Tackling essay-based exams

Picture of rows of exam desks

Exam season is almost upon us and one challenge you may find yourself facing is revising for essay-based exams. These can cause a lot of anxiety, not least because essay-based assessments are often something we are used to doing over the course of several weeks. How do you plan, structure and write an essay in the space of a couple of hours? And how on earth do you revise when you don’t know what you’ll be asked?

Read on for our guide to effective revision and exam technique for essay-based exam questions:

What are essay exams testing?

Before you jump into your revision, it can be helpful to remember that essay exams are not just testing your memory. Instead, your lecturers are looking for evidence of how well you can apply the knowledge you have gained throughout the course to solve a problem or answer a question under timed conditions. Therefore, whilst memory is still important – you’ll need to be able to recall that knowledge in the exam – it’s only part of the story. You’ll also need to make sure you have an in-depth understanding of that knowledge and have practiced applying it to different questions, problems, and contexts.

How do I revise for essay exams?

You may be tempted to write a ‘generic’ essay on each of the topics you’re revising and memorise them so you can repeat them in the exam room. However, keep in mind that your lecturers are asking you to solve the specific problem they’ve set for you and simply ‘dumping’ everything that’s relevant won’t address the question and is unlikely to earn you good marks.

A more effective approach to revising for essay exams is incorporating strategies that develop your understanding of the topic so you can apply your knowledge to different problems effectively. Some revision strategies you might want to try for this are:

  • Questioning and interrogating the knowledge: why does this happen? How does it happen? Does it always happen this way? Is this always true? What about if we apply it to a different context? What are the implications of this?
  • Try applying the knowledge to case studies or different scenarios to get a better understanding of how theory works in practice.
  • Look at past papers or devise your own questions and either answer them in full or sketch out an essay plan under timed conditions. This will help you to test your recall and practice skills you’ll be using in the exam.
  • Compare and weigh up different approaches to the topic. Does everyone agree on this? Why? Why not? Which perspective is stronger?
  • Identify gaps in your knowledge and do some additional reading to fill them.

What about strategies for the exam itself?

You might be used to spending hours or even days planning, writing, and editing a coursework essay and be wondering how on earth you do all of this under timed conditions. Keep in mind that your lecturers know that this is a big ask and they are not expecting the same level of sophistication in the way you construct your arguments that they would be looking for in a coursework essay. However, it’s still necessary that your lecturers can follow your answer and see clearly how it addresses the question so:

  • Spend some time at the beginning paying attention to what the question is asking you. Our video on question analysis offers some strategies for understanding essay questions:
  • Sketch out a basic structure to follow. This needn’t be more than the main points you want to argue and the order you want to argue them in.
  • Clearly state your point or communicate your main focus at the beginning of each paragraph to help your reader get their bearings and follow your argument.
  • If you find yourself running out of time, write down a few bullet points around your remaining points – you may still pick up a few extra marks for this!

Do I need to reference sources in an essay exam?  

While you won’t be expected to reference others to the extent you do in a coursework essay, it’s worth incorporating a few references to back up your points and show how you worked out your answer.

Try to memorise a couple of key arguments and/or debates made by others for each topic as well as the authors’ surname(s) and the year of the article so that you can cite it in the exam. Don’t worry about the details – just one or two lines summarising their main argument is enough.

What about other types of exams?

Exams exist in various formats in addition to the traditional essay-based exam type. For example, your course may also have multiple choice papers, vivas/oral presentations or exams relating to specific processes, techniques and interactions. All types of exams test your ability to recall and apply your subject knowledge, so most advice on revision and exam technique is applicable to different exam types. Effective revision trains your brain both to retain and to retrieve information; a process that’s equally useful for all exam formats. However, different types of exams can also present different challenges, and transitioning from online to in-person exams is a key change for this year. For more details on this and other exam-related issues, see our ASK Exams Collection and our calendar for upcoming workshops on revision and exam preparation.

We are here to support you!

Don’t forget that the Academic Skills Team will be in the Walton Library to answer questions about exams, revision, and any other questions you may have about academic skills on the following days and times:

11.05.2211:00-13:00
25.05.2211:00-13:00
08.06.2211:00-13:00

Elsevier’s Clinicalkey Student

Getting Started

Elsevier’s Clinicalkey Student gives you electronic access to some of the most popular recommended clinical textbooks plus lots of other really useful resources including images and video. Subjects covered include medicine, dentistry and pharmacy. It allows you to add a book to your own Bookshelf, highlight text, add notes, create flashcard, make presentations and more. All of which is described below with videos to watch.

All of the eBooks available from Elsevier’s Clinicalkey can be found individually by searching for them on Library Search. To search or browse the collection go to Library Search and search for Clinicalkey.

