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Top Tips For Taking Exams

Exams are one of the most anxiety-inducing aspects of studying Physiotherapy at University. Your success on the course is largely determined by written exams, practicals, and competencies, which adds to the pressure felt by Physiotherapy students. This stress can be even more overwhelming if you have always naturally struggled with exams. However, there are strategies you can use to reduce stress and improve your performance, which we will discuss in this post.

Repetitive Practice

To improve any skill, we need to practise the specific tasks that we want to excel at. Therefore, if you struggle with exam-taking, it's crucial to increase your practice time. You can ask your faculty to provide you with some practice questions or examples of the types of questions that will appear on the exam. This will help you become familiar with the style of exam questions and potential topics you might encounter on test day.

Another approach is to collaborate with your study group and create questions. For example, if your group consists of five members and each person contributes ten questions, this will provide you with a comprehensive practice exam and help you prepare for the real test. If this is difficult to arrange or you are concerned about the quality of practice questions, you can prepare for exams using the AcePhysio spaced learning question bank which provides case study questions and full answer explanations for each specialty.

Minimise stress

The first step to control your stress is arriving at the exam venue early, as showing up late and frazzled can negatively impact your performance. Dealing with traffic, parking, and rushing into the exam building at the last minute can elevate stress levels, adding to the anxiety you may already be experiencing. This can cause hormones such as cortisol ,that inhibit academic performance, to go into overdrive.

To overcome this, take the necessary measures to arrive at least 15 minutes early at the exam venue. This could mean taking the day off, leaving work early if possible or departing from your home earlier than usual. Once you arrive at the venue, take your time to settle in. Visit the bathroom, grab or finish your coffee, read a book or listen to some music. If you can find a quiet space, there are excellent guided meditation videos on YouTube specifically designed for students that feel overwhelmed by upcoming exams.

Should you cram before an exam? The short answer is yes, if it has worked for you in the past. In an ideal situation, you should revise all the topics before the exam and just gloss over high-yield topics immediately before the exam. If you have tried to cram in the past and felt that you became more stressed as a result, avoid using the last few minutes before the exam cramming in more information. Either you know the information or not, and cramming will only exacerbate your stress levels and decrease your performance.

Now that you have your stress under control, it is important that you have reliable test strategies in place.

Take your time

Undergraduate Physiotherapy exams often have a time limit, which can lead to heightened stress and a tendency to hurry through the test. However, rushing can cause important details to be overlooked. To avoid missing key information, it's important to take the time to carefully read all instructions and questions, paying attention to specific words and phrases. If permitted, consider underlining or circling important details on the exam paper. It's important to minimise the risk of losing points due to careless errors, especially when you know the correct information. Taking the time to approach the exam methodically can improve your chances of success.

Make steady progress

While some people suggest tackling easier questions first and then returning to more challenging ones, this may not be the most effective strategy for several reasons. Firstly, making too many decisions can exhaust the brain and reduce its capacity for further decision-making. Answering all the easier questions first means you'll have to tackle the harder ones when your brain is already fatigued.

Secondly, skipping around the test wastes time. You have to spend time flipping through pages and scanning for specific questions, which could be better used answering questions in order. While marking questions for later review is okay, it's best to make a decision and record an answer before moving on.

Thirdly, skipping around makes it easier to miss questions on the answer sheet. If you answer questions in order and fill out the answer sheet systematically, you're less likely to miss any questions. However, if you skip around and try to fill in missed questions later, you may miss some, resulting in lost points.

Overall, answering questions in order is the better approach to ensure that you don't miss any points due to careless errors. It's important to avoid decision fatigue and make efficient use of your time to maximize your chances of success on the exam.

Bonus tip

It's important to remember that faculty members who create exams can make mistakes, and you can use this to your advantage. Skilled test-takers often take advantage of the biases that test creators have, whether intentionally or unintentionally, and these biases create patterns on exams.

One pattern that's relatively easy to recognise is when two multiple choice answers are opposites of each other. In these cases, it's likely that one of them is the correct answer. When faculty members create multiple choice questions, they typically begin by crafting the question and then immediately writing the correct answer. From there, they come up with three more answer choices that are incorrect, leaving only one correct answer. Often, the first wrong answer that comes to mind is the opposite of the correct answer, resulting in two opposite choices within each question.

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