Say you’re playing basketball. You dribble past your defender into space. It’s a long way from the net, but you’re confident – you’ve been practicing for way too long. You take the shot, just as the defense scrambles to get in front of you. Too late. You timed it perfectly. The ball leaves your hand with enough backspin to make a table tennis player proud. It takes off at the optimum 45 degree angle, maximizing distance to power. Swish. 2 points for you. Back on defense. The guy who was just guarding you dribbles up court. Clumsily, he hangs around the edge of the3-point line. You stand alert, daring him to make his move. He puts up a half-hearted jab to your left. You don’t bite. Another jab, this time with as much persuasiveness as an insurance salesman trying to sell you keychains. You stand firm, glued on him. With some unease, he sizes up the basket. He puts up a shot. It is the ugliest thing you’ve ever seen. The ball groans as he chucks it forward from chest-height. The instant the ball leaves his brutish grip, your opponent spasmatically freezes into a poor excuse for a follow-through, as if he only then remembered his coach’s insistence on proper form. The ball crashes through the air with as much grace as a hand-grenade, clipping the front rim at an impossibly horizontal angle. The shot actually had top-spin. Which pushes the ball slightly forward as it rebounds high off the front rim, and falls square through the net. Swish. 3 points for him. For those slightly less familiar with basketball, or those yet to get what I’m driving at (pun not entirely unintended), allow me to put it simply: If you’re standing in the 2-point area, no matter good you are, you will never get 3 points. And if you’re shooting outside the 3-point line, no matter how bad you are, you will get 3 points if the shot falls. And for those unwilling to put 2 and 3 together to appreciate what this means for exams, let me say this: If you want an A, you have to do things which the rules say will give you an A. It does not matter how much (or how little) you work or even how good you are at the subject. If you want an A, do things which give you an A. Now you’re probably asking – how do I know what gives me an A? In case you haven’t realized, the entire education system is geared towards knocking this into your head. Model answers, ten year series, model students, marking rubrics: all these are really there to show, tell, plague and indoctrinate you to the path of the A grade. So the first step is not working hard at the subject – it is finding out where the 3-point line is drawn. What do you need for an A GP essay? Is it structure, language, examples, or evaluation? And lines are specific, not blur, so find out – what kind of structure? What kind of words and phrases? Must my examples be original, or does it suffice if I re-use that epithet on global warming killing us all that everyone uses? Do I need to be critical in my evaluation, or will a simple model essay regurgitation do the job? Or, for econs: Does it suffice if you write entirely L3 stuff? Or does the system require you to show that you do know the L1 stuff like the basic definitions? Must key words be there or do you get to creatively express yourself (read: no you don’t)? Do you really need to think, or are there freely available model answers to copy from, especially when there is sometimes simply no time to properly understand the subject? The biggest problem is idealism. We are brought up to think it is about hard work, doing things the ‘right’ way, acquiring skills over rote learning. Sounds great, but the system does not work that way. Take a look at the model essays you have. Do they really demonstrate curiosity, critical thinking, and subject mastery? Or are they masterclasses in grade-sniping worthy of Craig Harrison? The elements of an A answer are not obvious, but discernible, and are seldom about actual rather than apparent understanding. Why else the insistence on key words, key definitions, and fixed writing structures? Einstein said “if you can’t explain something simply, then you don’t understand it enough”. These key words and whatnot are in no way attempts to explain things simply. Don’t believe me? Try answering your next exam in simple language – stuff primary school students can understand. Say things like: demand is how much people want something and can pay for it; price elasticity of demand is how easily people can stop wanting something. Tell your GP tutor that issues like freedom of speech and human rights are context-dependent and capable of no easy answers; write your essays in a mature way which acknowledges both sides instead of distorting either one to force yourself to take a stand you don’t really comprehend. Let me know if you get anything above a C. Put up an A essay and it will get an A even if you had to memorise an entire book without understanding anything within it. Even if you’ve taken all allowable shortcuts and went for every tuition class conceivable. Conversely, put up a C essay and it will get a C even if you’ve studied hard, on your own, and without expending a cent of your parent’s money on dubious enrichment classes. That is how the system works. If you’ve been following me, you’re probably angry. You should be. Everyone is angry when they find out they’ve been lied to; that fairytales aren’t real. Schools are not like when Plato first invented them. They’re not about individual teacher-student guidance