Just like essays, exams can come in a variety of different forms and can test a variety of different aptitudes. You may be asked to answer Multiple Choice Questions. However, as Drama relies so heavily on analysis of a range of elements contained in literary and performed texts, your exams are much more likely to include a series of short answer questions and/or a number of essay questions that ask for particular kinds of analysis.
1. Multiple choice questions
Multiple choice questions might be included in exams to test the breadth of knowledge students have developed in a particular field and to give students opportunities to demonstrate their familiarity and understanding of material they have learned in lectures and tutorials and by reading set texts. However, in Drama, students are expected to utilise and apply the information they learn each week in practical tasks in tutorials and in the development of a production. As a result, multiple choices questions are less likely to be offered in exams for Drama unless your lecturer wants to test your familiarity with information on specific subjects or texts.
2. The short answer question
Short answer questions ask you to consider specific points about a subject or a text. To answer these questions accurately, you need to first identify what you are being asked to outline. If you are asked to provide a brief summary in bullet points, then do not write a paragraph. If you asked to provide a paragraph that describes a subject then be sure to construct a paragraph with descriptions of your subject rather than comparisons with other subjects. You should take your time to read the instructions included in short answer questions and then proceed to provide the information that is requested using a clear and succinct writing style.
3. Exam essays
Exam essays again exercise your ability to analyse and identify information. However, they require good preparation and a much more thorough understanding of concepts, theories, texts and performances you have studied during your course. If you feel you are likely to experience tension or stress during exam periods, strategies for collating course material effectively and preparing for your exams are offered through Student Services so be sure to arrange an appointment. If you simply need a few tips on how to collate the material you may need to write an essay in the exam, you should begin your preparation by considering how the wording of essay questions may suggest different essay structures and arguments. Once you have accounted for all the different approaches you may be asked to accommodate within your essay, you will be able to consider ways to organise the material you have learned and collated throughout the duration of your course.
Examples of active words in essay questions:
- If you are asked to identify something you are often being asked to explain or elaborate details of a concept so you may need to offer a list or outline of observations, descriptions, definitions relating to your subject.
- If you are asked to explain something you are often being asked to consider various points of view associated with a subject and to give reasons to account for something in particular.
- If you are asked to compare something with another concept or evaluation, you will be looking for similarities, differences and connections between ideas outlined in the question.
- If you are asked to argue something you are often being asked to take a position on an issue and to defend this position with evidence and convincing arguments.
- If you are asked to assess something you are often being asked to outline and utilise criteria used to evaluate, review or judge an object, practice or idea.
This information was summarised from the outlines for preparing and sitting for exams provided by The Counselling and Development Centre at York University. For more details go to:
Berenyi, Regina. How You Can Write Great Essays and Fly Through Your Exams. Katoomba, NSW: Peak Publishing, 1996.
Hamilton, Dawn. Passing Exams: A Guide for Maximum Success and Minimum Stress. London: Cassell, 1999.
Kalantizis, Mary, and Peter Wignell. Explain? Argue? Discuss? Writing for Essays and Exams. Leichardt, NSW: Common Ground, 1988.
Orr, Fred. How to Pass Exams. Crows Nest, NSW: Allen and Unwin, 2004
Exam preparation starts in Week 1. If you set up a well organised notetaking system early in the semester your exam study period will be more effective. Active participation in lectures and tutorials will ensure that you have ample opportunities to ask questions and develop a thorough understanding of the subject. Your lecturer or tutor will be more than happy to give you help as you need it throughout the semester. You should go over your notes at the end of the week and make a list of questions for your lecturer. If you keep up to date with the material throughout the semester you will find the pressure of the exam period a little easier to manage. As a general rule of thumb, you should aim to devote 10 hours per week to each 10 credit point subject that you are studying.
Example of a plan for the average work that you should do for one Drama unit each week:
- 3 hours class contact per week.
- 2 hours personal rehearsal per week.
- 3 hours research on assessment tasks per week.
- 2 hours per week devoted to reading plays and forming critical opinions of texts.
TOTAL: 10 hours per week
It may seem like you have a lot of material to juggle, but with careful preparation you can make every moment of your exam preparation count.
One Month Before the Exam:
One month should be enough time to prepare for a unit that covers a single semester. There are several important steps to follow at this point in the exam revision process.
Collect and read all the things that will be relevant to the exam. This includes:
- primary texts (plays, novels, poems, short stories, films, etc.)
- secondary texts (essays, text books, suggested readings, etc.)
- lecture notes (you may need to re-write them or fill in the gaps if you don't understand what you meant when you wrote the notes two months ago)
- unit outline
- internet notes
- assignment questions (these topics might give you some clues about possible exam questions)
- completed assessment tasks (lecturers' comments are very useful. You don't want to make the same errors in your assignment and in the exam)
This is the best time to compile a list of questions for your lecturer. Often there will be time provided in class to revise the semester's work and to prepare for the exam. Don't waste this opportunity. Be prepared to ask your lecturer to clarify any points that you have forgotten or you didn't understand throughout the semester.
