Full marks in science exams you say? Well, obviously most of it’s down to you and how you revise, but you can easily bump your grade up to 100% with these easy to follow tips.
As a maths and physics student having just finished my third year, I feel as though I may finally be qualified to lend some helpful advice about taking science exams I’ve gathered over the years.
This advice might not work for everyone, but it’s worked well for me up until now, so don’t take these as fact.
It’s mostly applicable to maths and physics exams, since they’re my bread and butter, but this advice could be extrapolated to the other sciences too.
1. Read the Question
Yes I know it sounds horribly cliché, and I’m sure you’ve all heard this one before, but there’s a reason for that.
I can’t think of how many times I’ve come out of an exam and almost cried because I lost 10 marks by misreading.
Now, there’s more to this that just ‘reading the question’ because, let’s be honest, that’s not actually that helpful.
What I also mean is: take some time to actually make sure you understand what’s being asked.
What information have you been given? What can you infer from this? And what do you need to calculate?
If it’s a longer question, you can write all of these things out explicitly; deconstruct the question into bullet points.
If it’s a shorter question, this probably isn’t necessary, and you’ll get away just by thinking a little.
As an example, I can remember in my most recent exams, there was a question which always came up in past papers:
‘Calculate the first order correction to the energy.’
This meant that you plugged the numbers into a formula, and churned out the result.
However, this year, the lecturer mixed it up. This year, he asked for the total, corrected energy.
This meant you had to calculate the correction, and then add it to the base energy.
Initially, in haste, I substituted all the numbers in, got the correction, and moved on.
However, when I went back to check, and actually read over the question properly, I noticed my error.
I simply added one line, and probably increased my mark by about 4%.
While this might not sound like much, if I did that for a few questions, that’s the difference between a first, and a 2:1.
2. Move On if You Don’t Understand
Other people might disagree with me on this one, but it works for me.
Essentially, when you’re reading through each of the questions, you’ll probably have a sense of whether or not you know what’s going on.
If you think you know what to do, go ahead. Have an initial effort, and see where it takes you.
If this try isn’t working out, stop, and move onto the next question.
If you haven’t a clue from the beginning, again, just move on. There’s no point staring at a blank page when there are other questions you could be doing.
Sometimes it’s also necessary to look at the number of marks; if it’s a high mark question, then it might be worth having a go just to test the waters.
If it’s only a few marks, then it’s definitely better to move on.
When you’ve finished the rest of the paper, go back through and work out which question you’re going to focus on.
You might have a few questions you’ve left blank. If so, you might want to think about each question’s weighting, and whether it’s a sub question of a larger one.
Basically, now, you just repeat the process, but with a bit more leniency to let yourself try the question before giving up.
Once you’ve gone through this process twice or thrice (what a word that is) and you’ve still got a few stragglers left blank, it’s probably time to give up on them.
Write what you can in the hope you can get some marks, and go back through and check on your other questions you have answered.
This way you’ll ensure that the questions you’re able to do are actually done correctly, and you haven’t made any silly mistakes (hopefully).
3. Only Calculate at the End
When I was in sixth form, I always calculated everything as soon as it appeared.
For example, if I were calculating the kinetic energy, I’d work out the velocity value first, then plug that into the energy formula.
While this might be alright for a calculation of that scale, in bigger ones, there is a large risk for rounding errors.
In addition, you might end up over-calculating; things might have cancelled if you’d have left them as algebraic.
When I got to university, I was instantly told to change my habits.
The proper way to answer a question, at least a physics one, is as follows:
Leave everything in symbols and equations while you’re working out. Only plug in the values for each letter at the very end.
Obviously, if there are sub parts which each ask for a different component, leading up to the final calculation, then you should absolutely calculate those values to actually answer the question.
4. Write Out Definitions
This one’s more applicable to a maths exam, but it works in longer science questions, or derivations.
If you’re a bit stuck on where to start, then this can really help.
Basically, you just write out the definitions of each of the things in the statement you’re trying to prove.
This way, it’s easier to visualise how you might link them together.
Remember to be precise when writing out the definitions since your proofs and derivations will need to be.
Another thing to note: cross out the definitions which you didn’t use, or that aren’t that relevant, since it could affect the flow of your answer otherwise.
5. State the Obvious
While I appreciate the irony in me stating a rather obvious tip here, it’s still vitally important.
In an explain or define question, we often get caught up in trying to remember every tiny detail.
In reality, those tiny details might warrant a mark or two at best. However, by thinking about these details, you’re forgetting something more valuable.
There are usually a few marks for simply stating things which you might take as assumed.
By writing out everything related to the question, you ensure that you maximise your marks.
As an example, when I was doing past papers for this exam session, I noticed something in a lot of the 6 mark plus questions.
There were frequently at least 2 or 3 marks simply for a sentence, which I would have taken as completely obvious.
This meant that in my actual exams, I regurgitated everything I could remember out onto the page.
As long as it’s relevant, you can only gain marks.
However, there is a caveat to this tip:
Be sure what you’re writing out is relevant, because if it’s not, then you can lose marks for waffling.
Thanks For Reading
Right, that’s it for this post. I hope some of these were helpful, and that I didn’t waffle on too long.
One final note is this:
It’s really up to you. Anyone can get high marks in exams, it just takes practice and dedication.
If you’re doing GCSEs or A-Levels, I found physics and maths tutor really helpful. They make all the past papers and resources available in one place.
If you’d like any more advice, or you have any suggestions, please leave a comment below, or contact me here.
Take a look around at some of my other posts, and hopefully you’ll find something interesting.
And thanks to freesvg.org for the featured image.