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Preparing for short answer exam questions

Short answer questions test your recall of information and ability to apply knowledge. This requires an active approach to revision as it’s not enough just to ‘know’ the content. It’s really important to activate your knowledge by practising answers and testing your recall of information.

You can make your exam preparation more effective by setting goals for each revision session and having strategies for the exam itself.

Revision Sessions

• Study in short blocks (no longer than 50 minutes)
• Understand and memorise key terms, theories, concepts, and applications
• Make concept maps to see how theories and concepts relate
• Think about how to apply the theories and concepts to real world scenarios
• Practise any relevant calculations or formula
• Complete all questions from textbooks, online quizzes or tutorials
• Make sure you access all practice questions and past exam papers
• Develop and answer your own set of questions
• Work with a study buddy to test and motivate each other

Exam Strategies

• Carefully check the marks allocated for each question
• Make a quick plan for how long you can spend on each section
• If a question is worth 10% of the marks, then it deserves 10% of exam time
• Plan to have some time at the end to check your answers
Read the instructions carefully and note if you need to use full sentences or paragraphs
• Answer questions you are most confident about first
• Make sure that you are addressing the question and not going off track
• If you run out of time, make sure you at least write something for each remaining question

It can be tempting to keep pushing yourself during revision but if your concentration level starts to slip, it’s much better to take a break and start again when you are more alert.
If you’re keen to learn more about exam prep and different types of assessment at QUT check out our online resources.

And above all, a positive, calm mindset will go a long way to exam success!!

Dealing with distractions

I might just quickly just check my phone. I need to create a new playlist before I start revision. I’d better put on some washing. Does this sound familiar to you?

We can all get distracted when studying or when we have things we don’t want to do. During exam time particularly it’s really important to work out what is taking up your time so that you can avoid distractions and maximise your revision.

Track your time

Keep a time-use diary and list what you do each hour. After 24 hours, identify your patterns and see where you might be able to save time. Looking at time in blocks helps you be more productive.
For example, are you spending too much time on these activities?

  • Reading or watching TV
  • Re-writing notes
  • Catching up with friends
  • Checking social media
  • Online games or browsing
  • Cleaning or organising things
  • Once you know where your time’s going it’s easier to manage it.

    Create digital discipline

    If you’re distracted by emails or text messages, turn off your phone or lock it away while you are concentrating on study. You can even schedule in specific blocks of time for calls and emails. You can also use apps to restrict access to sites that may tempt you away from your revision. Check out these tools:

      RescueTime to track your time on websites and apps.
      Cold Turkey allows you to schedule blocks when you need them or simply reduce distractions by adding pomodoro-style breaks or allowances.
      SelfControl is a free and open-source app for macOS that lets you block anything on the Internet.
      StayFocusd is a productivity extension for Google Chrome that helps you stay focused on study.
      LeechBlock NG is a simple productivity tool for Firefox to block those time-wasting sites.
    Avoid procrastination

    It’s more common to avoid things when you feel overwhelmed with a task. Use a study plan to break down your revision into smaller tasks and set deadlines for each topic or unit. Use checklists and quizes to test yourself and identify what you need to focus on. Perhaps reward yourself with a coffee or treat when you check something off the list.
    Try to be selective with your reading and always read with a purpose in mind. It can help to have a set of questions you want to answer.

    Maximise your time

    We are all different so it’s important to work out when in the day you concentrate best. If you’re more productive in the morning, try organising your time so you study early in the day and take breaks or socialise later on. Or if you’re a night owl you can use the morning to relax or exercise and plan your study for the afternoon. It’s important to schedule regular breaks so that you are working at your best.

    Set yourself up for success

    Find a place to study where you won’t be interrupted. Some people find it easier to concentrate in the library or a quiet spot on campus than at home. Music and background noise can make some people more productive. You could try classical music, movie or game soundtracks, or ambient sounds (rain, waves, birdsong etc.) to help you stay on track.

    Change your mindset

    It’s easy to feel like it’s Ground Hog Day when you are studying for large blocks of time so make sure you give yourself incentives. Arrange something to look forward to after your study session, or include something fun to do in your breaks. It can also help to change up the order you study in. It may help to start with what you find easier or more interesting. This can help you feel more positive and settle in to study mode.

    Learn to say no

    You may have made a detailed study plan, found ways of dealing with the things that distract you and been really disciplined but you still don’t have enough time! It could just be that you’re trying to do too much. If you have too much going on in our life you might need to say’no’ more often – even if it’s just during exam time.

    Top tips for exam prep

    Near the end of the semester it can be such a relief to hand in that last assignment or submit that final blog post, but for most students the work is far from over. Preparing for exams can be a real challenge when motivation and energy levels are low so it helps to have a few effective strategies in place.