List of Topics:
Create a list of topics that will be relevant to the exam. Use this list as a guide to your study regime throughout the weeks leading up to the exam.
- after reading through all of the above try to compile a list of the most important topics.
- pay particular attention to the issues that your lecturer focussed on.
make a note of any 'hints' or 'tips' that your lecturer slipped into the classes throughout the semester.
- try to write yourself some sample questions and see how effectively you can answer them without referring to your notes.
Now that you have made a list of topics that are likely to be covered on the paper, you should set up a revision timeline so that you spend at least an hour a day focussing on one of the topics on the list. [Don't forget that you will also have new content being presented during the last weeks of the semester so you should pay particular attention to managing your time effectively].
Read through your Unit Outline and ask your lecturer exactly what format the exam will take. Different styles of questions require different study strategies. Questions may be in any combination of the following styles:
- multiple choice questions.
- short answer questions requiring single sentence answers.
- short answer questions requiring an answer in the form of a paragraph.
- short essay questions (approximately 1-2 pages)
- long essay questions (approximately 3-4 pages)
You should also find out whether you need to answer every question on the paper or if there will be a choice offered to you.
Try writing yourself a practice exam paper and give yourself the same length of time to answer all of the questions as you will be given on the day. Literature and Drama exams are typically 2 hours long (but check with your lecturer to make sure).
One Week Before the Exam:
Check the Exam timetable on the ACU Internet site so that you know exactly when and where the exam is to be held. It is often a good idea to confer with other students in your class to make sure that you have the correct time and place for the exam.
Make sure that you have covered all of the topics that you added to your list of possible areas that could appear on the paper.
Some students benefit from working with a friend during this final study period. One approach may be to form a discussion group where you can learn from each other. You could each write a mock exam paper and ask the other person to sit it under exam conditions.
The Night Before:
Don't try to cram your study into one night before the test. You will be much more confident and relaxed during the exam if you do not start studying new material on the evening before. You should use this time to consolidate your knowledge of each of the topics that you have been studying intensively over the past month. You will be much better served if you have a solid revision period in the evening and get to bed early. If you are totally rested you will perform more effectively on the day.
Make sure you arrive early for the exam so that you are not flustered and stressed. Try to relax as much as possible. Exams are notoriously stressful so you need to make sure that you have adequately prepared for the day so that you can be calm in the knowledge that you are as prepared as you can be.
Use the Exam time as efficiently as possible.
- read the questions very carefully during the perusal time.
- if you have any questions about the paper you may ask the supervisor during this period.
- write down your exam strategy at the start of the paper. [ie. make yourself a time line]
Example of a plan for a 2 hour exam worth 50%. This exam has 2 sections:
PART A: 6 short answer questions (each worth 5 marks)
PART B: 2 essay questions (each worth 10 marks)
Allow 8 minutes for each of the short answer questions.
Allow 30 minutes for each of the essay questions.
Allow 12 minutes to proofread you work.
- Make sure that you stick to your exam time frame.
- Initially, try not to waste time on the questions that you do not definitely know the answers to. Come back to them at the end if you have time.
- Be as comprehensive as you can. The fuller your response, the more likely you are to answer all aspects of the question.
- Leave space at the end of your answer before you start the next question. You may find that you think up more things to say later on and you will find it easier to include them if there is space on the same page.
- Pay particular attention to the details of the question. It might be that the question is asking you to address one of the topics on your study list in a way that you hadn't considered previously. So, don't just jump in and write the first thing that comes into your head.
- Stay for the full length of time allocated. Even if you think you've finished the paper, there may be some new ideas that come to you as you proofread your answers. Use any left over time to expand some of your answers. Remember to check your spelling and grammar. Double check that you have answered all of the questions (turn over every sheet of paper to make sure that you haven't missed anything). If by staying until the end you manage to correct one error or add one extra point to your ideas then your efforts will not have been wasted.
Your Lecturer's Marking Style:
It is always best to discuss what your Lecturer is looking for in class. However, there are some general principles which many Lecturers adhere to that can guide your exam preparations. When a Lecturer marks papers s/he is usually looking for several things at one:
1. your knowledge of the topic;
2. your ability to apply that knowledge.
So, how does your Lecturer go about assessing these things? Firstly, s/he looks at the accuracy of the information that you present and then s/he looks at how you manipulate that information to address the specifications of the question.
As a general rule of thumb you could adhere to the following suggestion when answering any short answer or essay questions.
To receive one mark you will need to make a significant point and back that point up with an example (eg. from a play, novel, poem, etc.).
If you follow this basic principle you will write at least two comprehensive sentences in order to gain one mark. To gain full marks on a "5 mark" short answer question, then, you would need to write at least 10 sentences [this would be approximately 200 words or 1 page worth of handwriting]. You cannot hope to get 5 marks by writing a two or three line answer.
Another thing that your lecturer is looking for is a clear understanding of the primary material. Try to demonstrate that you understand features of the primary material such as the themes/plot/characterisations/style/etc. The best way to do this is to give lots of examples to prove that you have both read and understood the texts.
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