Monday, September 3, 2012

How To Answer Questions In A Formal Examination - A Student's Guide

English: Examination
Examination (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
by Richard D Boyce

There are many able students who do not perform well in traditional pen on paper formal examinations. It many cases, it is simply nervousness.

By having a plan of attack that a nervous student adheres to, results can be improved considerably.

The student needs to practice this plan of attack in every lead-up examination they do to inculcate the practice in their psyche.

Below are a set of strategies for you as a student to adopt when doing formal examination questions.

- Read the question once to get a general idea of what you are asked to do or solve.
- Read the question again underlining or highlighting the "doing" or "action"words because they tell you what to do, e.g. solve, compare and contrast, write an essay, list.
- Write down all the data you are given to answer the question.
- Write down any rules, axioms, or procedures you might use.
- List or plan the steps you might use to answer the question or solve the problem.
- Write down what you need to find/do to provide the answer, i.e. the end point.
- Now, do the question.
- Use a checking process to ensure you have done what you have been asked to do.

Other hints to consider:

- In some subjects like Math and Accounting, everything that you need to solve the problem is in the question itself.
- Simple ideas are often a good or the best starting point. Don't overlook the simple. Look for the obvious.
- Begin with the end in mind. Work backwards from the answer.
- Treat all questions as if they are easy. Don't expect them to be difficult.
- Even if it is difficult, still follow the steps above that you have practised and try them.
- To get a start in non-Math/Science type subjects, use 'how, when, where, why,' or 'past, present, future,' or 'local, state, national, international,' or 'before, now, after,' as catalysts to get going.
- Diagrams, tables, timelines and lists can help. Create your own and use them to help answer the question.
- Make sure your answer is realistic, i.e. it is a real life solution.
- Don't do more than you are asked to do as you get no more marks and you use up valuable time needed elsewhere.
- With a checking process, it is best to have a step by step one as this saves time often preventing unnecessary extra work.

Finally, all these hints and strategies will help improve the writing of each examination question. To ensure that you get the best result possible, there is one other piece of advice you need to follow. You must decide during your perusal time, which questions are the easiest, (i.e. you know most about the easy ones) and which are hardest for you.

Answer the questions doing the easiest first and the hardest last. This ensures you will get all the marks you are capable of getting. You will start confidently. You will gain time as the easiest questions often take less time to do well. This extra time will help you give a better answer on the harder questions.

For further information on this topic and others associated with examinations, go to and the eBook, "The Exam Book".

Our author has been in the classroom for well over forty years, first as a classroom teacher and then as Head of Mathematics. During his school and university years he sat for many formal examinations. For over 40 years, he has used this experience to teach his students how to succeed in these examinations. This article contains the strategies for doing just that.

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