and achieving philosophical epiphany and epic meaning. They’re industrial plants necessary to produce people who will produce things. If you’re playing basketball, chances are you don’t give a dime whether your point guard understands quantum physics and how it may affect a basketball’s trajectory. You just want him to pass with speed, accuracy, precision – howsoever he does it. So no one really cares how you get an A as long as you do. Provided you don’t cheat – but cheating is tremendously difficult to define nowadays. Say you buy an essay online (google “buy essay online” – it’s more common than you think) and your school doesn’t realise. You get an A. Is that cheating? Say you didn’t buy it, but did lots of research and found a good one, which you promptly submitted. Is that wrong? It’s plagiarism, technically, but some of us no longer believe it’s cheating if you don’t get caught. It’s a two-way thing. Degrees now cost hundreds of thousands. You could have bought a house with that money. If you don’t get a proper degree, you’re sinking in all that for near zero returns on investment. It’s all about the bottom line, isn’t it? If you’re angry that’s good. And important. It means you’re smart. Smart enough to find the 3-point line, but also to know that the line is only there because we say so. Because the rules say anything within the line is only worth 2 points. But you get to decide otherwise. That doesn’t mean you can change the rules though. If you want to play the exam game, you have to play by the rules. Whatever you do, you’ll get the points they say you’ll get. But you can play another game – the game of being a good shot, for example. The game of learning and not exam-taking. It won’t be easy. The system naturally rewards those who live by it. If you want those rewards, you have to as well. It is an unfortunate incident of modern life that it is phenomenally difficult to abandon the system. If you’re in JC especially, you can’t really say, “I’m done with exams, now to real life”, even if that’s a good path for you. Have the pragmatism to know what you need for good grades, the intelligence to know what you need for a good life, and wisdom always to know the difference. Remember: If you’re standing in the 2-point area, no matter good you are, you will never get 3 points. If you want an A, you have to do things which the rules say will get you an A. Now you have the ball. What will you do?
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As well as Metaphors, Symbolism, and other Joys Of Life. This guide is composed for the average student, who: 1) doesn’t take literature, or isn’t very good at (scoring for) it, 2) hates the metaphor question in GP compres, and 3) thinks the smoke produced from lit essays may have been responsible for the recent haze problem. If this isn’t you, and you’ve been consistently scoring 42s/50s for your literature essays, then well done! This is no place for you. Run along now and do your maths TYS. For the rest of you who are still here, welcome to the plainest literature lesson you will have in your entire life, partly because this makes it way easier to understand things, and partly because this writer here did not go on to learn more about symbolism and onomatopoeia at the tertiary level. Ok, I promise that’s the last 4-vowel-in-a-row word I’ll use for today. Let’s get started. Literature is easy. The only thing you need to understand is how literature is not about what is being said, as much as it is about how and why it’s said. If you get this, my job here is done. Because that is what took me about one and a half years to understand. And when I did, rainbows began to form in the post-monsoonal skies of my dark and stormy grades. Throughout your education from secondary school to JC, you, the average student, would’ve come to believe that pointing out what the text says is the ultimate aim of literature. Because after all, that does give you marks. When you were able to say Macbeth was about Hubris, Catharsis and Anagnorisis, or when you managed to weave the words parallelism and manifest destiny into your response to The Crucible, you got nothing but pr-A’s. Right? Unfortunately, just like that other thing known as ‘everything else you learn in school’, things are slightly different in the real world. Literature is not Shakespeare. It’s not Great Expectations about your Sense and Sensibilities to what the texts say. These are all pieces of literature, or, in other words, examples of it. Really, really good ones. So what then, is literature? It’s the study of how words work to say what they say, based on what words are used, in what order, patterns, structures, and even shapes. And also the application of this knowledge to produce more of such pieces of writing that involve the informed use of words. H2 literature, in particular, is focused on the How. For example, how does the phrase “as vulnerable as a donut in a police station” tell us in a comical way things about donuts, policemen stereotypes, and whatever is being called vulnerable? Or, in the preferred language of the exams, what are the ways in which the extract does what it does? When you go further, you’d realise that who wrote a piece, when it was written, and other details do matter. But that’s slightly beyond your syllabus. So you don’t care, do you? Now that you're really concerned about How words work... How Words Work – The Intuitive Don’t think about an orange fish. Oops, I