    Set up your study environment
  • Display your timetable and let everyone in the house know you are preparing for exams
  • Set up a dedicated space for study to help you focus
  • If you’re studying in the library choose a quiet spot and use headphones to block out noise
  • Create a plan for the exam period – including relaxation/sleep habits/nutrition/exercise
  • If you live alone prepare meals in advance and freeze them for easy access during exams
  • Think about how you can limit distractions such as online notifications, chat and social media
  • Own your time
  • Make a detailed timetable for each exam (unit) – try concentrating on one per day
  • Make sure you know the details for each exam – log in to Blackboard for updates from lecturers
  • Check that you understand the type of exam that you will be doing
  • Organise and store revision notes so that you can refer to them easily
  • Break your study into 30-minute chunks and plan exactly what you will focus on
  • Try different methods to revise content
  • Summarise the key points for each week’s topic
  • Quiz yourself to identify what you need to work on
  • Use apps such as Quizlet or stick to hardcopy cards to carry around with you.
  • Make a list of things you’re not confident about you may want to do
  • Create your own set of questions to answer
  • Find a study buddy and test each other
  • Try any practice tests that are made available to you – note what you found difficult
  • While it’s important to have a study plan and stick to a routine don’t underestimate the power of a break. Give yourself a morning or afternoon off during exam time. See friends, go shopping, watch a movie, do some exercise. Taking some time out will refresh you so that you can return to study with a clear mind and purpose.

    And, if it’s all getting too much for you make sure you reach out for support. Talk to friends, family, peers or access the free services at QUT Student Counselling and Welfare.

    Make sure your mental health and wellbeing are a priority!

    How to prepare for your timed online assessment

    When it comes to any type of assessment the key to success is preparation. This is no different for online assessment tasks and exams. Having a clear head and being prepared can make a huge difference to the outcome.

    Preparing the technology
  • Update and double check required software (e.g. RStudio, MATLAB, Mozilla Firefox, etc).
  • Install Mozilla Firefox; this is the recommended QUT browser for online assessment (Internet Explorer and other browsers may cause issues).
  • Restart your computer to free up any memory.
  • Once restarted, only open the apps you need to complete your assessment.
  • Check your unit’s Blackboard site and HiQ for who to contact if you need support.
  • Preparing the space
  • Let your housemates/ family know when you plan to begin your assessment.
  • Set up your desk with only what you need
  • Get comfortable; make sure your chair, desk and computer are arranged at an appropriate height and angle.
  • Address any potentially annoying distractions in the room (e.g. creaky doors, loud ticking clocks etc).
  • Ensure the space has good lighting.
  • Preparing yourself
  • Have notes ready and pages bookmarked; organise them into themes or categories and use labels to help you find things quickly.
  • Plan time for your assessment; allocate time blocks to peruse, answer and revise the different sections. Also allow enough time toward the end for uploading files.
  • Turn off your other devices to avoid being distracted by texts, phone calls, notifications, etc.
  • Take 5 minutes before you begin to do some light stretches and breathing.
  • During your assessment
  • Read all instructions carefully.
  • Stick to your time plan – don’t allow yourself to be stuck on one question or problem.
  • Check that your answers are inserted correctly and are in an acceptable format for the system.
  • Follow all directions regarding academic integrity. QUT has systems in place to check for this.
  • Tests can be set up with different options, so each test you take may be different to one you have taken before. Your lecturer, tutor or unit coordinator may give you details about the test’s settings, and you will also see a screen summarising the settings as you enter the test. Check out Preparing for Exams for more tips on revision and time management.

    It’s ok to take a break

    As a student it’s really easy to focus on all the things you ‘have to’ get done and forget to look after your own health and wellbeing. As the semester goes by and there are assessments looming self-care often moves down the list of priorities or even drops off completely. When you are stressed and anxious about everything you have on your plate it can be hard to see things differently but you can start with some small changes.

    Change your daily routine

    Change doesn’t have to be massive. There are so many things we can do to look after our health and wellbeing without going to too much effort. Think about something you enjoy doing and build it into your routine. Start the day with your favourite music and a healthy breakfast. Take a walk, do some gardening or join a friend for a workout.

    Be nice to yourself

    It’s easy to be our own worst critic when we’re feeling the pressure but we can turn things around by being a little nicer to ourselves. Write a positive note and stick it to your screen. Treat yourself to your favourite food. Download some new music or buy some stationery to organise your study.

    Shift focus with a podcast

    Listening to something non-study related can be a great way to shift your focus while still staying engaged and informed. We really are spoilt for choice but here are a few great podcasts about life, the mind, and human behaviour.

    podcastoneaustralia.com.au/podcasts/the-briefing

    tofop.com/wilosophy

    abc.net.au/radionational/programs/allinthemind/

    Remember – it’s okay to take a break! In fact, it’s often just what you need to refresh your mind and be more productive.

