Some delegates on our advanced level food safety, HACCP and auditing courses haven’t sat a written exam for years – sometimes even decades! They know their jobs inside-out but are worried about answering questions in a formal exam situation. Sometimes it’s as much about exam etiquette as it is about knowledge. You need a gameplan – that’s why we’ve put together these handy tips for exam success. You’re welcome!
1 Read the questions
This might seem really obvious, but you would be surprised at the number of people who don’t read questions properly. They read the question quickly and then answer what they think the question is asking, rather than what it is actually asking. Take care. Read the question slowly and then read it again before answering. You could even highlight all the key words in the question to ensure that you are answering every part of it.
2 Answer all the questions
There’s no point in writing reams and reams on the first few questions and then finding that you only have 10 minutes left to answer the rest. Even if you score full marks on the first question or two, this will be unlikely to be enough to pass. Look at the number of questions and split your time accordingly.
3 Look at the available marks
Many examination papers will show the maximum number of marks achievable next to each question. It’s not rocket science to suggest that you should spend more time and give more detailed answers to those bearing the highest marks. In fact, if at all possible, you should aim to answer these questions first.
4 Understand the difference between ‘list’ and ‘describe’
If the question doesn’t have allocated marks, then you should get an indication of the number of marks from the type of question being asked. For example, if the question says to ‘list’ something, it requires a short answer. If, however the question asks you to ‘describe’ something, it is looking for a more detailed answer.
5 Be specific
Lack of answer detail is the main reason why candidates are marked down in examinations. Don’t generalise. Instead of writing ‘The product should be heated to the correct temperature.’ use ‘The product should be heated to a temperature of X? C for X minutes. This is to ensure that all pathogens have been destroyed.’
6 Give the correct number of answers
If a question asks you for 5 examples, then make sure you only give 5 examples. If you give fewer than 5 examples, you will miss out on marks. Conversely, if you give more than 5 examples you will not be given any extra marks. The examiner will only read the first 5 examples, even if you have better examples further down the list.
7 Can’t answer some questions? Don’t panic!
If your mind has gone blank about a question, don’t panic – simply return to it later on. Don’t waste precious time trying to rack your brain, answer the questions you know first.
8 Make sure you’ve revised any definitions
Knowledge of definitions and any relevant legislation will always stand you in good stead. Even if legislation isn’t mentioned specifically in a question, if it is relevant you will be demonstrating to the examiner that you understand its importance. For example, stating that the Due Diligence defence is in the Food Safety Act 1990 might give you an extra mark.
9 Don’t go off track
Make sure you stick to the subject of the qualification and the question being asked. Don’t go off on a tangent. If you are taking an exam about food safety and the question is about cleaning, don’t start talking about slips, trips and falls or working at heights – that is Health & Safety, not food safety, and will not score any points.
10 Read over your answers
Very few people enjoy sitting examinations, but as eager as you are to get out of the door, try to use the full time allocated. If you finish early, read over all your answers again and see if there is anything else you can add or clarify. Make sure your answers are legible and that any extra sheets of paper you have used are labelled correctly.
You will also be given sample questions to work through during your course, so practise answering some of these before the exam. Set a timer so that you know how long to spend on each question.