One of the things that I am really proud of, working as a Course Director for ICT, is the consistently high numbers of students that achieve a professional qualification through one of our courses. However, I do sometimes speak with students who have been unsuccessful in achieving a passing grade, and today is no exception - I have just been given details of students to reach out and offer further support to.
It seems like an appropriate time, therefore, to offer some words of advice and encouragement to students who are about to sit their exams, and to those who are new to their course and are looking to start developing good habits well in advance of their exam.
I am speaking predominantly in relation to the Diploma courses – but in terms of good habits, Advanced Certificate students please take note!
The most common reason that students do not pass their exam is that they have not answered the four questions required. At Diploma level this is almost fatal. The main reason given is that they ran out of time, so please let me reiterate what I tell my students during workshops – you MUST prepare for the exam and the earlier you start doing that the better.
Timing is everything and yours will roughly be:
- 15 minutes reading time during which you are not permitted to start answering the questions - use this time to decide which questions you are going to answer. You are trying to avoid changing your mind half way through an answer as this wastes time.
- 3 hours/180 minutes to answer four questions. This equates to 45 minutes per question. If you factor in 5 minutes to plan your answers and 5 minutes to check it thoroughly that leaves 35 minutes writing time where you are trying to gain maximum marks.
35 minutes to answer a question? That all sounds very tight - so how can you avoid running out of time?
Consolidate your notes – the exam is open book but do not let that discourage you from revising. You will not have time to search through books for the answers. Every minute spent searching for an answer is a minute less spent writing it down. Your notes should serve as an aide memoire to trigger an avalanche of knowledge rather than as a reference library because you have not revised. Start this consolidation early if you are new to ICT and get your eye on the prize straight away.
Self-assessment questions (SAQs) - you should be prepared to answer an exam question on any of the topics taught and the SAQs found at the end of each unit are there to help you benchmark your knowledge of each subject area. They are not marked and do not count towards your final grade – which is perhaps why they are overlooked as a learning tool, but they are there for your benefit and are a very effective way to kick off your revision. Ideally you should be attempting these as you work through the course materials.
There have been comments in workshops that some students have found certain topics boring as they are not directly relevant to their job. I would suggest that these students were entirely missing the point and my advice is don’t avoid studying/revising the areas you are weaker in or find a little less interesting. It may be comforting to go back to topic areas you know more about and reaffirm your knowledge but this is a false comfort – you have to answer four questions so you should revise all of the areas covered in the course material, as any one of them could come up in the exam. Less time spent trying to figure out if you know enough to answer a question is more time spent answering it.
I have also seen comments that time has been spent in workshops responding to questions about related topics that were not specifically on the agenda for the day and that this was therefore irrelevant. To anyone who has thought this and to pre-empt any notions that workshops will stick rigidly to only that information provided in the course materials, I would say again that this misses the point. Part of your notes preparation should include relevant examples for the different subject areas and students should be prepared to talk around the subject as appropriate – which may include using titbits of information picked up at workshops. To really impress the examiners you will need to show evidence of wider reading. Regurgitating the course materials may get you a basic pass but why settle for that? You will have spent the best part of a year on this, so aim high. Preparing some well-chosen examples in advance means less time trying to remember what was said at a workshop (and that you may have dismissed as irrelevant) and more time answering the question.
Part of your exam preparation should include practising writing out the answers to sample questions (see previous papers on the Learning Platform) and timing yourself. Yep – practise writing!! It is not as silly as it sounds – when was the last time any of us really sat down and wrote out something using a real pen and paper for 3 hours straight? And not only do you have to actually write something you have to write it fast, and make sure it is legible.
If you are struggling with a question, leave yourself some space in the answer book and move on to the next question.
Running out of time in the exam is something which can be avoided as long as students make sure they prepare for it and the earlier the better - it is a real shame when competent students are unsuccessful due to lack of preparation.
Good luck with your studies, and I hope the information here proves useful.
For further information on this subject you can access our other blogs here and here.