Preparing for the written exams

It’s been four weeks since my last blog post, as I had a few busy weeks at work which put me slightly behind on my studies, leaving little time for writing a blog post. However, I’m almost back on track now, and hope to have completed all the content by the end of this week, which will give me one full week of revision for the Marketing exam and 1.5 weeks for Operations Management and Modelling and Analysis for Management.

As I’ve mentioned before, the assessments for this semester are all in the form of a hand-written exam at Warwick University (or exam centres set up for those students not living in the UK). Given that it has been over 10 years since I last wrote an essay under exam conditions, this is quite daunting – I’ll need to write using a pen for three hours, with no ability to cut and paste!

Luckily, to help prepare for the exams, two of the modules gave us the opportunity to complete a mock exam question as the final Tutor Marked Assignment (TMA). I’ve completed both of these (and received my grade for one of them, which I was very pleased with), and am glad I took the time out to do so. Here are my thoughts following these TMAs, in preparation for the final exams.

Writing with a pen

It may seem like a minor concern, but given that most of my note-taking at work is now carried out using my iPad, I rarely write at length with a pen. Writing intensively was therefore, unsurprisingly, very tiring on my wrist. However, one thing that helped was a change in pen between the two TMAs; for the first TMA I used a ballpoint pen that required a lot of pressure, whereas on the the second TMA I used a rollerball – which was a lot softer and much easier to write with. For those readers who are sitting the exams in a few weeks, it might be worthwhile checking the suitability of your pen beforehand, as it could make a difference on the day; there’s an article here that gives some tips on choosing a pen and writing style if you’re interested (although I don’t think tip 8, ‘Take Breaks’ will be much help here!).

Structuring the answer

Given the time constraints, very little time can be spent thinking about how to approach a question and structure an answer; during my first question I used 10 minutes of the 45 minutes allocated to plan my answer, and then ran out of time when writing it. The lesson I learned for the remaining questions was to very quickly decide an approach in my head, then start writing and build the structure as I was writing the question. Personally I would prefer to get as much of the content on paper as possible to demonstrate my understanding, rather than have a well structured answer that is missing some key points. (If there are any assessors reading this, it would be great to hear your viewpoint in the comments area)

Writing first time

As the assessments for last semester’s modules were typed, it was possible to produce an initial structure, then write content and move it around as required. However, in a written exam the content has to be written in the right order first time, with no opportunity to restructure or reorder. I wasn’t sure how I would manage with this, but it was not as difficult as I expected. Taking a few minutes at the start to consider the overall structure, and then just putting my thoughts onto paper seemed to work quite well. What I did do was pause between each paragraph and think about the messages I wanted to get across in the next paragraph, which I found was a worthwhile use of a minute (and gave my writing hand time to rest).

Introduction and conclusion

For most questions I included an introduction, but not a conclusion (this was originally due to not thinking it was required, and then due to a lack of time). However, I had some very valuable feedback from my assessment tutor (I hope they don’t mind me sharing it here!), which was “… conclusion – this is also a chance to reinforce your answer. Remember, it is the last thing the marker reads before assigning your grade!“. This is a very valid point, and even if only 2 sentences written over a minute, I agree that it will likely help the assessor feel the answer is complete.

Real-Life Examples

The Marketing exam required me to include some examples in the answer, which caught me out slightly – it was not that I was not aware of any examples, but just that I had not thought about them in advance and so had to spend some time choosing suitable ones whilst writing the answer. I’ll definitely need to pre-prepare some examples before the final exam.

Time flies

I could not believe how quickly the time passed – spending an hour reading a textbook seems to last forever, but the time disappeared quickly whilst working under exam conditions. I’ll be using that to my advantage to hold back nerves at the start of the exam; I can just remember that 3 hours will be over very quickly, and then the module will be finished.

My first exam is in two weeks’ time, and the final exam will be over in less than three weeks, so this will be my last blog post until the exams are over. I’ve finished all the Marketing lessons, and will quickly finish Operations Management and Modelling and Analysis for Management, before starting my revision at the end of this week. Good luck to all those writing assessments at the moment, as well as those who will be doing exams in a few weeks – I hope you found this blog post useful in preparing.

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14 thoughts on “Preparing for the written exams”

  1. Awesome blog as usual Matt, just thought I’d share a comment that I had as feedback on a recent TMA, that I am finding VERY useful. I was advised to read an article in the Guardian and an article in the Sun on the same subject and to compare the writing styles; apparently I am writing sentences that are too long and like those in the Guardian, I need to be more precise and to the point, and write for the Sun. Thus saying the same thing, in an abbreviated way and saving precious writing time! See you in Warwick!

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  2. Louise – that’s a great tip, thanks very much for sharing. I will definitely give that a go before the exams. Good luck with your revision – see you in a few weeks.

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  3. Hey Matt
    Really enjoying your blog posts and some great tips here – thanks very much for spending the time.

    I did the OM exam last semester and, like you, it has been a few years(!) since my last written exam, so it was a big old shock, but I got through it and, by the sounds of things, you are far more prepared than I was!:))

    All the best with the exams in a couple of weeks. I have EBE and SA as assignments which I’m currently getting through then Marketing and MAM as exams.

    See you on the other side………

    Kind Regards, Andy

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  4. Matt – great blog! I’ll be taking my MKTG, MAM, and OM exams remotely and like you, a bit anxious about the writing-aspect of the exams. My wife and I scheduled a vacation starting December 15th for some downtime immediately after the exams… the video in your post is perfectly relevant! Best of luck to you my friend.

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  5. Hi Matt – I hope your exams are going well. I just finished semester 1 and it’s great to feel “caught up”! Thanks so much for the blog and the interesting material and suggestions. You are an inspiration and I look forward to hearing about the exams and any posthumous ideas that can help prepare me better. As far as writing…I had not considered that eventuality so I will actually take the time all semester and just start to write a whole lot more.

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    1. Thanks Glen, I’m hoping to post about my exam experience later this week. The writing was hard, but not as difficult as I was concerned about. However, that could change when I get a grade of zero because the examiner couldn’t read my handwriting 🙂

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  6. Great blog Matt. I actually changed the pen I was using from simple ball pen to sharpie and it was a big difference. My wrist still did hurt a little but was better. Great work on your blog, I actually got inspired by you blog recently and started one just this weekend. Hope to keep up with the pace once next semester starts…

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    1. Hi Bosky – glad my suggestion helped. Great to see you’ve written a blog, it can be hard to keep the pace up, but hopefully you’ll find it worthwhile.

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  7. Hi Matt –

    Thanks for sharing your exam experience while you have all these exams that you need to prep for. Since I have never done any courses outside US, I have a few questions concerning this MBA program:

    (1) What is the grading system for wbs? Is it a pass/fail or GPA system?

    (2) What is the breakdown of the final grade for each module? Does the final exam carry a lot of weight towards the final grade? It sounds like there are a lot of writing involve in the final exam and as an engineer, i have to admit that writing is definitely not my forte and am a little bit concerned.

    Thanks again, WInnie

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    1. Hi Winnie,

      In the UK there is a pass/merit/distinction grading system – details of the Warwick University system are at http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/services/aro/dar/quality/categories/examinations/conventions/pgt/. However, its probably worthwhile checking with WBS to make sure that there is nothing specific to their course that differs.

      When I did my MBA there were 13 modules worth 10 credits each, followed by a Project & Dissertation worth 50 credits. There is no final exam – each module is assessed individually; most through an assignment, although 3 had exams. You are correct in thinking there is a lot of writing – most of the module assignments expect around 3,000 words, and the P&D is a 15,000 word assignment.

      Hope this helps,

      Matt

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