You will be assessed in a number of different ways throughout your university career. Different assessment types include:
Multiple choice exams
Open book exams
Closed book exams
The podcasts in this section have been created to provide you with information about assessment types and advice on keeping up to date with your studies and preparing for exams.
Many ways actually. This morning I just had an oral assessment. That could be one of the ways. Especially if you are doing a language course. They just sit there and they ask you questions, can you respond? Straight there and then. The mark could be given to you within a day or two days. But the most common way of being assessed is through exams. It will be the same concept as what you had during A Levels or GCSE. It's very formal. You can't bring any non clear pencil cases in, sometimes all you can bring in is a pen, or that's all you need actually.
Some exams are open book. Which means that you can bring stuff in that you have studied, or that you have used to help you study. Some lecturers think that this will help you during the exam, but it doesn't really make the exam any easier because you spend time reading, but this is time wasted, or time lost, that could be used to write. So that's something which people may find useful and interesting when they start university.
You have a closed book exam as well. That's just a normal standard exam, like the one that you had in A Level. So, you have a set time. Two hours, you have to complete it. Whatever you can't complete, you leave.
In exams, whatever type of exam it is, you should always have a plan. A template, for the first page may be. Just write, just a little plan, or a brainstorm of what you are thinking. As under pressure, you are likely to forget what you have been thinking, what you are writing about. So you writing three pages and you lose track of what you are writing and thinking. But if you have something to flick back to, and carry on writing and flick back and say 'oh, I haven't covered that', and it helps you group things actually, and so that your essay doesn't start at one point, go onto another point and then comes back on another point, because then you lose marks on structure and coherence.
So, the other type of assessment I had and which I prefer actually was coursework. Coursework is the same style of coursework that you would have had in GCSE and in A Level, and they would give you the assignment maybe in the first week of your module. It may go on, it may be that you give it in half way through the module, or right at the end. The good thing about it is that it gives you time to really deeply read around the topic. So you could go away and read the books, the journals, and even ask your lecturer 'what does this mean', 'how can I get help on this'. And you find it teaches you a lot more skills I think, a lot of skills about research and time management and erm, co-ordination and stuff like that. I prefer that.
Essays as part of coursework; other pieces of coursework, maybe lab reports and childhood assessments, things like that. So essays are obviously more English based, putting a structured piece of work together and the others more like what would happen in real life with the reports and that's kind of coursework and then obviously I had my dissertation, which is just a massive lab report and exams as well. The exams were generally, they differ from first to second to third year, depending on what year you're in. Generally these can range from multiple choice questions to short answer questions, maybe 10-15 minutes long and then essay questions which can be up to an hour long.
So, several weeks before I was due to sit the exam, I would get copies of past exam papers and make sure that I knew the structure of them, then I would do practice exam questions, and just making sure that I knew the format of it. How I should be answering essay questions or short answer questions. So, just really making sure that you are prepared just a few weeks in advance, rather than looking, again, just looking a few days before and then realising that it is in a different structure than you thought it would be.
I always tend to set myself just a rough revision timetable and then I would dedicate certain days to certain topics, or half days here and there, rather than doing just one thing one day, because then it can become a bit tedious otherwise. So, if you spread your time out and if you allow yourself time as well for a few breaks as well, because it is impossible to keep going all day, because you need to have time, obviously to eat, because you need to have few short breaks during the day as well.
So, mainly, just making sure that you are organised, and that you know what's going to be happening, and that you have had a go at practicing previous exam questions and taking them for the lecturer to look through and to see if it's in the right format.
The main thing is to really focus on time management throughout the year. Do not think that you can leave all your coursework until the end of term and get it in, and then expect to be able to revise for exams. It's much easier if you can spread your work out and make sure that once you get given a piece of coursework, try and start it as soon as possible, so that if anything does become a problem, that you can go and seek help if you need it. And just making sure that you have enough time to do everything, and then when it comes to exam time, you will be less stressed because you won't have all this coursework to do, and you will be able to revise more easily.
