The crucial difference between writing your supervision essays and writing in exams is the fact that there is an element of choice, perhaps strategy, in what essay questions you respond to. You also need to plan and write your essays within a very limited amount of time. Rushed responses can be illegible and poorly structured, so take time to practice writing in these conditions. If there is no opportunity for completing timed essays in your supervisions, do the following activity independently and ask your supervisor for feedback.
Activity: timed writing
Choose one of the questions from section B of the 2008 Biology of Cells theory paper (pdf) or a past paper of your choice, and write your essay under exam conditions. This means do not refer to any lecture notes or other materials and stop writing after 40 mins. Remember to spend 5 mins planning your answer before you start writing the essay.
Activity: exam scenarios
Consider the situation the following students find themselves in when faced with the 2008 Biology of Cells theory paper. What you would advise?
Realises he has spent 1 hour 30 on Section A, leaving only 90mins to write the three essays in Section B. He is not confident about one of these questions. Should he concentrate the 90 mins on producing just two strong essays?
Is relieved to see a topic that she is confident about has come up, although she is unsure exactly what the question is asking. Her dilemma is whether to stick with this question or choose one where she feels that she understands the question but might lack content.
Is aware of his tendency to move away from the subject of the question and that his supervision essays turn out rather too long with untidy writing. Are these issues he needs to address or does it matter less in an exam?
Now click here to access advice for each of the students above. Note that these responses by no means represent the ideas of all examiners, nor should they be taken as the 'official line' on exam marking practice.