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Student learning resources

Preparing for exams

  • General points

    • Create a schedule for self-study with break times at home
    • Note all the days for tests and exams if available.
    • Learn to understand 
      learning outcomesLearning outcomes are educational statements that concisely describe the competencies that will be achieved at the end of a course. They are formulate as: "By the end of the course the student should..."
      They are designed as follows using the acronym SMART:
      Specific – the outcome targets the topic represented in the course precisely
      Measurable – the outcomes must state which measurable cognitive processes, attitudes, behaviour and or skills will be learned, developed, or mastered during the course and be assessed.
      Achievable – the learning outcome should be doable within an allocated space of the course timetable
      Relevant – this must be essential knowledge for the student to progress to the next year or next course
      Time-efficient – the outcome must be achievable within a realistic period
      , every course must have them, that is what you will be assessed on!
    • Do not cram before a test or exam whether written or practical, set time aside from day 1 when class start to review work done in class.
    • Ask questions in class, email or chat in the forum with the tutor/ lecturer when you are unsure about the content covered.
    • You can also find additional learning resources and help on the academic advising Vula site.
    • Before any test or exam, revise, revise, and revise (this is different to study where you would have learned the information).
      • E.g., Use mind maps, talk aloud or chat to your peers about what you learned, practice on past papers, share your self-created learning resources
      • Make use of the study tips video by UCT, general student support and the resources on the health sciences learning support Vula site

During the exam

  • Before you answer

    • Read the instructions and questions carefully especially in an online space when you are unable to change the answers to the questions.
    • If you have access to all the questions take a few minutes to read the full question paper to get a sense of the type of questions, e.g., short answer or multiple-choice questions, and level of difficulty in the examination to help plan your time and help your thought process.
    • Managing your time in the exam is important. Take ±5-10 minutes off from the entire exam time for reading when you access the full question paper and another ±5-10 minutes to review your answers. The remaining time can roughly be divided by the questions. But remember that questions with more marks will take more time and short questions like MCQs usually take less time to answer.
  • As you answer

    • Read each question carefully.
    • Underline or highlight important action words in the question. However, be conscious of your time in doing this throughout the test.
    • Underline, highlight or flag words and concepts that you don’t understand with a different colour or symbol.
    • If you do not know the answer to a question, make a note for yourself and return to it when you have answered all the questions you know.
    • Remember questions are set to assess knowledge/ competence/ performance but NOT to trick you.
  • Some key considerations

    • Ask yourself whether you understand the question? (ACTION WORDS IN ASSESSMENT)
    • Look at the mark allocation when answering the question. Do not write paragraphs if the question asks for lists, labels or define etc.
    • Look at the structure of your answer e.g., an essay has a particular format, try your best to adhere to that especially in a long answer question to ensure coherence of your answer.
    • Manage your time carefully to allow time for review and revision at the end of the test or exam.

How to answer exam questions

  • Short answer questions (SAQ)

    Short answer questions are open-ended questions that require you to write a short concise response to a question.

    • Read the whole question carefully. More than once!
    • Then, look for topic/ subject words. What do I have to write about?
    • Now look for words that restrict or focus the topic. What specific aspect of the topic do I need to write about?
    • Then, look for your instructions/ task/ action words. What must I do?


    Action word What do they want me to do? What is the question testing? Question example Example of answer

    State an exact & clear definition.


    Define the term “Kinetic Handling”

    One sentence – “Reducing muscle strain through the safe handling of loads”


    Draw a picture using words.


    Describe the starting position for performing a passive stretch on the gastrocnemius muscle.

    Needs several sentences/ a paragraph

    Eg. The patient will be supine (lying on their back) with a pillow under the affected knee to relieve tension in the gastrocnemius.
  • Multiple choice questions (MCQ)

    MCQs are designed to assess all levels of knowledge, from remember, apply, analysis to evaluate. As such, they can be used to assess:

    • Basic content questions whether in the sciences or discipline-specific courses in health sciences.
    • Practice related knowledge and skills through the use of a patient description such as clinical case scenario or case base scenario
    • Experimental study or research-related knowledge and skill

    Example MCQ:

    A 59-year-old woman has difficulty rising from a seated position and straightening her trunk, but he has no difficulty flexing her leg. Which one of the following muscles is most likely to have been injured?

    *A. Gluteus maximus
    B. Gluteus minimus
    C. Hamstrings
    D. Iliopsoas
    E. Obturator internus

    There are a variety of multiple-choice test questions: One Best Answer and Extended Matching Questions are common in health sciences education.

    One Best Answer (OBA)

    OBA is structured with a long lead-in that is a problem or clinical scenario with short distractors. The distractors are possible answers with the one best answer.

    • The question may have 4 or 5 distractors
    • Some OBA questions may require motivation for the selected answer. Therefore, read the question carefully.
    • You should be able to answer the question without looking at the distractors.
    • OBA questions may take up to one minute for reading and answering the question

    One Best Answer (OBA) question using case base scenario

    OBA questions may use written patient cases designed to stimulate learning of material from basic science, from a clinical perspective, and application of basic science principles to clinical situations. It usually consists of

    • 3 or 4 multiple choice questions that relate directly to the case scenario.
    • As with OBA questions read the question carefully and select the best possible answer.

    Extended Matching Items (EMIs)

    EMIs have a particular structure. It starts with a theme, then options or possible answers, followed by a lead-in statement which is the information about for example a case scenario or problem before the question is posed. An EMI can have up to 26 possible answers and can include text, jpeg clips, audio-visual, audio files. It requires thorough consideration before you answer the question and may have more than one correct answer which will be indicated by the marks or stated in the question itself. EMIs can be used to assess

    • Pathophysiology,
    • Assessment of the patient,
    • Diagnosis,
    • Treatment/ management,
    • Relate to practice
    • Professional conduct
    • Patient management
    • Experimental study or assess research-related knowledge and skills
    • Selecting the best treatment based on research evidence provided
  • Long answer questions such as essays

    Essays are open-ended questions that require you to write a response to the question. It is a longer piece of writing and follows a similar format as when writing an assignment essay. If you are writing an essay in the exam:

    • Draw up a quick plan for the structure of the essay
    • Use the essay structure for example introduction, discussion and conclusion.
    • Remember one idea per paragraph starting with a topic sentence and ending with a sentence that links to the next paragraph.
    • Read the question carefully and highlight the important information that is required. Make sure you understand what is asked. If unsure, make a note for yourself and think about ways to answer the part that is unclear to you.