete sentences.
  • These exams test your ability to integrate what you’ve learned in the lectures, readings, and discussions, and to apply that knowledge.

What are some strategies for studying for short-answer exams?

  • Reread course outlines to get a sense of the themes around which the course is organized.
  • Review your lecture and text notes, looking for these themes, and ideas, concepts, and trends that recur throughout the course.  Organize your study notes around these major ideas. Integrate content from lectures with notes from the text or readings as you create your study notes.
  • Study actively - explain concepts out loud, teach them to a friend, or use concept mapping to organize your thoughts and show how concepts are related or differentiated.
  • Arrange a study group to discuss possible questions and key issues or concepts from the course.
  • Use old midterms, your course outline, study partners, and your lecture and text notes to help you predict and create possible questions.
  • Practise answering these questions within a limited time frame.

What are some strategies for writing the short-answer exam?

  • ​Read the instructions carefully, noting how many questions you need to answer in each section.
  • Read all the questions on the exam before you begin writing. Consider the mark distribution and divide your time accordingly. 
  • Pay close attention to the wording of the question. Ask yourself WHAT you are being asked to do and HOW you are required to do it.
  • Try to leave enough time to read over your answers at the end of the exam to make sure each response includes the required components.

What can I do after the exam?

  • It can be helpful to look over your exam to see where you have gone wrong, and what you have done well. If your instructor doesn’t routinely return exams, ask if you can see yours to learn from your errors.
  • Use this information to help you study more effectively next time.
  • Check out the error analysis guide to help you go over feedback.

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