How To Pass Exams

Ok, maybe the title is a little far reaching, but my top tip is one step of many in the right direction.

This blog was inspired by a friend in Chicago who mailed me with the bad news that she had failed an exam she took.  I was astounded by her openess.  Not succeeding is a hard thing for us Brits to own up to sometimes, and it is indicative of one of the more positive aspects of The American Way: that you can succeed another day so just get on with it.

To make myself feel better about the sensitivity that I felt on her behalf – I emailed her one of my tips that definitely led to my MBA success.

Just to set the scene, I wasn’t an academic – I didn’t feel the need to get the highest marks.  I just wanted to pass.  I had other things to do and I felt that study was really, in the main, confirming what I already knew; or was just plain common sense that someone had formed into a ‘schema’ or ‘process’ or ‘diagram’.  Call it trite – but I’m being honest.

So, once I had established that I ‘got the concept’ of a particular piece of coursework – then came the tricky part of demonstrating it outside of the workplace where I would be practically applying it – or at least would be able to explain in others’ words the theory behind particular activity or strategy.

This is the advice that I gave to my Chicago friend:

In terms of learning to pass the exam, I used mnemonics for lists and concepts e.g.

 To memorise ‘Trends in Strategic Human Resource Management

 1 Internationalization of market integration.

2 Increased competition, which may not be local or even national through free market ideology

3 Rapid technological change.

4 New concepts of line and general management.

5 Constantly changing ownership and resultant corporate climates.

6 Cross-cultural issues

7 The economic gravity shifting from ‘developed’ to ‘developing’ countries

 I would first paraphrase to reflect my understanding:

 1 international

2 more competition

3 technology

4 management lines – new

5 ownership

6 culture

7 developing

 Then I form some semblance of a word or something memorable from the first letters e.g. TIM COMD so that I call recall the words and then expound on them in the exam.  This means that I am able to reflect commonly taught concepts from the study texts verbatim, whilst demonstrating the application or relevance with my narrative answer in the exam.

 You may already do this, and if so – apologies, but it helped me gain a Masters Degree, when in the last six months I doubled up and took the whole final year of study so was taking two courses as well as working full time.

So, this formed a very practical tip that I would use often.  Especially good when having to learn the steps of say, Slatter’s Turnaround; or even the entries normally found in company financial statements.

As with any tip there is a caveat.  I may sound flippant about study, but this is acted out in an environment of profound excitement and interest in my chosen field.  I may not need to hold the date and time of a Foucault’s ‘eureka’ moment in Management and Organisational Theory, but as long as I can remember CIA gets me the three strategic activities of Analyse, Choose, Implement – then it helps me to this day when I’m actually in the work place doing it.

The caveat is this: you will find success if you have talent or you work hard.  You can have both, but you only need one. My tip is not a route to success – it is an enabler if you have talent or you work hard, which could also be called diligence.


3 responses to “How To Pass Exams

  1. Pingback: Twitted by CapableManager

  2. Definately a worthwhile learning strategy. Many years ago this study technique helped me pull an A level resit from a C to an A, and continued to help me gain my degree and my Postgrad qualification.

    …and I AM an academic, who now teaches this method to her students.

    • Thanks for the feedback. I had to use this method because I was working and studying at the same time and I didn’t have time to immerse myself in the theoretical subject – yet I still needed to be able to recall it at exam time. I’m amazed by what has stayed with me because of it.

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