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The Skills Check is a short survey which should take you no more than 3 minutes to complete. Once you have completed the Skills Check we provide you with a personal learning plan targeted to your personal study needs and goals.

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  4. Find out about the exam

Find out about the exam

You need to know about the exam. The specimen exam paper and copies of past papers help you become familiar with the format of the exam paper and whether there are compulsory questions.

One of your module mailings will include a specimen examination paper, which will be very similar in structure to the actual exam paper. When you get it

  • read it through
  • look at the layout
  • get to know the way the questions are organised
  • look at how many marks are allocated to each part.

Some specimen exam papers include answers to give you an idea of the type of content expected - but accept that your own answers will be less polished than these.

Familiarising yourself with the specimen exam paper is an important part of preparing yourself for the exam. Mark, an OU tutor, explains.

Here is a checklist of questions to help you think about the format of your exam (you can also download a copy of this here: find out about the exam paper (RTF, 3.4MB). Add other questions to suit your own module.

  • How long is the exam?
  • How many sections to the paper?
  • How many questions must you answer in each section, and out of how many? For example, 3 out of 5
  • Are any questions compulsory?
  • What types of question are there? Short answer, essay, technical questions, calculations, report, multiple choice - split the paper into sections as necessary, for example, Part 1 is essay, Part 2 is short answer
  • Are any questions worth more marks than others?
  • How much time will you have to answer each question? (allocate time to suit the number of marks and allow time to read, plan and check)
  • Are any questions 'seen' questions - available before the exam?
  • Do you have any queries for your tutor about the exam format?

It is very important to answer the right number of questions. You will lose marks if you answer too few, and waste time if you answer too many. Read the instructions on the exam paper carefully.

As I walked out of the exam room, I realised I had missed out a compulsory section! Reading simple instructions can be hard when you have that knotted-up feeling at the beginning of an exam.

Unless the question papers are restricted or this is the first year of a module, you can also order previous exam papers. Use these to practise constructing answers to exam questions. If you have example answers in your specimen exam paper they will help you see how to construct answers, but if you find this difficult then discuss it with your tutor or study adviser, or with other students. Be aware of any differences in the format of previous exams and remember that the exam questions and topics change each year, so you won't be able to predict just what you'll find.

Once you understand the structure of the exam, think about the following as you plan your approach.

  • Will you need to answer particular questions in separate exam booklets?
  • How will you allocate time during the exam time to answer the required number of questions, according to the marks each is worth?
  • How much time should you allocate to reading through the paper at the beginning and checking what you've written at the end?
  • Which sections do you think you'd be happiest tackling first?