Many people work hard studying various subjects to sit for
examinations in them. Fine. Hard work is usually a necessary
condition for passing exams. Unfortunately it does not follow that it is
a sufficient condition! Exam technique can be almost equally as
important. It can make all the difference between success and failure
or between poor grades and good grades.
As students, we often complain about the examination system. That is
usually because we feel the pressure of an uncertain outcome. But
like all systems we need to understand its mechanics in order to make
it work for us.
What follows is largely concerned with exams needing written
answers, rather than mathematically-based subjects.
This section applies as much to writing course work as to examination
When you consider writing essays, also consider the person who
will have to read them. He/she has a psychology. Make it work for
you, not against you. Most examiners do their job well and
Exam assessors usually have a mountain of scripts to wade through.
They like to get through them faster rather than slower, with relative
ease rather than difficulty. When they find a script which facilitates
the two former objects, they are delighted and their disposition
towards the writer soars.
A great frustration is caused by having to into the essay
to discover whether or not the student has given a correct or
acceptable answer. Sometimes this job is very difficult. The examiner
has to re and reread the essay to discover what is actually being said.
Sometimes an actual decision has to be made by the examiner as to
whether a correct answer has, in fact, been given, because the
composition is so obtuse.
Some method is needed which will avoid this situation and which
will improve the examiner's disposition towards the writer.
Writing effectively in exams is really not that difficult. There is a
simple technique which can be used and adopted to virtually every
type of question.
The technique is to divide your essay into three (unequal) parts:
1. An introduction
2. An expansion of 1;
3. A conslusion.
Numbers 1 and 3 are quite short and basically say the same thing
except in rather different ways.
1. is critical and is a short version of the answer. This lets the
examiner know immediately that you know what you are talking about.
It require slight differences of emphases depending on the actual
wording of the question.
For example, a question which asks something like "What are the
factors which influence..." needs an introductory answer which
starts something like: "The factors which influence so-and-so are... "
And you mention them in descending order of importance. A question
of the type: "Discuss such-and-such..." needs an answer which starts
something like: "When discussing such-and-such one needs to take
account of..." and then mention the major points which you consider
to be important and which you are going to discuss.
There may be other variations in the phrasing of the question, but
the approach you adopt needs to be always the same: present the
examiner with what is effectively a concise answer to the question.
It usually takes no more than a few lines, maybe a dozen at most.
He/she will jump up and down in excitement at having found someone
who not only knows the answer but who can also actually make it explicit.
2. The expansion of the essay is simply a development to show that
whatever you said at 1. is correct or relevant. This takes up most of
the essay. Use a new paragraph for every new point. Don't be
afraid to be pedantic. End each of these paragraphs by relating what
you have said directly back to the question. e.g. "Hence it can be
seen that..." and so forth.
If, during the course of writing your answer, you suddenly remember
a really major point which really should have come earlier, just "knit"
it in as if this is where you always intended it to go. Thus: "Of course,
a further point which needs to be given especially emphasis at this
juncture is..." Try and make it seem the most natural place to put it.
The examiner may think it better put elsewhere, but he will not
usually penalise you for that700
3. The conclusion will be little more than a restatement of the
introduction - but you do need a conclusion. During the writing of
the essay you may have thought of some other points not mentioned
in the introduction. If so, be sure to mention them in the conclusion.
Read Before You Write
Always spend at least six/seven minutes out of a three hours exam
reading the question paper. Read it three times. The first to get a
general impression. The second to mark any question which you
can reasonably attempt. The third to check that your second
reading decisions were accurate - sometimes, in the face of nervous
tension, they are not. This is time well spent. As an invigilator, one
often groans within at seeing student grabbing their pens and beginning
to write before the clock has stopped chiming the hour to commence!
Unless some questions have unequal shares in the total marks
possible, always divide your time equally between the questions.
There are severe diminishing returns to each extra minute spent on
the present question - more could be added to the overall total by
going onto the next.
ConclusionsAs already said, don't throw away your hard work during the year
through bad or none existent exam technique. With good technique
it is, in fact, possible to do rather well with skimpy knowledge (although
one does not advocate the practice!), whereas it is commonplace
for students to underachieve by neglecting their technique.
About the Author
About The Author
A K Whitehead
Web Site: www.christianword.co.uk
The author has had many years experience in setting examining,
marking and invigilating examinations and has used the above
technique to considerable personal benefit.
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