    How to be more critical in your writing

    Have you ever been told your ‘writing is too descriptive‘ or ‘you need more critical analysis‘? This is common feedback on written assessment and a source of frustration for many students. While some description is necessary most uni assessment tasks require you to produce more analytical and critical writing. This shows that you are engaging in current academic debates and have evaluated the research relevant to your discipline.

    So, what does it mean to be critical?

    In order to be a more critical writer you need to be critical throughout the whole writing process.
    This involves:

  • questioning what you read and not necessarily agreeing with it.
  • looking for reasons why you shouldn’t accept something as being correct or true.
  • identifying problems with arguments or methods, or referring to criticisms of these.
  • suggesting ways in which something could be improved (if required).
  • sometimes reflecting on your own behaviour/attitudes/performance.
    Demonstrate your understanding

    Your writing needs to show how you have interpreted the unit content and readings, how you have used that information to demonstrate your understanding, and what your position is on the topic. This doesn’t mean that you are including you opinion (unless asked to) but you are building an academic argument based on what you know and the evidence you have.

    The way you structure your argument and the quality of the evidence you use to support your claims illustrate your thought process and how well you have understood the issue or topic.

    Support your argument with quality evidence

    Make sure you always use evidence to help you strengthen your position. Synthesise sources to ensure you answer the reader’s potential questions and counter any opposing arguments.

    For most assignments you don’t need to provide a lot of background or historical information so you should keep descriptive statements to a minimum. Focus on providing more analysis and evaluation to demonstrate your interpretation of the facts, and support your arguments by explaining the significance, outlining consequences and/or implications and making recommendations.

    Tips for being more critical
  • Don’t just describe something. Make sure your writing also identifies the significance of the issue/evidence.
  • Rather than simply explaining what the theory says go further and show why that theory is relevant.
  • It’s also not enough to outline the method/intervention/treatment. You need to demonstrate how appropriate it is.
  • Make sure your writing always answers the question so what?
  • For useful phrases to use in your writing check out Manchester Phrasebank’s section on Being Critical.
    And if you really want to learn more try this free online course from Future Learn

    Preparing for uni

    Whether you are new to uni or returning to study after a break, it can be both exciting and overwhelming when the semester finally begins. Here are a few things you can do to make sure you have everything you need to set yourself up for success.

    Download the QUT app

    This is a great first step in getting organised. The free student app really helps you manage your studies. Use it to search and register for all kinds of eventsand keep track of your classes. If you are on campus it can even help find a car park, check shuttle bus times and locate rooms.

    App Store download
    Google Play download

    Connect with on social media

    There are a range of social media channels to help you connect with QUT and your peers. Check out the official channels to stay up to date with all things QUT.

    Facebook
    Twitter
    Insta

    You will also find many more connections through your faculty so make sure you look out for this info in your units.

    Attend orientation and study skills sessions

    Make sure you join your essential orientation events. They cover everything you need to know about studying in your faculty and give you a chance to meet others.
    Look out for other workshops to help you prepare for study at university.

    Don’t worry if you miss something as most session will be recorded and available to access online.

    Have everything you need

    Be ready to start with all the text books and study materials you need for each unit. Once you have enrolled you can view your personalised booklist.
    Don’t forget to check out what’s available in QUT Library as it stocks a small supply of prescribed readings and textbooks.

    Procrastination is your enemy during exam time

    Procrastination is the art of putting off until later what you could do right now. We all do it but unfortunately it’s one of the most common reasons for poor performance during exams. If you want to ace your exams then studying needs to be the most important thing you do.

    So how do you make it a priority? Check out these strategies to help you stay on track for exams.

    Own your study space

    Creating good study habits relies on finding a space in which you can be most productive. This may be somewhere quiet where you’re on your own or it may even be in a space where you are surrounded by people and noise. Some people listen to music while others require absolute silence to study. Whatever works for you. The key is to find your preferred space and stick with it so you can create a consistent study routine.

    Make a plan

    It seems obvious but careful planning is essential for effective exam preparation. Make sure you know exactly what is going to be covered in each exam – check Blackboard for unit outlines and any other information about the weeks or topics included in the exam. Then plan out each day of your study period by dividing your available time into chunks of 30 mins to 1 hour. For each time slot plan what unit and topic you are going to revise. You can break this down even further by creating a checklist for each topic and ticking things off as you go.

    Get organised

    Once you have a plan in place the next step is to arrange all your notes from lectures, tutorials and readings into some kind of logical order. Use unit outlines and lecture topics to organise your notes and rewrite the main points. Try and add diagrams and mind maps to connect the content where possible. If you don’t understand something or need more information then do some research so that you feel more confident about answering any quesions about the content. Summarise each topic further to about 2-5 pages by rewriting only the major points. Then just before the exam condense your notes down to one page.

