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Preparing for assessments

At uni, assessment takes many different forms. For some papers or courses the end of semester and/or end of year exam form the biggest percentage of your grade, and for other papers or courses, the exams are only a small part of the assessment process. The most common forms of assessment at Otago are in the form of:

How well you complete your assignments has a big impact on the marks and grades you get. The key is not to leave assignments until the last minute, and to ensure when you are working on them that it is quality work. Here are some tips to ensure you prepare effectively:

  • Mark assignment due dates in your calendar.
  • Create a study timetable in which you allocate time to work on your assignment from the moment you get given the topic, until it is due.
  • Try to have your assignment done before it is due (maybe a week before). This means that you will still have time to proof read it before handing it in, or to finish it if unexpected things come up.
  • Set a plan on how you will do your assignments and which parts of it should be done when (e.g. all the readings will be done by....).
  • For more tips, check out  the online resources from HEDC Student Learning Development.


HEDC Student Learning Development has put together an online version of their workshop "Writing the university essay". The following short video (around 5 minutes) covers some of the things you need to consider when writing your essay.

HEDC Student Learning Development resources

Oral presentations

Oral presentations are used in assessment in several university subjects, for example law, design, and some science subjects. Tony Zaharic, first year lecturer, explains "how not to give a talk". In the following short videos, he touches on topics such as:

  • what to say in a presentation
  • how to say it
  • how much information to put in a presentation slide
  • what sort of information to put in your presentation slides
  • what to avoid in your presentation slides
  • good speech killers, and
  • how do you ''get it right" in presentations

The Otago links below take you to some presentations of more senior students - these are delivered in a concise, fun, and clear manner. The external links take you to the TED website, where you will find examples of inspirational talks on diverse topics for the preparation of your own oral presentations.

What to say

And how to say it

How much information do I put in?

What to put in your presentation slides

What to avoid with your presentation slides

Good speech killers

How do I get it right

External links

  • Inspirational talks by people from different walks of life: TED talks


Preparing notes for exams

Types of tests/exams

Before you sit an exam or test you should understand:

  • what kind of test you will be doing
  • what emphasis the test will have

Below are some examples of different tests/exams and their emphases. You should note that all tests require understanding and reasoning, even though the type of response they call for may vary.

Basic test type Emphasis
MCQ (multiple choice)/true/false Recognition, recall, understanding
SAQ (short answer questions) Recall, understanding
Essay (long answer) Understanding, analysis, interpretation, evaluation

Some papers require a practical form of assessment such as a performance or recital.

Some general exam strategies

In preparing for a test or exam you may find it helpful to employ the following general strategies:

  • Read any stated objectives or outcomes you have been given. These will help you to see what is important in the paper.
  • Read your course materials (i.e. hand-outs, readings, etc.) and your lecture notes carefully.
  • Review your own notes and fill in any ideas or information that is obviously missing.
  • Write down what you consider to be the main themes, central ideas, and concepts of the paper.
  • Test your understanding of these, and elaborate on that understanding by:
  1. Clarifying the meaning of difficult or important parts of the paper.
  2. Adding more detail where you think it appropriate.
  3. Clarifying relationships between ideas and concepts.

Your aim should be to see how main ideas and concepts relate to each other, and how they are used to support particular subjects or themes. Mapping and charting can help this process which is sometimes referred to as 'relational understanding'. It can help you to visualise course content, to see the big picture, and to identify patterns and relationships. Relational understanding helps in the preparation for all types of tests.

Multiple choice

Multiple choice tests are intended to be objective and reliable. In learning for a multi-choice test it is important to learn for understanding, as well as for recall. Multi-choice tests sound simple, but they can be tricky. A multi-choice test may require you to:

  • Recognise the answer to a problem.
  • Recognise the correct reason for a relationship.
  • Establish links.
  • Demonstrate an understanding of principles or rules.

When attempting a multi-choice test, make sure you read the instructions and questions carefully. Consider the following:

  • Is the question asking for:
  1. The only correct answer?
  2. Two or more correct answers?
  3. The best answer?
  4. The incorrect alternative?
  • Identify questions you can answer easily. Answer these first.
  • Look for, and underline, any distinguishing words or phrases, especially those that are linked to specific sections of the paper.
  • Convert any double negatives to positives.
  • Read the options in conjunction with the question.
  • Recall what you have learned. Look for the correct/best option.
  • Allocate your time carefully, especially if some questions or sections are worth more than others.
  • Pace yourself through the test or exam.
  • Change answers only if you have a strong feeling that your first response was wrong.

Short answer

These tests are most often used to test knowledge and understanding of definitions, formulae, principles and explanations. They are often used to cover a wide range of content. Usually, short answer tests can be answered succinctly, but answers need to be accurate. When approaching the short answer test, look for key words in the question.

For example:

  • Define: Give clear, precise meanings.
  • List: Write an itemised set of accurate and concise statements or formulaes.
  • State: Write down main points, or describe a principle or concept.
  • Explain: Clarify the meaning of a statement or question.
  • Diagram: Provide a plan, chart, or table of some kind.


  • You should allocate your time very carefully for a short answer test.
  • You can usually use bullet points where appropriate in this kind of test.
  • You should also be prepared to apply what you know to new situations.

Essay type questions

There can be considerable subject variation in the requirements for exam essay writing. In general, however, essay type questions test understanding (of themes, ideas, concepts), and the ability to interpret, analyse and evaluate. In preparing for this type of test, you must make sure that you understand the ideas, concepts, and theories that have been set out in the course. Your preparation can be assisted by:

  • Discussions with your classmates
  • Drafting responses to possible questions
  • Feedback on any internal assessment

As in all exams, you should read the question most carefully:

  • Look for key words or phrases that will tell you what is expected in your answer.
  • Make sure you do not write for too long on one question. If you do, you will be under time on another, and risk losing more marks than you will gain.
  • Begin with the questions you find easiest, and which deal with the material you know best.
  • If you run out of time, use bullet points to indicate how you would have completed your answer.

Additional exam strategies

Link up with a friend
Studying in a group, or setting mutual study goals and discussing key concepts and ideas with a friend may be helpful. It can also help you to stay motivated and keep you on track.

Make use of past examination papers
If possible, get hold of some past papers and work through them to get an idea of the kinds of questions asked and what is expected of you. Note however that the style and format of exams often change, so check with your lecturer about what is required. Copies of past exam papers are available for viewing and printing from the library website. Hard copies are also held in the library if you wish to access them in person.

Further information
For information about exam timetables and venues, recounts, alternative arrangements in the case of illness or disability etc., check out the University exams webpage. Once the exam schedule is set, your personal exam timetable will be available in the Timetable section of your eVision portal, giving the date, time and venue of each of your exams. Read your exam timetable carefully, and check that the times of your exams don't clash. If you find there is a problem, or if you have any queries, email the Examinations Office immediately:

You can also find a number of online resources on assessment writing and exams on the HEDC Student Learning Development website