Monday, December 12, 2011

How To Gain Greater Success In Formal Examinations


I grew up in the years when the scholarship examination was still an important step in the education process. Each Friday morning, the scholarship classes, the final year in primary school had a two hour test examination on English, Mathematics or Social Studies. At high school, there were many 2 and 3 hour exams at the end of each term leading to the formal external Junior and Senior examinations. Most of my first degree assessments at University of Queensland were 3 hour exams. As an evening student, it was essential to develop good exam technique. This article reflects these experiences.


Up to 50% (sometimes more) of the test instruments used in Schools are the traditional pen on paper examination held under strict examination conditions. For many students this can be a stressful situation where they do not perform at their best. Apart from a good study program, the best preparation is to teach the student how to best do the actual examination/Test. Below are the steps I teach my students from Term 1, Year 8. I repeat it prior to every examination/test right through to the end of Year 12. This procedure can be used in all year levels and subjects successfully. In primary school, teachers might introduce these ideas slowly and actually go through a practice exam explaining to the class how to do these steps. I have even done this with my secondary classes. Remember it is an on-going process.

As well, I remind them of these issues:

(1) Get a good night's sleep.
(2) Have a good breakfast/lunch, etc.
(3) Drink plenty of water.
(4) Don't study "madly" during the last 30 minutes before the test.

All these ideas are to ensure the student is in the best physical condition possible to do the exam.

STEP 1 Read the examination/test paper at least twice.

Decide which questions are easy are harder. Mark them hard or easy.

Decide on the order that you will do them.

Do the easy questions FIRST.

Why? - They take less time; therefore you gain extra time for the more difficult questions.

- Success creates confidence.
- You don't miss out on marks you can get.
- You give the impression to your marker you know your subject.

Write out a short plan of how you are going to answer the question.

STEP 2 Work out a time/mark allocation. This give you a rough estimate of the time required per question. Use the first few minutes to plan; the last few to check over and edit where necessary.

Allow time at the beginning of the exam for reading and at the end for checking.

If you are doing a more difficult question; DON'T spend all of your time on it if you are not succeeding.

Go on to others. When you return; read the question afresh and what you have done before you continue.

Continue to try all unfinished questions to the end of the exam/test time.

STEP 3 Checking is a compulsory part of every test. There are several ways to check:

1. Check you have copied down all the correct data for the question.
2. Check that your answer (its size, etc.) fits in a practical sense into the scenario of the question.
3. Check, in fact, that you have actually answered the question fully.
4. Towards the end of the exam time, check you have done or tried every question and every part of each question.
5. In Maths questions or questions involving calculations, check every step as you do it.

STEP 4 Make sure you have been:

- Neat
- Tidy
- Organised
- Logical
- Clear
- Concise

And you have

- correctly numbered questions
- your name and teacher's name appear on each page

In other words, make sure it is easy for you and your examiner/teacher to understand/follow what you have done. This gives the examiner/teacher every opportunity to give you the marks your efforts deserve. It also gives you the best opportunity to check your answers and ensure they are correct and that you get the most marks possible.

REMEMBER: you have biros, pencils, eraser and ruler. (Coloured pencils/biros can be useful, too.)

Rick Boyce has taught for over forty-five years. Early in his career, he taught English, Science, Geography and Mathematics.For the fifteen years before his retirement, he was the Head of Mathematics in a large Australian school. Examination technique was a process he taught all his students. He gained a reputation as an innovator in the teaching of Mathematics and as a presenter of professional development for Mathematics teachers.

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