To Login

To find out how to login and search for a book follow the instruction below or watch this video to get started.

  • Click on Log in via your institution on the right hand side
  • In the Institution search box type Newcastle University
  • Login using your University Username and Password

You are now ready to search for content either:

  • a book by title, author or keyword
  • a subject keyword for any content e.g. book, chapter, video available

Using the Bookshelf

To find out how to use the Bookshelf follow the instruction below or watch this video to get started.

To add a book to the Bookshelf you need to be within the content of a chapter. Search for the book by title, author or keyword

  • Click View book TOC
  • Click on the chapter you want
  • Click Add to Bookshelf on right hand side
  • If you want to see the book on your bookshelf, click Launch Bookshelf
  • If you click on the Home option this will show you all the books you have added to your Bookshelf
  • Once you have added to your Bookshelf you can go straight to it from the homepage by clicking on Bookshelf

For more details on using the Bookshelf watch this video.

Highlighting and Saving Text

When you are within the text of a chapter you can highlight any part to save it as a note for later. See instructions below and for more detail watch this video on Highlighting and Saving text.

  • Highlight the text you want to save
  • Select either green or yellow to highlight the colour
  • Give the note a name to show what it is

To look at all your notes click on the Notepad option on the left of the screen.

Creating Flashcards

When you are within the text of a book you can highlight any part to create a Flashcard. See instructions below and for more detail watch this video on Creating Flashcards.

  • Highlight the text you want for the front of the flashcard
  • Choose an existing Deck or a New Deck and Create it
  • Highlight and select Copy to get the text for the back of the card – Paste this text into the card
  • Save the card
  • You can create as many decks as you want and as many cards you want in each deck
  • By clicking on the Play button in the top right hand corner of the deck you can run through the cards to test your knowledge

Creating Presentations

You can share the latest evidence-based information with colleagues by exporting images with their citation and copyright information into a PowerPoint presentation.

See instructions below and for more detail watch this video on Creating Presentations

  • Search or Browse for an image
  • Click the Add to Presentation link at the bottom of the image
  • Select an Existing Presentation from the drop down menu
  • Click Add

OR

  • Click Create a New Presentation
  • Give it a name in the Presentation Name box
  • Click Add

Download the presentation and save as a .ppt file. You can then add your own slides and text to complete your presentation.

Using the Clinicalkey APPs

There are two types of Bookshelf apps:

  • Mobile App (iOS or Android): You can download the mobile app directly in the iOS or Android app store. To find the app, search for the name of the app (Bookshelf ClinicalKey Student).
  • Desktop App (Windows 10+): The app name appears as ClinicalKey Student Bookshelf. During the download process, you will be prompted to install the app and agree to the terms and conditions. This will create a menu icon and add a shortcut on your Windows 10 desktop.
  • Desktop Apps (Mac OS): Download the Mac version and follow the steps on the screen to complete the download and install the app.

Authentication requirements depend on the app you are using: mobile or desktop.

  • Mobile App (iOS or Android): The first time you use the Bookshelf mobile app, you must be in your authenticated medical school’s network when you sign up or sign in. For only this first-time usage, you have to be authenticated by your medical school’s network. After this unique confirmation that your account belongs to a medical school that provides ClinicalKey Student, the app will remember this authentication, and you can use the app online (in any network) or offline.
  • Desktop App (Windows 10+): You do not need to be on an IP-authenticated network to access the desktop app. Use your ClinicalKey Student username and password to log in to the desktop app.

Referencing – getting the right ingredients

Referencing

Academic work builds upon the shared ideas, words and findings of other people. However, whenever you use other people’s work you must acknowledge it. This includes sources from books, journal articles, newspapers, video or other sources. You need to make it clear to the readers of your work where you got the information from and who produced it.

Find out more about how to reference and managing your references using our electronic guides.

Remember if you are directly quoting an author you need to put the text in quotation marks and give the page number, e.g. “Referencing is the best” (1 p. 3)

Referencing Styles

There are a number of different referencing styles which enable you to present your references in a particular format. Harvard at Newcastle is a modified author/date style and the most commonly used. However some people prefer a numbered style e.g. Vancouver or Vancouver superscript

Using EndNote to display the style

The Harvard at Newcastle style has been added to EndNote X9.  For more information on using EndNote to manage your references see our EndNote Guide.

Remember when you cite you must be consistent and cite each type of references correctly for your chosen style. For more help with citing references use the online resource Cite them right.

Journals – Don’t get lost in the darkness

Journals

The Library subscribes to a huge number of journals to assist you with your research. The majority of these are available electronically although we still have some print titles. There are some journals that are only published online with no print and may not have volumes and parts but are identified by DOIs or references numbers.