guess you just did. Sometimes, words work in the most insidious ways. They occur to us intuitively and directly. Getting the meaning of a word is like getting the answer to 2 x 2. You don’t have to go through any ‘workings’ to arrive at the answer. And that’s great, because if we had to consciously re-construct the meaning of a word every time we heard it, we wouldn’t get very far with life. Now the problem, when our brains get ahead of us like this, is we don’t even realise we’re doing it. We think it’s the most obvious thing in the world. But it’s not, and writing it down can actually work wonders. Consider the opening line from Robert Frost’s famous poem, The Road Not Taken: "Two roads diverged in a yellow wood." It’s pretty obvious what’s happening here. I’m guessing in your head now you’re standing at the fork in the road and seeing two different paths unfold. ‘Yellow’ somehow factors in. It may suggest a serene, serious feel, or even a cheerful, jubilant atmosphere. Repeat the line in your head. Let it bounce around the walls of your consciousness, and let the image in your head sharpen. So, how does the colour yellow affect your mental image? If there’s anything we can learn about the iPhone 5c, it is that colour changes the world. Colour, along with size, space, position and shape, is one of those things that ghost past our logical minds and conveys messages directly to our subconscious. If you think about it, it does not quite make sense that just because something’s yellow, it makes us feel a certain way. But that’s how it works. We classify things by colour. We link yellow with lemons and bananas, the sun, rubber ducks and other happy things. But yellow can also be sad – like the faded yellow of an old photograph. A yellow wood, in particular, seems more in line with a forest in autumn, fallen leaves everywhere. Yellow can be sad, happy, sombre, energetic, and so many other things. Now explain to yourself how the use of colour in Frost’s opening line advances its intended meaning. You may also want to examine the use of the past tense in the word “diverged”, and how it works together with the colour yellow. To encourage yourself give yourself 100marks for each question, cos that's what motivates us all anyway. How Words Work II - The Elaborate But sometimes, literature works in the exact opposite way. It presents you something like 101325 X 9001. Here is when you do need to go through some thought processes to arrive at its meaning. Consider then, anything from Shakespeare. Or, to make things slightly easier, the next line from Frost: "Two roads diverged in a yellow wood/And sorry I could not travel both/And be one traveller…" Here, Frost uses an expression quite foreign to everyday language. He forces us to stop and think what he actually means. Only after we rearrange the ideas do we understand what he’s trying to say: I felt sorry that as one traveller I could not travel both paths at the same time. This is the plainest way of saying it. But there seems to be something missing when we say it like this. To better understand such expressions, there is a simple ‘working’ you can perform: The first step is to look at the literal, surface meaning (called the ‘form’) of the words. Here it is simply that the traveller couldn’t simultaneously travel both paths while staying in one piece. Second, consider the effect of this literal meaning. What does the form imply? Do you see in your mind an image of this traveller multiplying himself into two? Put yourself in his position. Do you feel like two opposing forces are pulling you in different directions – each towards a different path? Use your five senses to guide you. Third, think about what meaning this image and emotion conveys. The idea that, if the traveller could, he’d split himself into two so as to explore both paths. Does it bring out a stronger sense of indecision, uncertainty, and maybe even frustration at the physical constraints of his situation? The poet is emphasising the traveller’s dilemma here. Finally, ask Why. Why does the poet choose to write this way? How is this better than or different from if he had called the forest green instead? Does it make sense? Does it help to convey the overall message of the entire poem or text? If your interpretation of a certain verse is inconsistent with the rest of the text, chances are you may be misinterpreting it. But it could also be the poet trying to bring about contrast. It is important to think about Why the poet tries to emphasise, downplay, mention, hide, or does whatever he does to what he’s talking about. Understanding Why also helps you arrive at the meaning in step 3. Bonus step: Write ALL of these down on your script. NOT just the meaning. Marks are awarded for workings aren’t they? For the average student who also takes GP: This is exactly how you should attempt a metaphor question as well: Form – Effect – Meaning. Note: If you’ve read Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow, all you need to know for this portion is that words work in both slow and fast thinking, and you really need to write down all of those slow thinking processes in a lit exam. But you’re an average student. Average students don’t read such books. A Quick Demonstration Just so you were wondering how to apply what you've learnt. Because the average student typically doesn't care about application. Question: How does the expression “as smokey as a literature essay” work? Bad example: