How to Prepare for a Competitive Exam

Admin Talk

Do you plan to take a competitive exam in the near future?
If so, this article will help you make a good strategic plan to prepare for your exam.
Governments, agencies, colleges, and other entities deluged with millions of candidates use examinations to find a way to pick from among them in a way that at least seems fair and objective. There's always a fair amount of luck involved in a mass examination, but there is also always plenty of preparation you can do.
In various countries and contexts, competitive written exams may test for reasoning ability; mathematical ability; reading and comprehension; writing ability; or the fundamental knowledge of a subject area. Interviews may test for knowledge of current events, general knowledge about the job or qualification one is applying for, the ability to give an account of one's past or future or talents, or the ability to say something sensible about a controversial or complicated issue.

Ten Tips on Preparing for an Examination

1. Make Sure This Test Is for You
Before investing time in preparing for an exam, decide whether the work is worth it. Study the exam announcement and ask questions if necessary. Make sure you meet requirements like:
  • Educational level or experience needed to qualify to take the exam;
  • Percentage of marks, or grade point average;
  • Any maximum or minimum age limit that applies to your exam.
2. Go Back to Your Fundamentals
Once you know you qualify for your exam, your next step should be to decide how to brush up on fundamentals you haven't practiced recently. Depending on the test, this may be math fundamentals you last looked at in grade school, principles of grammar, or the fundamentals of your science or engineering discipline. Dig out your old textbooks and put them where you can see them.
3. Get Up to Date
If it's applicable to your test, as it is in the Indian Civil Service, work on your general knowledge and keep it updated. You will want to be ready to discuss the current events that affect the government, school, or bureaucracy you aim to join. If you don't already, take a daily look at news media on current events.

4. Consider Paying for Coaching ("Joint Coaching Institutes")
You don't have to pay a company or institute for competitive examination preparation. Many do well without such coaching. But the right test preparation agency can offer you:
  • counseling
  • reassurance
  • study materials with which to structure your time
Do investigate your chosen agency, and make sure it's not a scam; there are scammers out there.

5. Set Realistic Goals
Consider how much time you have until the test date, and how many other things you want to do in life—including fun things. Consider your level of ability, and the resources you have. Then set realistic, modest, and achievable goals and deadlines for finishing the different steps of your preparation. Manage your time so that your preparation includes each section of the test, with more time allotted to sections where you think you may be weaker.

6. Create a Support Group
Create a circle of friends who are interested in preparing for the same or similar examination. It will be very helpful in keeping up your morale. It will remind you that you are not struggling alone with an arbitrary, zero-sum world; many other people long for success, just like you do (see the numerous comments below). Though you may not all succeed the first time, you can at least support each other without hurting your own chances.

7. Be Positive
You should be positive and have faith in yourself. There is no guarantee that you will pass any exam on the first attempt, though there is no reason to assume you will fail. Be patient and support yourself over the long haul.

8. Take Mock Tests
It may not be difficult to answer all the questions on a test, but it's generally very difficult to answer them all in the allotted time. Obtain sample written tests from previous test occasions and time yourself as you take them. Understand how they are scored: whether it's to your advantage to guess at answers you aren't sure of, or whether you should skip these questions. Understand how fast you have to work to answer every question that has a chance of increasing your score. This kind of practice is very helpful.

9. Do Mock Interviews
Find sample interview questions (for example, in the library, in magazines, on the web) and write them down on cards, along with any other questions you can think of. Get your family or study group together, hand them the cards, and have them ask you the questions. It feels reassuring to be able to come up with something to say, even though it may not be perfect. Remember that it's quite likely you may be asked a question you don't know the answer to. If so, you can admit it; it's better not to guess or make something up. No one knows everything and there is no need to pretend to.

10. Go Easy on Yourself
Stay healthy while you prepare. Regular exercise and yoga boost your mental as well as physical strength. Do fun things during your study period, including on the night before the test. By that point, your preparation will be done--all except for showing up at the test, which is important in itself. Instead of trying to cram more information into your brain that night, why not watch a silly movie, or walk somewhere? Then, after arranging for your transportation and your breakfast, gathering up any documents or tools you need to bring, and laying out the clothes you plan to wear, go to sleep with a clear conscience. The result of the test will be out of your hands; you will have done all that you can do.