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Shortcuts: How to pass exams

By Carlyle Laurie for CNN
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(CNN) -- "Exams" is the word that strikes fear into the heart of a student more than any other. But the chances are that even after you graduate you'll still need to pass an exam somewhere down the line to get on in your chosen career. So here's how...

Feign an injury: The best excuse to have in the run-up to an exam is, "I've broken my writing hand." This might be enough to get you off the hook altogether -- or at least earn some extra cramming time -- and at worse you should be allowed a "writer" to do the hard graft of getting your thoughts on paper. Maybe you can split the workload and get them to do some of the studying as well. The downside is you might have to spend a few weeks with your hand in plaster to make it convincing.

Avoid being stressed out: It goes without saying that breaking up with your girl/boyfriend or arguing with your parents about why you want to be a drama student rather than a doctor on the eve of the exam won't do you any good. Sticking to the three C's (cool, calm and composed) is probably the wiser option. Sleeping, exercising and eating healthily are proven ways to de-stress the mind and ensure you enter the exam room sharp and alert -- so make sure you get plenty of those in the run-up the big day.

Planning: For some students plotting a pre-exam revision timetable, perhaps elaborately decorated in colorful felt-tip pens, is an effort worthy of congratulation in itself. But the harder job is sticking to it. Once you structure your revision and manage your time properly, things won't seem so daunting anymore. Identify your strengths and weaknesses and allocate more time to the latter -- you can tackle the stuff you're good at when you need a break from the brain ache.

Be prepared: The next best thing to taking a peek at the exam paper before you take it is to check out a few from earlier years. The same questions may not come up in exactly the same form, but they'll give you a very good idea of what to expect. Come the dreaded day, make sure you have everything you need -- pens (lots of them), pencils, calculators, lucky gonk etc.

Forget the last minute cramming: It is part of the pre-exam ritual to claim to all and sundry that you only started revising the night before -- but the only people for whom this is true are those foolhardy few heading for re-takes, ignominy and failure. If you've done the work (you have, haven't you?) and learnt it properly you shouldn't have anything to worry about. Going into the exam with lots of hastily-absorbed information floating around your brain is only going to confuse your thought processes and make you more prone to the sort of errors -- failing to write your name on the paper, failing to notice a vital appended table -- that could do some real damage to your chances.

Staying awake: If remaining conscious in the exam itself is a problem then maybe you need to be a little bit more stressed about it all -- and maybe you're suffering from narcolepsy. In the short term though caffeine is a pretty useful way of sharpening the brain and improving performance -- so long as you don't overdo it and end up scrawling pages of coffee-fueled nonsense after OD'ing on double shot espressos. (admittedly a Web site with an interest in the therapeutic benefits of the coffee bean) says, "Doing exams is an energy and attention demanding activity; coffee may help to sharpen your mind, assuming that you are a regular coffee drinker. Since, coffee is used as a mood optimizer, it may help to find the most appropriate state of mind to make a success of the exam."

Taking exams: stay cool, calm and composed to succeed.


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