Simile and symbolism is utilised here to evince the cloudiness of a literary piece of writing, in that the latter is being juxtaposed with the concept of smoke, what is produced where fire, something that symbolises anger and power, exists, such that the writer illustrates the unclear nature of literary writing. This. Makes. No. Sense. What on earth is “the concept of smoke”? Simile and symbolism, concepts raised in the answer, have not been explained to show how they strengthen the meaning of the expression. The sentence is way too long, and not to mention fire is brought in for a spectacular over-reading. A quick rule of thumb? Write simply. You're not trying to copy what the author did as much as explain it. Good example: Smoke is a cloudy, nebulous entity that obscures vision. (form) In a school context, “smoke” is also commonly referred to as the act of writing as much as possible in an attempt to, literally, cover up the lack of substance. (form, put in context) By describing literature essays as “smokey”, the author likens the two (effect) and highlights how many essays are similarly obfuscated and unclear. (meaning) There may also be an association to how smoke in itself is gaseous and intangible (form), reinforcing the idea that literature essays often have no solid substance(meaning). When something is good, the merits are self-evident. If you’re reading this, congrats on surviving a full article on literature. Din’t think that was possible did ya? Me neither. Now the only thing left to do is re-read it a few times, let it all sink in, and start dominating the world with your newfound literary genius. And now, for the mandatory statement that ends all great lessons: Any Questions? (post them in the comments)
Note: This article is an articlet, meaning it was intentionally kept short so you can go right back to #5 after wasting not more than 5 minutes on it. Have fun... If you're reading this, it means one of two things. First, that you’re so entirely prepared for your exams you’re just chillin’ out right now. Or second, that you’re entirely screwed and are seriously hoping for some magic to survive. Either way, you'll find the miraculous maladies in this article helpful to you, because who couldn’t use a little bit more luck? Now superstitions. They might not have any scientific basis nor make any sense at all, but you’d still rather believe in them. Because on the off-chance they’re true, you don’t want to be caught not having paid due respect to these supernormal, omnipotent practices that apparently can make or break your life. Since it’s a little too late to be counting on anything but superstition by now, we’ve made a list of the more prominent ones for you. In case you don’t have a Buddha’s leg anywhere near you right now to hug, you might want to start by... #1 – Praying to the Bell Curve God Some say he truly exists, others say he's merely a statistical distribution, an aggregate representation of the numerical worthiness of each student plotted across a line that looks like a bell. What do we think? That no matter what, you want the odds to be ever in your favour. For best effect, we recommend offerings of Twisties, which will empower the BCG to twist the odds for you. #2 – Turning The Tables, Literally. There’s got to be some basis behind that popular expression, right? In fact some psychologists say the act of physically altering your environment gives you a sense of mastery and control over it, which then leads to increased confidence as well as luck. And what better environment to master than the arena in which you will do battle with the exams? You could start by giving your current study table a 360 degree spin. And when you’re in the exam hall, find your seat quickly, and begin the revolution. Warning: Not recommended for those already scoring well. You don’t want the tables to turn against you. Oh and, about those psychologists, I made them up. But it sounds totally believable doesn’t it? #3 – Crossing Your Fingers According to this uh...totally reputable website, crossing your fingers actually leads to real increases in performance. In fact, someone else crossing their fingers for you also helps. Therefore, we should all cross our fingers for each other. More crosses, more luck! For those who are desperate: it’s possible to cross your toes too. Let’s just hope all these crosses don’t come back to you in red on your exam script. Fingers crossed! #4 – Good Luck Charms They’re similar to the totems I spoke about in the previous article, except these ones will be a little bit harder to justify bringing into the exam hall. Things that definitely can be used: good luck pens, good luck erasers, any good luck stationery at all. Red underwear. Special mention goes to the calculator’s math.Random function (for Maths exams), which can also be a helpful good luck charm for you to test how lucky you are. Simply try to guess what number will come out. If you’re right, then you are one lucky dude. Things we’re not so sure of: talismans, religious tokens, rabbit’s feet, good luck study notes. What’s great about charms is that even though they might be entirely bogus, there’s this amazing thing called the Placebo effect that's entirely proven (this one’s real) – which says so long as you believe it works, then it does! Kinda like how Dumbo really thought that ‘magic’ feather would make him fly. #5 – Studying Legends speak of one Mark Ger, who studied extremely hard for his exams