Exam Success

Author(s) Mcllroy, David
Publisher Sage Publications
Published 2005
Price 12.99
ISBN 1412903270
Reviewed by Dr Ruth Watkins
University of Stirling
Review published 9 September 2005

This is a new book in the ‘SAGE Essential Study Skills Series’ and the target audience is undergraduate social science students. The aim of the book is to provide a ‘range of strategies and techniques’ to help students develop the personal qualities and skills necessary to improve exam performance. Although the book is focussed primarily on exam success, it covers a broad range of topics which are relevant to general undergraduate study.

There are nine chapters in total, each devoted to a different theme but laid out in a similar format with a useful set of objectives at the start and a brief summary. The overview chapter sets the context and includes discussions on the ‘issue of IQ’, the advantages of examinations and their role in education, and some of the problems that students face when taking exams. The next four chapters concentrate on the factors underpinning effective revision and exam techniques and include learning styles and processes, motivation and confidence building, and managing anxiety. The last four chapters focus on the revision and exam experience; memory techniques and ‘learning principles’ are discussed and revision techniques and strategies are explored.

Throughout the book there are references to relevant research and theories which are interspersed with examples, analogies, exercises, opportunities for reflection and check lists. Diagnostic tests have also been included which will encourage students to reflect and learn from past experience (although it may be necessary for students to have some additional support in interpreting the results and using them to advantage). The more discursive nature of this book with references to educational principles, (compared with books such as Cottrell, 2003) would encourage a motivated student to actively engage in, and modify, their learning process. A positive feature of this book is that it has been designed to persuade students to develop their ‘deep learning’ skills.

There are, however, a number of features that may deter some students. Some of the language and concepts could be problematic without further explanation, (e.g. terms such as ’pragmatic style’ or ‘theorist style’; pg. 33). The combination of theory, examples, analogies and tests sometimes makes it difficult to pick out the main messages and there are also assumptions that may make the book more difficult to use, (e.g. that all students have some recent exam experience (e.g. pg. 87). It is also assumed that students already have relatively well developed study skills, (e.g. the ability to ‘easily’ access electronic journals (pg.154), the ability to ‘cite evidence’ (pg.159) and the ability to pursue independent, problem-based learning). The length and detail of the book may also be off-putting for a student already concerned about assignment loading and anxiety.

Overall, the book has much to recommend it. It covers a wide range of key issues in some detail and it is possible to select relevant chapters to address specific issues. First year undergraduates may require structured guidance to gain maximum benefit from the exercises and tests but undergraduates in later years would find the text a valuable reference and an interesting read. The book would also be particularly useful for staff involved in delivering study skills training.

Cottrell, S. (2003) The Study Skills Handbook (Palgrave Study Guides), Palgrave Macmillan.