It’s difficult because they were the first multiple choice questions I’ve had, I didn’t have them for A-level, so I did find them difficult and I think a lot of people found them difficult. I think that the initial reaction is ‘Oh brilliant, multiple choice’, but you think well, how well do I need to know this or how in depth do I need to know this? And I just think, often with multiple choice questions they will set multiple questions on the same set of material that you’ll be covering anyway, so generally you should know the knowledge quite well, but you know, just to know the topic well I think is fine and as I said generally they’ll ask you multiple choice questions on things that they might later ask on short answer questions, so you should have normally read into that topic fairly deeply anyway, so you probably should pick it up quite well and just obviously reading through and being really familiar with the knowledge is probably how I would tackle multiple choice questions.
When you’re tackling a question that you know will last an hour, it’s really important to know what your aim is for the essay and where you’re going to go, so always start with a plan, just to give a rough outline to get some initial ideas down on paper. And then again, introduction and conclusion, you can still do that in an exam, not only in the piece of coursework, you can apply the same structure and it will really help the reader understand what you’re trying to get across – it doesn’t have to be long, just a few sentences is fine I would say. Yeah, that’s, it can be daunting, but as long as you kind of stay calm, plan and stick to that, I think they generally go fine.
I just try and condense all my information I think, you know, especially with essays, if you’ve got a vast range of information that can come up and an essay question could come up on any one of those, then you have to be able to know that information in enough detail to be able to write for an hour and that’s what’s sometimes difficult because if they’re only multiple choice questions, you can condense that information down to very short because you know you only have to know the real basics, whereas for an essay if you have to talk for an hour you have to really know your stuff and I think, the way I do that is to initially start with all of the information and then just try and reduce it down, although not cutting any actual information out, just shorten the length of what’s said – maybe do the titles, so then you learn a paragraph and then you shorten that to a few words so it just triggers then that paragraph, but obviously when you’re going over it it’s not as much to remember, it should kind of cue you to other information, that's what I generally I do. But obviously everyone has their own different styles, flatmates do different things ... one of my flatmates just reads through, then another flatmate goes through and highlights or underlines things, obviously depending on how you’re used to revising, I think stick to what you know or, what you feel comfortable with or, what you think works for you. But that's certainly what I've used through my degree anyway.
For exams, generally if you can try and keep up with your reading throughout the term then that’s probably the one biggest piece of advice that I would do, because otherwise at the end of term you’ve got 4 modules say, all the reading to do and it’s just, its not possible. I tried to do my reading every week for the lectures that I had and at the end I’d have all the information and sometimes at the end of term I’d still do a little bit extra if I’ve got time to get some more journals, things like that. And then maybe before the exams, when you’d be starting to make your revision notes, I always kind of either type my extra reading up on paper or just jot it down on the actual lecture slides and then before the exams I’ll then write all of that information up onto maybe an A4 piece of paper, I’ll do different colours for different headings, so they mean different things. And then from that, that’s when I revise, because I really learn; condensing it, picturing it visually and doing different colours. I really learn that way, so it is really important to me that I write it out like that and make it colourful and then I learn from that. I might do that 2 or 3 times if I’ve got time, reducing the quantity of information there each time.
Whatever exam it is, you should always have a plan. A template, for the first page maybe. Just write, just a little plan, or a brainstorm of what you are thinking. As under pressure, you are likely to forget what you are writing about. So you writing three pages and you lose track of what you are writing and thinking. But if you have something to flick back to, and carry on writing and flick back and say ‘oh, I haven’t covered that’, and it helps you group things actually, so that your essay doesn’t start at one point, go onto another point and then comes back on another point, because then you lose marks on structure and coherence as well.
Before an exam, you should know what the format is. What you are expected to answer. So, different lecturers or different exams will have different styles, you can have either multiple choice which may be answered in a different way, and you may have a different a sheet which you should answer on. And they could say you don’t use pen, only use a pencil. Or they could have a free writing exam, where you have an open booklet in which you can write as much as you want. So the best way to find out what you need for an exam is to ask your lecturer, to make sure. Even if you feel like you have finished all your lectures, when that revision session comes up, like most lecturers will give you, you should turn up to that, because that’s when they give you all the last minute details about the exam, ‘this is how you should write during the exam’, ‘this is how you shouldn’t’. That’s just some of the most valuable information that you can actually get on your module. Ask your school even, they look at all the exams, so they know how yours will be structured.