and managed to ace all of them. In other words, he actually got proportionally rewarded for all that effort he put in! Now, we know the correlation between studying and results isn’t that clear and is sometimes extremely counterintuitive, but hey, when it comes to superstitions like these, you’d really rather to do a little bit of that studying thing than not, right? In general, it seems the more you study, the better your exam performance. We can’t quite quote any scientific research for this (it’s a superstition after all), but if you’re interested in subscribing to this one, then it seems you should do as much of it as you can! For best results, find the most effective ways to conduct the ‘studying’, such as visiting this totally awesome website. This sums up our list of the things you can count on now that it’s this close to D-day. So go get your twisties, start your rotations, overlap your digits, amass your artefacts of Fortune, and don’t forget to actually study. We won’t and can’t say they’ll definitely work for you (especially not #5), but that’s half the fun of a superstition isn’t it? In more ways than one, good luck for your exams! Even if you don’t need it, you’ll want it.
You know, besides actually studying for it? So there’s this colossal exam that’s coming up, and it means half of the world to you, because the other half technically doesn’t exist now that you’ve got an exam to take and the world pretty much stops spinning. You’re all prepped up, having poured in 20 hours per day cramming all that academic information into your suddenly curious mind. And you’re ready. Or so you think, because on the day of the exam your old friend Sleep calls in and demands you repay his debt. Feeling slightly dizzy and yet strangely euphoric, you step into the exam hall, not realizing you haven’t actually brought your pencil case today – you left it on your study table as you hurried out after some final readings. The next thing you know, you’re running around begging others to lend you their stuff, and in all of this fluster all that important information you saved in your head as last-minute short term memory starts leaking out. Things are not going well, and from your pedestal of confidence and preparation you fall into the mud pit also known as panic and stress – and you have no idea how to deal with it because you thought you’d be absolutely prepared by now. And it all goes downhill from there. All because you forgot to bring your pencil case... Of all the reasons why people don’t do as well as they should for their exams, some are way more ridiculous than others. It’s one thing to fail because you genuinely didn’t care about studying, but it’s a terrific pity if you’ve put in all that effort, but didn’t realise that dealing with exams involved more than just mugging, including… #1 – Taking care of the small details This is one thing we’re all horrible at, because most of us lead lives in which these apparently inconsequential things are all taken care of for us – by our parents, maids, teachers, admin staff, so on. So much so that when the time comes for us to tackle the demon that is exams ourselves, we don’t realise how much they really matter. So the pen is mightier than the sword. And you wouldn’t want to bring a rusty sword into battle, would you? The quality of the pen you use can affect your performance, especially for exams that require lots of writing (read: History). You never ever want to just use that pen that’s somehow always been in your pencil case for the exam. Most people will buy new ones, but even then it is infinitely wiser to consciously choose what kind of pen will suit you best. Some people prefer ink pens and the rough feedback they give when writing. Others prefer ballpoints and their smooth, spherical splendour. Some go with 0.5s because their handwriting is typically atrocious, while others prefer 0.7s because their words are usually too small. It is as crucial to know which ones suit you best as it is to know which key words will answer which questions well. The same applies to almost every other piece of battle gear you will need in your quest for marks. Your jacket to prevent you from shivering so much you can’t write as fast. Your water bottle to prevent you from dehydration and losing focus (it’s been scientifically proven that adequate hydration improves concentration.) You never, ever want to feel uncomfortable during your exams, so make sure all these things are well sorted out. And who could ever, ever forget that amazing thing known as the ENTRY PROOF? Which does have a purpose, but seems like it was initiated as a practical joke to be played on every single student because… Moral of the story? Bring.TheDayum.Entry.Proof. Now that you’ve got all those external details settled, it’s time to prepare yourself within, starting with… #2 - Developing A Pre-exam Ritual Before you put on feathered Indian hats and dance in honour of the bell curve gods, let me explain that a pre-exam ritual simply means a set of actions you go through to get yourself into that entire ‘groove’ of exam conquestery. And trust me, you need as much groove and mojo as you can get when you’re talking about exams. Doing this is similar to the fixed routines that many professional athletes go through before the big day to remind their bodies to transition into fight mode. People are known to sleep with their baseball bats, cut their fingernails, compulsively eat chicken before their