OU blog

Personal Blogs

Design Museum

How to use the adrenaline rush when faced with a written exam.

Visible to anyone in the world
Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Thursday, 19 Apr 2012, 08:55

"These are the happiest 180 minutes you will spend this year", we are told. This is said in a dead pan, pragmatic, no nonsense, but reassuring way by B822 Residential School Tutor John Evans. I take the view that I can always learn something new, especially when I think I've got it sussed: I've had my exam successes in the past or I wouldn't have made it to Balliol to study Modern History. My system was a fluke, lacked strategy and on reflection was unduly onerous. There is no short cut but never in my various careers have I ever heard such sense, such practical advice which must work if you run with it. 1) Never go into an exam with less than three pens.

  • Rubber grip best.
  • Change pen for each answer.
  • None of us write continually for three hours any more.
  • The physiologically act of changing pens helps.
  • This aid the sense of relaxation; changing pens helps.

I haven't sat a written exam in nearly 30 years. I haven't written much out by hand for well over a decade either since I gave up a handwritten daily journal for a blog).

Cf. The MBA handbook. Read Sheila Cameron's advice.


2) Memory Visualisation (very much b822)

3) 'Other kinds of thinking' OKT chapter 5 Planning

4) Give it 10-15 minutes.

5) Relax and it will happen

6) Get the three diagrams and fix them in your head to show how blocks 1, 2, 3.


Turn to your neighbour and see if you can think of 20 things that you remember so far about B822.


You tend to produce, rather than a photographic record of the contents page, but what resonated for you. Work with this. INSERT IMAGE 7) Mind-map like links between the blocks.


We are all very different; this difference and complexity defines how a team will work. Not everyone of course appreciates this expecting others to come to line, to remould themselves into a preferred 'type'. 8) Res school is the fourth part of the exam. INSert IMAGE (I was at an awkward angle in the hall with the presenter usually between me and the flip chart so I need to redraw this). 9) Blocks 1, 2, 3 drawn out on a sheet. Set out what resonates with me.

  • THEN what the course is telling me is the core subject matter. For example: NEO, culture, climate, use of metaphor. This is how to prepare and use a MIND DUMP.

10) B822 Library of Techniques There are 168 of these; which are you going to use or drop into the exam?

11) Identify the ones you have used and found useful. Two of three visual as well as the usual verbal or textual ones. Have some activity ones. Need 6-8 in your armoury. Visual, text, activity.  And distinguish between them.

12) CREATE A GRID Justify your criteria for choosing these techniques.

  • Ease of use/complexity
  • No.of people needed.
  • Range of use.
  • Integration potential (would you get the CEO to do finger painting)
  • Risk!
  • Extent of reversioning.
  • In a grid and marking out of 10 (use this for audit of video).

Technique 1

Technique 2

Technique 3

Technique 4

Technique 5

13) Get six postcards of Windsor. (relating it to the RES School at the Marriott Heathrow, though I would have get postcard of passenger planes given the constant presence of planes taking off or landing). Relate these to Langley/Windsor Use these to Trigger off your memory and visualisation. Carry these around and keep reminding yourself. Form a 'wireless connection' with the information on these cards.

14) Arrive 30 minutes before you are due.

Story of person who arrived a day late.  Exam locations are post code sorted. OU very organised and helpful. If you are away from home, elsewhere in the UK or even abroad, it can one arranged. OU students take exams in all kinds of extraordinary places.

15) Have some authors in mind; for B822 this is likely to include:



(the examiner sees that we have taken note of certain authors).

ID. No question about who you are. 180 minutes -15 5+50


  • Don't look at the exam paper.
  • As the first one you read will take your mind over.
  • You need to be able to think equally about all three.
  • Instead sketch out your brain dump, that you had planned, so that you get out of your head everything  that you will need.

Trying to answer three questions from a body of knowledge that you hold. See exam section of tutor group forum. 17) Unpack the question into its constituent parts.

  • Introduction
  • Main body
  • Conclusion
  • Sign-post

18) Rough draft and score through afterwards Every other line. (have the space to put additions in later)

  • Underline for emphasis.
  • Use diagrams.

19) 10 minutes at end. CRUCIAL Your back memory tells you yet more that you may wish to add in.

20) Doing diagrams are good. Have a few and practice.

21) Snack, water. Resource can be cross referenced.

22) Good to show that you are applying current news (say FT)

23) Good example from your place of work.


Intuitively this is what I did decades ago, though in a wasteful and far less strategic way. The other thing I did was to invent great long mnemonics. The first letter would kick off a word, phrase or sentence that would collectively, sometimes running to over 20 facts or ideas, express all I knew or considered important say about Elizabethan history. One of these mnemonics is ringing in my head, eager to be remembered but just out of reach. This BRAIN DUMP BEFORE you read the questions is vital, just get this cue sheet written (though clearly in a way that doesn't suggest you have pulled it from your pocket).

Is it possible to leave an exam feeling euphoric? Yes.

How then to capture the essence of this for an assignment which should receive as much preparation, unfortunately the only parameters are getting it in on time and sticking to the word count. I like to write with adrenaline.

Permalink Add your comment
Share post