Sunday, November 25, 2012

Writing Your Exam Answers

In the previous list I’ve given some pointers for getting the most out of the first few minutes of your exam. In this list, we’ll look at the main part of the exam – the business of writing answers and scoring marks. In a further list, we’ll explore some things to do towards the end of an exam.

1  1.       Keep – within reason – to the timetable you planned for exam. If (for example) you’ve got 5 questions to attempt in 3 hours, each question should taje about 30 minutes (allowing for the “special” time at the start and finish of the exam)

2  2.       If your time for a question runs out – and you think it will take more than 5 minutes to finish it off – leave a gap and move on to another question. (If you know you can finish it in less than 5 minutes, finish it). The questions most likely to overrun are the early one – where you know a lot – later questions may well under-run, allowing you to spend additional time finishing off unfinished questions.

3  3.       Read the questions carefully. Work out what they really mean. Keep re-reading the questions as you answer them. This helps you avoid  going off on tangents. More marks are lost in exams by candidates going off tangents, than by candidates not knowing what the right answers are.

4  4.       Make sure that each of your answer addresses  the question. Don’t waste time and energy writing down things the questions doesn’t require you to do. (You can always add more detail later if you you have genuine “spare time”). Take careful note of key words in questions including “how?”, “why?”, “when?”, “what?”, “explain”, “discuss”, “compare”, “evaluate”. Do exactly what the questions asks.

5  5.       If you get stuck – leaved your planned timetable for the moment – and move on to another question that you feel more comfortablewith. You can avoid mental blanks by not trying force your brain to recall things that are temporarily unavailable to you.

6  6.       For essay-type questions, spend the first few minutes planning your answer. This helps to make sure that the essay has a promosing “beginning”, a coherent “middle” and a convincing “conclusion”. Planning your essay at the start also helps you to avoid missing important ideas.

7  7.       For numeral or problem type questions, make sure the examiners can see exactly how you reached your answers. Show clearly each step you take. Show where you substituted numerical data into formulae. If something goes wrong, you can still get marks for all the things that examiners can see that were correct. If the examiners cant see where you went wrong, they cant give you any credit to those steps that were right.

8  8.       Try to keep your sentences short and simple. Less can go wrong with short sentences – there’s less chance of the examiners reading them the wrong way. Also, scripts that can be read easily help put examiners into a better mood – more generous with marks.

9  9.       Humour your examiners. Make it easy for them to see you’ve finished one question and started another. If they find their way easily through your script, their generosity tends to increase.

1  10.   Every now and then give yourself a minute off. Give your brain a chance to rest and reflect. Give your thoughts time to put themselves into a sensible pattern. Then write some of the sense down.