Using Past Exam Papers
Lots of students like to get hold of copies of past exam papers. And looking at a past exam paper can be a really useful thing to do. There's nothing like knowing your enemy before the fight starts. But there are some things to avoid.
Don't frighten yourself.
Some students look at a past exam paper and get very anxious because they can't answer every question on it. Remember that you don't have to answer every question - only the two, or three, or whatever, questions that the instructions say. So you should use the past exam paper to select which questions you would answer, and also to think about why. What kinds of topics and questions do you feel most at ease with?
Don't frighten yourself.
Exam questions are written in a formal style which can be offputting at first. But once you're over the shock, you'll be able to see how particular questions relate to particular topics in the module.
Here are two good ways to use a past exam paper.
Practise choosing questions and planning answers. When you're in the real exam, you'll have to do this quickly. So you can practise doing it quickly now. Give yourself five minutes to pick your questions, and another five to plan an answer to one of them. Then go back to it later, and think about ways you might improve your plan.
Of course it's true that if a question comes up on a past exam paper, it won't come up in the real one. But the same topics will. And what you're practising here is thinking quickly, not answering a specific question.
Practise writing a timed answer. In the exam, you'll have limited time for each answer. So it's a good idea to practise writing against the clock. Pick a question and give yourself about 45 minutes to answer it, plus five minutes for planning and the same for final checking over. Then go back to it an hour or two later and think about ways you might improve it.
You could practise the whole thing - all three hours against the clock and answering as many questions as the exam demands. But this usually isn't necessary. In the real exam you'll have enough adrenalin to see you through. When you're preparing for the exam, short, concentrated practice times are usually best.
Some students find that they have physical problems with handwriting quickly and for a long period. This is likely if you usually do most or all of your writing on a word-processor. If this is true for you, then you might need three or four practices to get used to writing quickly.