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Exam techniques – 6 tips for improved performance

exam techniques

If you left school, college or university several years ago, the chances are you won’t have sat an exam for a very long time. However, exams are a necessary evil if you want to gain qualifications for career progression; or improve your skills in your current role.

It’s natural to feel a little anxious before your exam or test, so here are some top tips to help out.

1) Read the questions

This might seem really obvious, but before you put pen to paper, make sure you read the question. Not just once, but 3 times. This should ensure that you have understood it correctly. When you’re nervous and up against the clock, it’s easy to misread something. For example, if the question says ‘Which of the following are not food safety prerequisites?’, you don’t want to read it as ‘Which of the following are food safety prerequisites?’

Some of the questions in HACCP and Food Safety examinations can seem ambiguous and there can seem to be more than one relevant answer. Reading through carefully often helps to clarify this.

2) Understand what is required

It’s a good idea to search Google for ‘exam questions glossary’ before the big day. This will tell you what is meant by particular words and phrases and what the examiner will expect to see in your answers. E.g. “List the 7 principles of HACCP” is a very different question from “Describe the 7 principles of HACCP.” The first will have fewer marks and you will just be able to provide a simple list. The second will carry more marks and requires a more detailed answer.

3) Allocate your time efficiently

Level 4 Food Safety, Level 4 HACCP and Lead Auditor exams are written papers rather than multiple choice. Each question shows the maximum amount of marks awarded. It’s common sense that you should spend more time on the questions for which you can get more marks.  Don’t waste time writing hundreds of words on a question worth a few marks, even if you could wax lyrical about pests for hours. Spend more time on a question worth 10 or 20 marks.

If you know that the exam is 2 hours duration, allow 5 to 10 minutes reading time and the same again at the end to go over your answers. Then split the remaining time according to the marks structure. Don’t feel you have to answer the questions in the order they appear. It might be sensible to answer the high-ranking questions first, then tackle the rest.

4) Tips for a multiple choice exam

Exams such as Level 3 HACCP, Level 3 Food Safety and Auditing Skills are in multiple choice format. You have a separate answer sheet which is marked electronically. A good tip is to go through the question paper and mark all your answers on there first. You can tick the answers to the ones you know and for ones you’re not sure about you can eliminate the answers you know are correct. Then, once you’ve made your choices, carefully transfer the answers to the answer sheet. You can use a sheet of paper or ruler under the corresponding questions and answers to make sure they’re entered correctly.

5)Blue or black ink?

The answer to this one is that we would always recommend that you use black ink. Exam papers are scanned for marking, so black is much clearer and easier to read. When you sit an examination at Verner Wheelock we provide black pens as standard.

On the subject of writing, try to make your handwriting as clear as possible. If your handwriting is difficult to decipher, you could print instead.

6) Make sure you’re prepared

One of the best ways to prepare for an exam is to try to replicate examination conditions. Make sure you are somewhere quiet with no distractions, then attempt a mock paper within the given time. Study in short bursts of 20 -30 minutes at a time and memorise facts using mnemonics wherever possible.

What if English is not your mother tongue?

You need to let the examination centre know well in advance if English is not your first language. In some cases the examination paper might be available in different languages. Remember that this will need to be ordered in specially, so give them plenty of notice. If the examination paper is only available in English you will be allowed to take a dictionary and thesaurus in with you (paper version only) and you will probably be allowed extra time.

After the exam

Don’t overanalyse the questions and your answers with your colleagues. What happens in the exam stays in the exam. Just take a deep breath and enjoy the rest of the day. The chances are you’re worrying about nothing. As long as you’ve listened to the tutor during your training you should do fine. For example, the pass rate for Verner Wheelock delegates is 98% for Level 3 Food Safety and 97% for Level 3 HACCP.

Good luck!

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