I just have a little time table. I try to plan, if I’ve got, say 4 exams, I look at 4 exams and say, ‘Ok, I’ve got 4 weeks to revise for them’, and then I have to allocate time for them. So, some people may use a paper diary, use their phones, or use their computers or something. But it’s always good to have a plan and stick to it. I give myself some time to really just relax, and I learned that only when I got to uni, because A Levels, I was thinking, ok, you can do all this work, and you can forget about breaks, so my time management was rubbish. And then I realised that you need your breaks and that you have to be realistic. You can’t work for 6 hours straight, and be productive. Say, do 2 hours here, and then 3 hours there, and then break, then start again. But, when it comes closer to the exam, I start just going over everything. I just have a whole picture of what I have been learning. The more time you have obviously, the more easier it is going to be, obviously, to remember everything you need to understand. Then, the night before the exam, or say, 2 nights before the exam, I start adjusting my body clock, to make sure that I can wake up at the right time that I want to. Because most students are going to find that they stay up really late. Maybe it's because they are staying up because they are partying, or maybe they are staying up because they are watching films late, or maybe they have messed up patterns which means they study over night, I have been there. But a few days before the exam, I usually adjust my clock, my body clock, so that I’m used to the 8 o’clock wake up, so that I am good for the 9.30am exam. I usually wake up well before the exam, maybe 2 hours before, so that I can take a moment to just get the last bits in. I find actually that it’s the last parts that I revise that stay in my head, and when I get to the exam, they are usually the first things that I write in the plan, or maybe in the main body actually of the essay answer.
Managing your Revision
First thing is to plan. Because, I think that most stress comes from feeling as though you have got a little time. But if you can see your time, exactly what you do have, then you can say, ok, so to stop stressing myself, maybe I could put more hours into that section. And maybe cut that break down from 3 hours, maybe into 2 hours. So, if you time manage it, then you start relaxing. I think it helps to actually have a good plan and to stick to it. And say, that’s what I need to be doing right now. So, you could be out with your friends, maybe in a restaurant or something with your friends, and you could know, that you have 3 hours or so to be there, and then, at 7 o’clock, or say 9 o’clock, you know that you need to be in your home, starting to work. And maybe 11 o’clock, you are going to bed. So having a set time table really works during revision.
Well, I think that depending on what programme that you are on, you will have more or less exams or more or less coursework. In my field, which is English, we have more coursework than we do exams generally. And the coursework is really a piece of work that has to be handed in during the exam period. So, you would be set the work at the beginning of the module, you would have the module to do the reading to attend the lectures/seminars, however the programme is organised, and then there would be a period of time, usually of three or four weeks, when you would be on 'vacation' (in inverted commas), when you would be writing the coursework and handing that in.
Having said that, a lot of course work now also includes an in class aspect, so you might be asked, you might get a grade for participation, for example, twenty percent of the coursework might be on how you participate in the programme; either in the lectures, or in the seminars, or both. Some of it might be on a presentation, which you would be expected to do at the end of the module, not after the vacation period. So for example, for one of my modules, you have twenty percent for the presentation and eighty percent for the assignment. And on another module I know, we have fifty percent for an exam, and fifty percent for some micro teaching, as we run a teaching English programme and the students teach each other and they'd get a mark for that. On another module, we have twenty percent for attendance and contribution, ten percent for a presentation and then seventy percent for an assignment. So you have to work out what the assessment is for that particular module, and that might affect which modules you choose actually, because if you prefer one type of assessment to another, that might be important to you.
If you are asked to do an assignment, usually there will be some kind of question, it will be stated very clearly as to when that has to be handed in by, and often it will be accompanied by an assignment briefing sheet which will really go through the kinds of things that you would need to do in order to respond to the question.
It is also useful, I think, to ask for the marking criteria, because if you have the marking criteria, then you know what it is that you are going to be marked on and that can be very helpful too. There might just be a general marking criteria or there might be very specific marking criteria for that assignment. So, you should ask to see those, and if possible, previous examples, or sections of previous examples, so that you can see the types of things that people have been successful with in the past.
If there is a deadline, it is a deadline. If it says 12 o'clock, it means 12 o'clock. It does not mean five past 12. You will be penalised in a lot of schools if you submit it at five past 12. Make sure you know the room where the work has to be submitted into.
