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Taking a problem solving exam

Getting started

  • Go prepared with all the equipment you will need: calculator with an approved sticker with ENCS, Student ID card, etc.
  • Do a "memory dump" as soon as the exam starts: write down anything you're afraid you will forget
  • Read directions carefully.
  • Look through the whole exam quickly: mark questions that you know how to do; while your mind is fresh, write down any formulas or information you will need to do any of the problems.
  • Budget your time for each question depending on how much it is worth; e.g. spend 10% of your time on a question worth 10% of the marks.
  • Start with the questions that seem easiest to you. 

Working problems

  • Read each question carefully; underline key words.
  • Write down what you're given and what you have to find (note the unit); draw a table or diagram if possible.
  • Use lots of space and write big (so you won't miss those negative signs); always show all your work.
  • Respect your time plan; if you run out of time before you finish a question you know how to do, write in point form what you would do if you did have time to finish.
  • If you discover a mistake after you have finished a question, don't erase or cross out the problem.
  • Indicate where the error is and leave it. Also, if possible, note how it would change the rest of your solution. You may have time at the end to redo the problem.
  • Check your answers whenever you can; check units; check that your answer is logically possible. 

Controlling your anxiety

  • Keep your mind focused on positive thoughts: e.g. you can do it, you'll go for part marks on a difficult question, etc.
  • Use deep breathing to keep your anxiety in control at the beginning and throughout the exam.
  • Think about writing exams as a chance to show the professor what you know.
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