Re-sitting an exam can present a number of unique challenges, but with careful planning, you can sail through easily and painlessly. Like any other area of academic success, strategy is key.

It helps to understand a little about how exams are most often structured. The majority of instructors, knowingly or unknowingly, tier the responses so that grades are distributed properly. Thus, an ideal exam and one nearly impossible to make will have enough questions to ensure that not everyone does badly, nor does everyone do incredibly well. Even essay questions are typically structured in such a way that an average can be met.

Now, there are many reasons why an exam may need to be re-sat: maybe personal circumstances prevented you etc. In any case, the biggest issue to consider is how much time has passed between the course, the first exam, and the re-sit. Is it a few weeks? A full term? The following pieces of advice will likely help you better strategise your preparations.

1. Don’t assume the questions will be the same

Probably the biggest error you could make is assuming that the questions you will be given will be the same as the previous exam. Even where you may not have taken the exam, an instructor will likely assume that you know someone from the class who might inform. They will most certainly make a unique exam that somehow covers the same material but is not the same exam.

2. Don’t assume the questions will be different

However, just because the exam is likely to be different does not mean an old exam or a friend’s knowledge of the exam is unhelpful. Remember that there is usually a core of information that should carry you to at least an average mark. Very likely, that old exam has this core of information to help you get started. One caution, however: if you are getting information for an exam from a friend that took it, but you did not, keep in mind that their memory can be fallible and their need to perform well not as great as yours.

3. Know the format

One aspect of sitting or re-sitting any exam is to know the format. Most instructors do not have any issue with telling students the format of the exam; whether it is multiple choice, fill in the blank, short answer, or essay. If you do not know, you should not have any reservations asking your instructor. But pressing to know anything more will be frowned on.

4. Make your own exam

One of the most tried and true ways of preparing for an exam is to make the exam for yourself. Using your most recent exam as a model, try to find ways to make questions that are more difficult and challenging than the ones you already know. Think: what would a cruel and sadistic instructor ask on this exam? This is an excellent way to prepare yourself.

5. Find old exams

Depending on the subject area there are often old exams from courses past available through the university. And if they are not, you can sometimes petition your instructor or their department to provide you with copies of old exams. This is a great way to study because seeing multiple exams can allow you an opportunity to spot trends and identify common themes across semesters. It is also worth noting that professors very often use old exams to give them ideas for their own.

6. Find other sources for exams

The Internet can also be a good source of material for exams and exam questions. When it comes to potential theme based essay type questions, a really big help can be reading other student’s essays. There is an abundance of online content where university students have posted their own essays on topics online. This can allow you opportunities to shape a position or develop a line of argumentation well before you sit down. If, for instance, you know you have an essay exam on Shakespeare’s Hamlet, reading other essays about Hamlet alongside reading Hamlet is really going to help.

And if you have more specific details, you can request model exam answers to be prepared for you through an online service. This can also further help you develop a line of argumentation and development well in advance of the exam. These, in fact, have the advantage of being original content and can thus provide fresh ideas that can set your exam apart.

7. Plan ahead

Whatever line of attack you choose the one thing that you must do is plan ahead. More than likely you will know a reasonable time in advance that an exam will need to be re-sat and when that will be. It takes a long time to prepare properly, to gather materials as we have suggested above, or make exams for yourself. You do not want to wait too long, so start as soon as possible.

Good luck.

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