We do have different kinds of exams at university. We have open book exams where you can bring in annotated texts, or A4 with notes on, you would have to see what the actual restrictions are. But those can be a useful help, and aren't therefore quite as daunting I think as an exam where you just go in with your pen and pencil and have to answer the questions.
I think what is quite interesting about exams now, and something that you might think about is 'when do you ever have to write for three hours by yourself with your hand?' I mean nowadays, that just doesn't happen because everybody uses computers, so the actual physicality of writing for three hours can be absolutely exhausting. Also, you have got the problem of organisation. When you use your computer, you can cut and paste, you can move things around, you can put the spell check and the grammar check on and watch out for those kinds of errors. When you are writing by hand, it is a different kettle of fish. You have to be aware of all of those things as you are going through.
If you are going to do an exam, I think that it would be a very good idea to have a little practice beforehand. Maybe get hold of past exam papers and practice for the amount of time that you are going to write for in the exam to see what kind of problems you are going to have, because I really don't think that people are as prepared as they used to be in the old days; when I was doing it, when there were no computers and all that we had to use was a piece of paper and a pen.
The main thing to remember about the submission of coursework is it has to be in on time. There is no mechanism for getting extensions at university. This may sound harsh. If something has gone wrong, if you've been ill, if there's been other circumstances we will bend over backwards to help you but you have to do that almost, you have to be so sure of this that you have special circumstances that you submit your work late, this is with agreement from the undergraduate office. I know that this is sounding technical – what we're trying to do here is impose on you the idea of working to deadlines which is a key transferable skill and when you get out to work there are no excuses for things not being of time and so working to a time, working to a timetable, work back from when the timetable is, workout how you're going to finish the work on time
There's quite a range of types of coursework and make sure that you really understand what it is the lecturer is wanting you to do, so make sure that you follow the rules of the game so that and the reason that these are in place is that this is going to steer your learning. In a more practical way it also impacts on the mark that you get to make sure that you deliver what it is that the lecturer wants.
In terms of exams, exams are the sorts of things that students hate doing and lecturers hate setting and certainly marking. There are a sort of necessary evil and the way that i would advise to make it is a palatable as possible is again to be prepared for it, to take heed of what the lecturer is able to tell you about the exam, some are able to tell you quite a lot about them and others less so, and it's built into the way in which various modules are structured, so make sure you understand what it is that's expected of you.
Students who do well are the ones who have looked over past exam papers to see the sorts of things that are required, that they can test their own learning by setting themselves a mock exam by sitting down and spending 20 minutes or half an hour or whatever of the essay question is or whatever and trying to see how much they can get down in that amount of time. The trick with exams is of course is that there's quite a range but if you take essay based exams stick to the rules which are: to say that everything that you write must be answering the question, answer the question set not the question that you'd prefer that they had set. I say this quite often on my module when I'm giving advice on essay writing and so forth but it is worth saying again and again is that if you're writing something that is not answering the question you're keeping yourself busy but not really gaining yourselves any marks. Every single sentence you write must be taking you towards answering the question and gaining marks. So make sure that you are able to do that.
It's really important that you have straight in your mind exactly what's needed in terms of your coursework and other forms of assessment and there's a number of ways you can make sure that you've got all the information you need. Of course the key contact for this is the lecturer who is in charge of the module. So you may have several lecturers teaching one particular module but one of them will be designated as the module leader and that's the person who will be and is responsible for setting the assessment and so will be able to help you understand all the ins and outs of the assessment process they have. You can either talk to them before or after the lecture or you can go to arrange to meet them in their office hours which, normally lecturers have a set amount of time every week where they are available for students to answer any questions at all be it about assessment or something in the subject that they are covering or anything else.
Podcasts by students and lecturers point towards the fact that there are different ways of being assessed while you are at university and that this varies according to which subject you are studying. You may find that you have multiple choice exams, essays, short answer questions, open book or closed book exams. Some of you may also have to do coursework, meaning write essays or reports. All of this varies according to which subject you are following and it is in your interest to find out what you are required to do. You can find out this information from Blackboard or from your lecturers. It is important to find out how you are going to be assessed, because this effects how you work during the semester and the revision methods that you use.