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The Most Important Minutes: Planning your Time in Exams

I believe that the most important minutes of the exam are the first 15 minutes and the last 15 minutes. These are the crucial moments when you often feel like dropping dead from the stress of it all. Here are a couple of tips on how to stay calm and use your time wisely…

The First 15 Minutes

Whether you have reading time or not, the first 15 minutes should be the time you’re revving up the engine. It should give you enough time to stop freaking out. Take a big deep breath.

If you have to go to the toilet, it’s too late now. You should have gone before entering the exam hall. But if you forgot, ask for a bathroom break now. As fast as you can.

1. It goes without saying, but lecturers tell fail-tales about this all the time. Read the instructions on the front page of the exam carefully! It’s amazing the important instructions students miss in the moment of panic: eg. Answer ONE question from each section, NOT ALL of the questions from each section.

2. Think about your answer and draft a rough outline. You’d be a fool to dive in headfirst and start scribbling like a headless chook. You want structured and logical answers. It’s all about going back to basics.

For problems/cases, use the IRAC method. Some problems are complex so draw a diagram if you have to. Flow charts are particularly good for those problems containing nine issues you can superficially spot involving five generations of two feuding families concerning several thousands of dollars and spanning across eight different jurisdictions.

For essays, you’ll need to map out the beginning, middle and end. Having a rough outline for each section will mean you’re less likely to be distracted from the key points.

3. If you’re not allowed to write just yet and you’re lucky enough to have an open book exam, get your post-its out and start sticking like it’s nobody’s business. Allocate a colour for each question so that when you’re ready to answer, you know exactly which page to turn to without getting discombobulated. Otherwise, dog-ear pages on your textbook and cross your fingers that you don’t confuse yourself.

4. Most students in their final week of semester are given an idea of how many questions will be on the exam and how much each is worth. If you’re one of the lucky ones, you should have worked out how many minutes you need to spend on each. It’s obvious that you will be spending more time on the question worth 20 marks than the one worth 15 points.

If you're only discovering the exam breakdown now, this is a good time for you to utilise the leftover maths skills from Year 12. Quickly work out how much time you should be spending on each question.

5. Lastly, look around you. Yes. Every single person in that exam room is as freaked out as you are. You’re not alone. Take comfort in that.

The Last 15 Minutes

It’s hammer time. Don’t panic at the thought of only having 15 minutes left. Take a few deep breaths.

1. Go back to the questions you haven’t attempted and try and complete them. If you’ve got a couple to go, start answering in bullet points. Yes, you didn’t answer in properly laid out paragraphs, but the most important thing is getting the answer on paper. Besides, your fingers and wrist must be hurting like hell at this stage and writing in bullet points will save you physiotherapy visits.

2. If you’ve been absolutely fabulous and completed everything, go back and read through your answers. You’ve got time so you might as well use it to cover any patches in your responses.

3. Just in case you forgot to do that at the beginning of the exam, make sure you’ve got your name on each answer booklet. It really infuriates invigilators (and they are usually grumpy) when they say ‘pens down’ and you’re frantically scribbling your surname, which happens to contain all 26 letters of the alphabet. It also drives invigilators crazy when they come to collect your exam booklet and they have to wait while you write your name on all seven answer books.

Good luck for your final exams!

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