In my opinion, there are three key ingredients which contribute to success in Tripos examinations:
3. Examination technique
Hopefully this website will help you with examination technique such that you can convert your intelligence and hard work into the mark you want in Tripos! I view examination technique to comprise of i) doing work which will be useful for the examination and ii) performing well when it comes to the examinations. These points will be individually covered in the guide for your subject but some general points you might want to bear in mind are below (although these are written by a medic so I don’t know how “general” they are!):
Doing work which will be useful for the examination
It’s important that you do work which will directly be useful to you in the examination and that you make full use of the resources available to you.
Look at past papers
These may be available on CamTools, but if not, all of them are available in print your college libraries. Photocopy them so you have copies of them all. By looking at past papers you begin to tune your mind into what the examiners like to ask, and how they like to ask questions, and this should shape how you go about learning your topic.
Ask for help
Your supervisors, lecturers and colleagues are there to help – so ask if you don’t understand something.
Read examiners’ reports
By reading examiners’ reports, you can gain an idea of what is expected by the examiners, where they place particular importance and mistakes past students have made, all of which should help you in working and preparing for examinations.
Backup your work
It’s extremely important to regularly backup your work; there’s nothing worse than losing all your notes a few weeks before examinations (I know of several people it has happened to). For paper notes, I recommend you either photocopy them all periodically, or even better, scan them in (or even take photos of them using your smartphone if it’s camera is of high enough resolution and optical quality for the output to be legible). With regard to digital notes (and the scanned in paper notes), I’d recommend you use an online cloud storage service such as dropbox. Such services backup your work to an online server the moment your file is edited (provided you are connected to the internet). Therefore even if you lose your computer or its hard drive become seriously damaged, all files in your cloud folder will still be accessible. An added bonus is that the files can be viewed and edited from other computers and your mobile devices. You should also consider the use of an external hard drive.
Performing well when it comes to examinations
This is essentially the execution stage – putting your year of work into action.
Do lots of past papers
The best way to perform is to do lots of past papers under timed conditions so that you can properly replicate and practice the process of going through examinations.
Look at the clock
Glance at the clock every couple of minutes so you know exactly how long you have left. Try and plan in your mind where you should be in the paper at what time and stick to it; you only get one shot at the examination so make sure you don’t run out of time.
Ensure your work is legible
Ensuring your work is legible is crucial; illegible work is likely to annoy your examiners and lower your mark. Whilst it is by no means essential, if your handwriting is poor, it’s worth considering double spacing your answers as it massively improves legibility. Examiners don’t care if you use twice as much paper, but they won’t be happy if they can’t read your work.
This is verging on one of those lectures you get in school and ignore – but far too many people panic and stress out, particularly during Easter Term and the examinations themselves. Just do your best and seek help if you need it.
Lastly, remember there’s much much more to Cambridge than Tripos. Cambridge is an amazing place; make sure you take advantage of all the activities and societies it has to offer and most of all it’s a place to form lifelong friendships!