BY Debbie Jacob

I know I promised you a great Caribbean book review today, but I just had to press pause for that so that I could offer some last-minute advice for students taking those CXC exams. Taking a test, you see, is a matter of having a strategy for tackling a situation as much as it is transferring all your knowledge to a piece of paper.

Here are my tips:
1. Drink lots of water before you go to the exam, and drink water every time you get the chance during a break. Taking an exam with not enough water is like running a marathon on an empty stomach. I have actually seen studies that show the importance of being well hydrated during an exam.

2. Go into every exam with confidence. Believe in yourself. Be positive. Believe you’re going to do well. Know that you are prepared, and if you didn’t work as hard as you think you could have, still know that you’re going in there to give it your best shot. A positive attitude really does help. Confidence helps you to be calm.

3. Read the instructions carefully and digest them before you begin answering questions. Make sure they are firmly imprinted in your mind. I can’t tell you how many students I know who don’t read instructions carefully. The result: They end up going off track—especially in essays.

4. Glance back at the instructions when you’re doing tricky questions. For example, you could have a section on the CXC English language exam that asks you to find the antonym of a word. Midway down the exercise, you might forget you’re looking for antonyms rather than synonyms because you’ve seen more synonyms that antonyms. Sometimes you have to refresh your memory and remind yourself of your task. That’s why it’s good to glance back at the instructions to make sure you’re still on the right track.

5. Know your pace and stick to it. If you haven’t been finishing the exam in your mock exams, don’t try to go faster in the real exam. Your preparation and your mock exams have prepared you to tackle those exams with as much speed as you can. Push hard, but don’t mess up your rhythm. Don’t make yourself nervous. You’ll just throw yourself off course.

6. Remember to take everything step by step. Don’t skip steps. Don’t try to take shortcuts. Go through a process, and remember: A multiple choice test is NEVER about finding the right answer. It’s about eliminating all the wrong answers.

7. Remember the rules of engagement. If you’re looking at your exam like a battlefield, remember you have to have a plan in place and implement it. Don’t let anything lure you away from your plan. Don’t abandon the plan. Stick to it. For example, you know that a summary consists of facts—no interpretation and no emotion—so you know what you have to write in the exam if you get hit with a summary. Don’t doubt yourself. Don’t stray from the plan. Tackle what is required.

8. Do your prewriting. The biggest mistake most students make in their writing—especially when it comes to a timed exam—is believing that they need to plunge into writing because time is of the essence. Time is precious, and that’s why you want to take a couple of minutes to plan. Make sure you have your theme down in your mind—even on paper. It is your anchor for what you’re writing. Make sure you have the points you’re going to defend in an argumentative essay. Don’t start writing until they’re clear in your mind.

9. Remember the structure of everything you’re writing. There’s a beginning, a middle (development) and end (conclusion). Each section is important. Don’t confuse a beginning which should be clear and to the point with a long-winded introduction that goes nowhere. You don’t have much time to make your point. Make every word count. Make every thought count. Don’t waste time on being too general.

10. When writing an essay, start at the beginning. That sounds straightforward, but even at CXC level students tend to start too far back in their creative writing. They spend too much time setting the scene and not enough time at the beginning of the story. If the prompt is about a forest fire started by some boys, the examiner doesn’t want or need to hear about how those boys got to the forest. They’re there. Deal with them!

11. Remember all the elements of a creative writing piece: There needs to be theme, tone, characterisation, conflict, dialogue and setting. Tone creates the feeling of the story. Conflict is the energy of the story. Dialogue makes it come alive. Setting puts it in a time and place, characters connect us to the story and theme gives the story a purpose.

12. Factor in enough time to revise your work for careless errors. We all make errors that we only catch in the revision process.
Good luck to you on your CXC exams. As a matter of fact, have fun with them!