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Transkills: supporting transition to University


Examinations in Cambridge used to be really tough. Nowadays, they are much more friendly, designed to test your knowledge of the courses you have attended rather than your ability to jump through hoops in economics.

Nevertheless, strategy matters. Playing the cards you hold to best advantage is of vital importance. Here are some thoughts you may have heard before: they are worth repeating. The examinations may be some way off, but you will find that good examination technique can be acquired over the course of the year by making suitable preparations and developing good habits. (For example, the first two points assume that your year’s work is in good order.) Here are some suggestions:

  • For revision, set yourself timed essays for practice after reading the relevant section of your notes (just reading is not enough); for a 4-essay exam, practise some 45-minute essays, and for a 3-essay exam, practise some 60-minute essays.
  • For last-minute preparation, look through your supervision work to remind yourself how to do questions.
  • In the examination, above all, stay cool – if it is hard for you, it is probably hard for everyone.
  • Don’t rush into a question – read the whole paper carefully and start with the question you feel most confident about.
  • Analyse exactly what you are being asked to do; try to understand the hints (explicit and implicit); remember to address the specific question posed rather than rambling on generally about the topic.
  • Set out your answer legibly and logically. Don’t scribble down the first thought that comes into your head, but write yourself a (brief) outline before starting your essay. This not only helps you to avoid losing direction but also signals to the examiner that you know what you are doing (which can be effective even if you haven’t the foggiest idea what you are doing).
  • If you see you are going to run out of time on a question, write a series of bullet-points stating how the remainder of your essay would have proceeded. (At A-level, you don’t get credit for merely stating intentions, but university examiners are generally grateful for any sign of intelligent life).

Coping with exams

Everybody feels pressure and stress as exam-time approaches. But that means the University has devised lots of ways for you to deal with it. Here are some tips on what to do if you start feeling bad about exams: 

  • Your Tutor in College is there for this exact reason: to talk to when you feel as if things are getting on top of you. He/she can provide good advice, stress-reducing solutions, or references to other forms of help.
  • There is a University Counselling Service, and again its whole purpose is to provide advice and solutions for people who need them.
  • The Faculty lets students who are suffering greatly from exam stress sit their exams in a quiet room by themselves in College rather than in the big examination-halls – ask your Director of Studies for further details.
  • Above all, remember that other students are also stressed – you’re not alone, and there are people in College, in the Faculty, and the University who are there to help and advise in exactly this situation.