You can find journal titles by using Library Search. However if you are searching a database, you can use the Find@Newcastle University option, to link straight to Library Search to see if the journal is in stock. In Library Search records for electronic journals say Online access and when you click on them give you options to View Online.

Records for print journal give you a location and shelfmark indicating where the journal can be found.

If you read an article online then you need to reference the article as a Electronic Journal Article not a webpage.

Using the Harvard at Newcastle style a reference from an Online only Journal would look similar to this:

Chan, J.-Y. L., Wang, K.-H., Fang, C.-L. and Chen, W.-Y. (2014) ‘Fibrous papule of the face, similar to tuberous sclerosis complex-associated angiofibroma, shows activation of the mammalian target of rapamycin pathway: evidence for a novel therapeutic strategy?’, PloS one, 9(2), p. e89467.

A reference for a Print Journal would look like this:

Paton, N. (2015) ‘Night work triggers health risks’, Occupational Health, 67(9), pp. 6-6.

We also have a tool called Browzine which can help you identify journals in your subject area.

Be Well@ncl and Medicine in Literature collections

Do you need help to understand your mental health and wellbeing?

Are looking to understand your subject from a different point of view?

Then take a look at the collections below. These will get you reading around and outside of your subject and could benefit your health and wellbeing. Both collections can be found in the Quiet Study area of the Walton Library.

Be Well@NCL

Be well@NCL is a collection of books designed to help manage and understand common mental health conditions and wellbeing. Reading a book by someone who understands what you are facing can help you start to feel better. The books within the collection are recommended by professionals and are available to borrow. The Philip Robinson and Walton libraries have the same collection of books.

Content of the collection

The collection offers books that can help with a wide range of issues and concerns. The collection includes titles that offer more healthy ways of thinking, such as practicing mindfulness and challenging unhelpful thought patterns. There are also books about common feelings, experiences, and issues, such as:

  • Anger
  • Anxiety – including health anxiety and social anxiety
  • Bereavement, loss and grief
  • Body image issues and Body Dysmorphic Disorder
  • Caring for someone with a mental health issue
  • Depression – including postnatal depression
  • Eating disorders and eating distress
  • Low self-esteem
  • Mood swings
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Phobias and panic
  • Sleep problems
  • Stress

If you find the book you are reading is not helping, please contact your GP or health professional. If you are a student you can also contact the University’s counselling team.

If the book you want is out on loan then please make a Reservation. If there is high demand for a book this alerts library staff to potentially order more.

Pick up a Be well@NCL postcard from the Walton Library desk or find out more here.

Medicine in Literature (MIL)

The Medicine in Literature collection captures the complexities of what it means to be human through a wide range of literary genres. Representations of illness, dis-ease, healing and health are interwoven themes that give voice to a diversity of perspectives and experiences. If you are interested in exploring your subject from a different viewpoint or simply want to broaden your reading, dive right in! The collection includes books and DVDs.

Topics covered include:

  • Alzheimer’s
  • Anxiety
  • Autism
  • Bipolar Disorder
  • Brain Disorders
  • Cancer
  • Coma
  • Cystic Fibrosis
  • Dementia
  • Depression
  • Eating Disorders
  • Epilepsy
  • HIV/AIDS
  • Leukaemia
  • Locked-In Syndrome
  • Mental Illness 
  • Motor Neurone Disease
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
  • Parkinson’s
  • Polio
  • Schizophrenia
  • Stroke

Go and have a look at both of these collections in the Quiet Study area of the Walton Library.

Top tips to get you started with revision

A person writing at a desk

Hoping to get some revision done during the Easter Vacation?

Here are some tips to get you started:

1. Have a look at our MCQ collection in the Quiet study area of the Walton Library. This collection has books with MCQs, EMQs, SBAs, OSCEs and other self  assessment and answer questions on many different subjects including;  anatomy, medicine, physiology, surgery and more. Look out for the green stickers on the spines of the books.

2. Check out the the Exams and Revision Section on the ASK (Academic Skills Kit) webpages for more help.

3. Remember to take regular breaks.

4. Stay well hydrated, eat properly and get some exercise.

5. Remember to check the date, time and place of your exam well in advance of  the day, make sure you know where you are going.

Have a good Easter Vacation. Happy revising and Good Luck in the exams when you get back.

Image by Shurriken from Pixabay

From all the staff in the Walton Library.

Medicine in Literature – some thing different for your Easter Reading

Medical Humanities or Narrative Medicine is a popular academic discipline that explores the crossroads between medicine and the arts.

Our Medicine in Literature collection captures the complexities of what it means to be human through a wide range of literary genres.

These resources range from fiction, non-fiction including medical history, ethics and memoir, graphic novels, poetry and prose or medicine as metaphor, to films. Representations of illness, dis-ease, healing and health are interwoven themes that give voice to a diversity of perspectives and personal experiences of the human condition.