    Test yourself

    One of the best ways to revise content is to test yourself or have someone else test you. Access any practice exams that have been provided and use chapter quizes from your textbooks to help with sample questions. Create a bank of questions or use flascards to keep checking your knowledge and understanding. You can use apps such as Quizlet or stick to hardcopy cards to carry around with you. This is an effective way of identifying gaps and prioritsing which topics your need to spend more time on.

    Take a break from social media

    We all know that surfing the net and social media can take up huge amounts of our time. You might start out checking a few messages and then find yourself spending a couple of hours scrolling through social media or watching videos. Why not take a complete break during exam time so that you can focus on your revision? If you can’t give it up altogether then make it part of your daily study plan so there’s a limit to how long you spend online. For example, allocate an hour at night or at lunch time when you need a break from study.

    Access resources and support

    Sometimes the stress of preparing for exams can lead to anxiety, depression and fear which stops you from being productive. If you find yourself struggling emotionally reach out to family, friends, peers or uni support services.
    You can also access free, confidential counselling by qualified professionals.

    Check out other QUT resources for successful exam prep.

    Top 3 Write Up tips

    Write Up is a wonderful support service for students and I feel so lucky to be one of the facilitators for the team.
    We get students to work together, give feedback and provide support for understanding, responding and structuring assignment tasks, checking and integrating research, and help with language.
    So far, we’ve had students from a wide array of faculties, and I thought I would share the most common issues that students have asked us for help with.

    Here are my top three writing tips
      1. Before you even set pen to paper, get organised! Gather all your resources together from your tutes and lectures (especially your assignment task sheet with the criteria!). Now you’re all set to begin. Your task sheet is your treasure map. It is your guide to what you need to cover in your assignment.

      2. Keep your sentences short for clarity—if you see any sentences that are running over 3 or 4 lines, it’s time to break them up with full stops!

      3. Always be specific about the ‘subject’ of your sentence and who you are referring to. For example, if you are currently referring to your theorists as ‘they’, it’s time to use their name, or be more specific about their role. Make your writing as clear for the reader as you can. If you only use words like ‘they’ or ‘she/he’ the reader won’t know if you’re talking about the ‘nurses’ or the ‘patients’. Don’t make them guess!

    We look forward to seeing you in one of our Write Up sessions.
    They’re fun and helpful and we can’t wait to meet you all.

    Anna
    Write Up facilitator

    How to feel confident presenting online

    Now more than ever we’re being asked to embrace technology and step out of our comfort zones to present information online. There are so many amzaing tools out there to create a presentaion but it takes a bit of work for most of us to actually feel confident in front of a camera. Trial and error can be the best way to get comfortable with new technology but it also helps to have a plan.

    Prepare, prepare, prepare
    Like any presentation the key is preparation. This means getting started early and planning.

  • Create a clear focus with 1-3 key message(s).
  • Revise your drafts and edit out unnecessary content.
  • Make notes for each screen / section.
  • Think about how you are going to engage the audience.
  • Practise timing of spoken presentation.
  • Become familiar with the technology (eg. Zoom, Viva Voce, Collaborate etc)
    No matter which web conferencing software you use the key is understanding its features. Make sure you know how to control the following:

  • Screen sharing and presenter view.
  • Playing an embedded video (if relevant).
  • Using a spotlight or highlight on a speaker.
  • Setting up and testing audio and video.
  • Set everything up fully to achieve the best results
    It’s also important to choose a suitable location for your presentation. Make sure you find a space which is quiet and has good lighting. This may mean booking a study room in the library or going to a friend’s house when they’re out. If at home let others know that you are presenting live or recording so you’re not interrupted.

    Before you start, think about your appearance.

  • Wear appropriate clothing – smart casual (no PJs!).
  • Angle your camera just above eye level to frame your shoulders and face.
  • Keep your face well-lit with natural light, or place a lamp behind the camera, towards your face.
  • Remove personal items or anything visible in the background.
  • Do a final check of the technology.

  • Test earphones, phone camera or webcam.
  • Close down all unnecessary browsers, windows or apps and turn notifications off.
  • Have notes ready (printed or in presenter view).
  • Test slideshare settings in presenter view.
  • Check the audio and video settings.
  • Log into the web meeting on another device to check the audience view.

  • Tips for pre-recording your presentation

    Some assessment tasks require you to record your presentation and upload the file. The same principles apply but you may need to do things a bit differently when pre-recording.

  • Practise making a short recording then watch it back.
  • Pause when you transition between slides or present complex information.
  • Speak from notes rather than ‘reading’.
  • Breath and smile as you talk.
  • Follow assessment task instructions carefully.
  • Don’t forget to hit record!
  • Whether you’re presenting in person or online being a clear, confident and engaging communicator is an essential skill to have so it’s worth investing some time and energy into it. Check out more QUT resources on presenting online.