Monday, 26 May 2008

The first five mins

Read the questions sloooowwwly

When the exam starts read the questions carefully. Sounds bleedin' obvious, doesn't it? But panic does funny things to us. Time feels like it's slipping away and reading the questions speedily is the outcome of this feeling. Besides, what you nod at here isn't often what you actually do. To make sure I read them properly, I didn't read them 'in my head' but as if I were reading them out loud, just with no volume.

I'd spend 2 minutes reading the questions over and over. Sometimes one will jump out and give you a big wet kiss, other times it will twist in front of your eyes, changing shape every time you look at it.

I like to choose both questions before I start under the belief that somewhere some portion of my brain might be thinking about the other question sub-consciously whilst I answer the other (I have no idea whether this is true, it just seems like it might be from experience).

Put your answer's gist in a nutshell

Before embarking on your answer have a casual sentence or two in your head to sum up what your main argument will be. Some examples:
  • [Human Factors & Error] 'Sure, human error is unavoidable but user-centred design can make systems more tolerant of error'
  • [Neuropsychiatry] 'Yes, psychiatry and neurology should be merged for theoretical reasons (they both deal with breakdowns in the same system)
For people confident with their stuff, I'd advise adding on a modifier to this mental statement. This will refine your argument, show caution (a good thing) and tick the box for critical analysis. Building on the examples I gave you a moment ago:
  • [Human Factors & Error] '...While systems can be polished, we must not forget - and remove all the blame from - humans: as operators, their cognitive systems can be polished too by training';
  • [Neuropsychiatry] '...Whilst Neuropsychiatry is theoretically ideal it may be practically impossible to be sufficiently expert in. Therefore, although the two should be reunited, the sub-disciplines of psychiatry and neurology should exist within the framework of neuropsychiatry';
If you do this, what you have is the last sentence of your introduction and the spine of your essay which you can add the muscle to when you are writing it. It will keep you focused.

If you are write-down-plan sort of person spend the next few mins making that. If you are a do-it-in-your-head-plan type (like me) make sure it's solid and then start writing...

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