games, and do all sorts of wacky stuff. One NFL defender was so desperate to get into gear he habitually requested his coach to bestow upon him nothing else but a slap right across the face as part of his preparation. So if you want to score your As as consistently as an NBA player scores his free throws, then go on and start thinking of something you can do that’ll help you get into that familiar flow of focus you’ll need to tackle your exams with confidence. And within this ritual, you might want to include some… #3 - Power Posing I know this sounds like you need to have as much muscle as Terry Crews to pull off, but power posing has, fortunately, nothing to do with manhunt. In fact, it’s championed by a female psychologist, who believes that our body language can and will influence our minds. In her illuminating TED-talk which you should totally watch (especially from 10:00 onwards), Amy Cuddy explains a few experiments she conducted and how posing in various ‘high power’ positions actually can increase your testosterone and decrease your cortisol levels. Before you start thinking about how this can be helpful for…other areas…know that testosterone is commonly associated with confidence and power (sorry ladies), while cortisol is known to cause stress. It’s sort of self-deception and mind control, but whatever works works. And as amazing writer Neil Gaiman said, the way to believe you can to do things that seem impossible is simply to pretend that you’re someone who can. And if playing pretend doesn’t quite calm you enough, then… #4 – Use Totems To Help You The number of potentially Indian references here are actually quite amusing. Perhaps they were really on to something with their cave drawings and spiritual beliefs. But Native American culture aside, this idea was totally taken from Inception. For those who haven’t watched the show, other than the fact that you absolutely need to watch it (make it the first on your ‘Things To Do After Exams’ list), a totem is a physical object the characters carried around and used to remind them of what’s real and what’s not. In other words, physical objects can help you cling on to the desperate reality of your situation, before you get carried away into the word of mental blocks and hysteria the moment you look at the question paper and realise you’ve spotted the wrong ones. The trick is to make your totem something that can actually be brought into the exam hall – something like a country eraser that reminds you of home, or a special pen that a friend gave you. What I personally used was a jacket. And when you start to feel like you’re slipping away, just reach out, physically and metaphorically, for that object, and hopefully it’ll help you with a little course correction. In fact, it doesn’t even have to be a physical object. We all have that friend or teacher who uses the word ‘actually’ or ‘basically’ in their presentation so many times we start trying to count the total number of times it occurs. Actually, what happens here is basically that they are actually using these filler words that basically fit in anywhere to actually bring them back to what they’re basically trying to say. Humans are creatures of habit, and being able to fall back on something habitual to us helps to re-orientate, familiarize, and make us comfortable with the current situation. Now that you’re all prepped up, externally and internally, one last thing you might not realise could help you with your exams is… #5 – Other People Surprised? It’s actually no secret that people who do well in exams typically do well as a class. So how is this possible when exams seem like an absolute zero sum game? That’s because contrary to popular belief championed by the concept of the bell curve, other people can help you do well for your exams, even in the last minute preparations you’re doing. Honestly speaking, this entire site was founded on the idea that working together is the way to go, and although it is possible to tackle the monstrous exams alone, studying and learning is often more effective in groups. This is particularly true for the few days and weeks leading up to the major exams, because everyone you know will be extremely concerned and busy with preparing for them, so much so that by the time it’s five minutes before the test, many people will be almost overflowing with the knowledge they’ve tried to cram into their minds. And that is the best time to go and benefit from some of that excess capacity. I kid you not when I say a significant portion of the marks I got in exams are thanks to some of these last minute interactions with friends – when I walked up to this guy and he was all like ‘hey did you study this specific part about this little concept that I think is really important?” Moral of the story: Work with other people. Not during the exam, because that’s cheating, but before the exam, cos that’s totally allowed. And of course, when you receive you should also give, and I’ve also done my fair share of last minute enlightenment. When everyone graciously shares knowledge, everyone benefits. Therefore, you should really share this article with all your friends right now. The button’s right below…that shiny red one there…see it? Yup that one! Go on, click it! Wouldn’t hurt y’know… Last but not least, good luck for your exams. Because none of the above will count if you’re totally unlucky anyway. Have more great exam techniques? Share them in the comments below!