I truly believe there is a not-so-exact science behind taking exams. In this post I’m going to share with you the tips and strategies I use to ensure maximum success when taking multiple-choice exams.
Note: This post is NOT about minimising study effort, it is about maximising effectiveness on the day of the exam. Every good (400+) score I have achieved has a foundation of hard work and sacrifice attached to it. There is no substitute for that.
Tip #1 – Get a good nights sleep!
The day before the exam you should have pretty much studied everything you need and you should be in the review phase. So, the only real advice to give here is make sure you get a good nights rest!
Tip #2 – Arrive early to avoid stress
If I have to travel far (i.e. 40+ minute commute) I tend to arrive at the exam centre around 1 hour early to ensure I’m not rushing or stressed if trains are delayed or traffic is bad. The night before I have normally located the nearest coffee shop, so I head there to sit down and complete any last minute review of my study material. In some centres there is a waiting room, but I find the coming and going of other exam takers or students distracting. I try and arrive at the centre with about 15 minutes to go so I can start on time.
Tip #3 – Do not try and study anything new the morning of the exam.
I am normally in my study review phase the night before (if my study plan has been executed correctly) so the morning of the exam I just review the material that needs to be fresh. In reality, an hour before the exam your brain is trying to remember all the stuff you have studied thus far so do not try and cram anything new here. Frankly it’s too late, if you’re not ready by now then you’re just going to confuse yourself.
One thing I do here is draw out any diagrams (whether thats logical diagrams or mind maps) I’m trying to remember on paper as this one of the first things I do when I sit down at the screen.
Tip #4 – Wise men say only fools rush in
As soon as you’re seated at the monitor and keyboard, it is natural that the first thing you want to do is to quickly get started answering questions. After all, when you only x minutes to complete y questions, time is an important commodity. Right?
You are normally given a few extra minutes on your allotted time to review the NDA/EULA/T&Cs (hardly anyone reads them anyway) or take a pre-Test experience survey (MCTS exams). Use this time to calm yourself, rushing in means you will make mistakes.
Tip #5 – Scratch pad #AllTheThings!
After I have calmed my mind and I’m ready to take the exam, I then pickup the pen and scratchpad and write down things I wanted to remember such as logical diagrams. As an example you may jot down the different tenant and system roles within a vRealize Automation environment in case you’re asked about them. Don’t spend too much time though it does not have to be War & Peace – they are just to aid your memory.
Tip #6 – Have a strategy and stick to it!
Having a good exam taking strategy always helps focus the mind on the task in hand. It is so important to go into the exam well prepared and with a clear head. I always follow a similar strategy when taking any multiple-choice/guess exam and it is only when you panic and forget the strategy that you will almost certainly run out of time:
- First Pass:
- If I am 100% confident I know the answer to a question straight away, I answer it and then move on to the next question.
- If I think I know the answer but I’m not 100% sure, I answer the question and Mark it for review.
- If I don’t know the answer or it will take some time to work it out, I leave the question and move on.
- Second Pass – I review the Incomplete questions only reading each question multiple times to ensure I understand the question and can then determine which is the most correct answer. There is normally only 1 or 2 incomplete questions after the second pass.
- Third Pass – I review the marked questions next and give each question additional time to try and logically work out if my answer is (hand on heart) the answer I would choose rather than me 2nd guessing myself.
- Fourth Pass – I review all outstanding (incomplete and marked) questions.
- Final Pass – I review all questions, cross my fingers and toes and then click Submit.
Note: I do the incomplete questions before the marked questions because at least the marked questions have an answer in them (which may be right) and if I run out of time I’m not throwing away mark easily.
Tip #7 – Read the Question and answers (twice)!
I have lost count of the times I have read a question and answers without actually reading them. Sounds crazy right? It happens way too often because of the time factor involved. There is normally subtly nuisances in the questions that will completely discount one or more of the answers. To use a very old Microsoft example, if a question asks you to identify which registry key to use to make changes to the local machines configuration. If one or more of the answers starting with HKEY_USERS (user settings) rather than HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE (machine settings) then those answers are probably wrong. In fact that sometimes the answers are SO wrong they’re easy to spot!
Tip #8 – No Retreat, No Surrender
It is very easy to say but one of the best bits of advice I can offer, is whatever you do don’t panic. I remember sitting an exam once and as I clicked start the first question appeared, I couldn’t answer it immediately so I clicked next. The next question appeared and I couldn’t answer it, so I clicked next, I got to question 10 and I started to feel the panic set in (there was only 50 questions). I remember thinking “omg I’m going to fail this exam”. I clicked next and there was a question I could answer without having to sit and think about it! Yay! I click next and there was another one I could answer and so on. By question 25 I was back in the zone and after the first pass it was only about 15 questions I couldn’t answer without thinking.
Tip #9 – Time management is crucial!
Time is very important especially in VMware’s Advanced Professional Deploy exam. On two occasions I have failed a VCAP deploy exam. I failed not because the questions were difficult, but because I ran out of time. If you follow the above exam strategy and move on when you cannot answer a question straight then that is a good start. In a deploy exam, one thing you have to be mindful of tasks that take a long time to complete. In this instance sometimes it is better to start the task and then move on and return to the question later.
Tip #10 – Learn from your mistakes
Hopefully the exam is one where it is scored automatically and you find out straight away whether you passed or failed. If you passed, congratulations! If you failed then all is not lost because the exam you have just taken hold vital information to give you a better chance next time!
Unfortunately, I don’t have an eidetic memory, so I always have either a pen and notepad in my bag/car for post exam debrief. If i haven’t managed to pass an exam, I jot dot specific questions or topics I was unsure about. I use this list to ensure that I understand those topics well enough for my next attempt. Obviously I never share that list of questions or topics with anyone else because of the NDA, but as there is a finite list of questions you can be sure that at least a few of the same questions will appear on your next attempt.
No amount of exam day strategies can replace good old fashioned hard work and study. You’re either prepared or you’re not. What a good exam day strategy does give you is a reduction is stress and anxiety which will (hopefully) help produce a more positive outcome.
I hope sharing my strategies and tips help you in fulfilling your true potential, whatever that maybe.