If you’re interested in exploring your subject field from a different viewpoint or simply want a break from revision this Easter, dive right in! The physical stock is located in the Quiet Study area of the Walton Library or you can browse the collection from our Library Guide.

Please email any resource recommendations to lib-medlit@ncl.ac.uk.

See the Top 10 Medicine in Literature books borrowed from the collection this year.

 

 

 

 

Study Well@NCL – What we’re doing in the Walton Library.

As you may have already seen Study Well@NCL advocates a responsible approach to studying and encourages positive behaviours in study spaces because we know it can be stressful especially at certain times of the year.

Extended Opening Hours

Here in the Walton Library from 7th-25th January 2019 we’ll be extending our opening hours opening from 8:30 until midnight, seven days a week. You can check our extended opening times on the library website.

Noise Alert Service

We’ll also be monitoring our Noise Alert phone very closely during this time. Wherever you are in the Walton, you can text us at 07891 484764 and we’ll investigate the source of the noise issue as soon as possible.

Housekeeping

During busy periods staff will be checking to see:

  • where seats are available.
  • that bins are emptied.
  • that bathrooms are clean.
  • that walkways are kept clear.

How you can help

  • Choose a study space suited to your preferred choice of study, we have silent, quiet and collaborative spaces to chose from.
  • Do be mindful of the food and drink policy within your chosen study area.
  • We might not always know straightaway if there’s a shortage of towels in the bathroom or if a bin in a group study room needs emptying. Just give us a quick heads up if you notice something that needs our attention and we’ll be right on it.

Looking after yourself

We encourage all Library users to take regular study breaks. Taking the time to get a drink of water or some fresh air can make all the difference to your study session.[1] However, to be fair to all Library users, we’re asking that breaks away from your study space are no more than 30 minutes.

Colour your Campus

On a much lighter note, we’ll be providing pens, pencils and special medical-themed colouring sheets for you to relax and unwind with. Studies have shown that colouring can reduce anxiety and depressive symptoms in adults.[2] So while you’re taking a study break, why not pause and Colour Your Campus? Even better, hand your completed sheet in to a member of Library staff with your name or Twitter handle on the back and we’ll enter it into a draw to win some fabulous Library prizes.

We hope that Study Well@NCL provides you with a peaceful and productive study environment and allows you to achieve maximum studying satisfaction. We welcome feedback on how we can change or improve Study Well@NCL. You can Tell Us What You Think’ online or get a form in the Walton Library.

Finally, if you’re feeling overwhelmed, please contact the University Student Wellbeing Team or NUSU Student Welfare. They’re there to help.

We wish you every success with your exams – Study well.

References

[1] Flett, J., Lie, C., Riordan, B., Thompson, L., Conner, T. and Hayne, H. (2017). Sharpen Your Pencils: Preliminary Evidence that Adult Coloring Reduces Depressive Symptoms and Anxiety. Creativity Research Journal, 29(4), pp.409-416.

[2] Selig, M. (2019). How Do Work Breaks Help Your Brain? 5 Surprising Answers. [online] Psychology Today. Available at: https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/changepower/201704/how-do-work-breaks-help-your-brain-5-surprising-answers [Accessed 2 Jan. 2019].

 

 

Want something different to read this Christmas? Why not take a look at our Medicine in Literature Collection.

Medical Humanities or Narrative Medicine is a popular academic discipline that explores the crossroads between medicine and the arts.

Our Medicine in Literature collection captures the complexities of what it means to be human through a wide range of literary genres.

These resources range from fiction, non-fiction including medical history, ethics and memoir, graphic novels, poetry and prose or medicine as metaphor, to films. Representations of illness, dis-ease, healing and health are interwoven themes that give voice to a diversity of perspectives and personal experiences of the human condition.

If you’re interested in exploring your subject field from a different viewpoint or simply want to broaden your reading this Christmas, dive right in! The physical stock is located in the Quiet Study area of the Walton Library or you can browse the collection from our Library Guide.

Please email any resource recommendations to lib-medlit@ncl.ac.uk.

See the Top 10 Medicine in Literature books borrowed from the collection this year.

 

 

 

 

Doing your Literature Review

Struggling with your Literature Review?  Can’t see the wood for the trees?

We have lots of resources that can help you find the references you need:

  • Watch this video for an overview on literature reviews.
  • York University’s video on Creating a Search Strategy will introduce to the process of breaking down your research question.
  • Don’t forget as you go along you need to be managing your references so you can easily come back to them when you start writing.
  • EndNote  is a piece of software that will help you do this.
  • Remember you must give credit where it is due.  Don’t forget to Reference correctly!