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Conquering Exams The Final Frontier

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July 3, 2015

Conquering Exams The Final Frontier

To score top grades students must be able to apply knowledge to correctly answer examination questions. Answering exam questions is a mind game which requires the student to clearly understand the question.

Here are some skills to develop for students to do so:

  1. To understand the question asked, read the question carefully and ask yourselves the 5 W and 1 H questions. For example, if the question requires the student to evaluate whether the information provided with the question is reliable, start by asking yourself questions like ‘Where is the evidence to support this? What assumptions are being made here? How reliable is the source? Is the source biased or prejudiced in any way?’
  2. Use visualisation tools like mind maps, flow charts etc to sift and organise the vast amounts of information in your memory. Then only write the relevant answer.
  3. During study sessions before the exams, practice only different question types, patterns and styles and not their variations. This is very important. Note that there are always a finite number of types and patterns in which questions can be asked on any subject, concept or chapter.For example, History, Geography, Social Sciences have two typical questions types having numerous variations:
    1. Essay type questions:
      1. How far do you agree that…
      2. Do you think that…
      3. Is it fair…
      4. Why…
      5. Describe and give examples…
      6. What…
    2. Source or context type questions:
      1. Why do you think he said this? Or, what do you think he meant…?
      2. How similar are these two sources…?
      3. How does the author/speaker feel about…?
      4. How useful is the source as evidence / proof about…?
      5. What is the opinion of the author about…?
      6. The source is a cartoon…
      7. The source suggests… do you agree?

      The examiner is testing different skills for each of the above two question types. For the essay type question ‘how far do you agree’… following skills are being tested:

      1. The ability to understand which data is true and which is false.
      2. The ability to present two different points of view.
      3. The ability to make your own judgment and conclusion based on evidence presented.

      For the source based questions ‘Why do you think…’ the student must answer in three parts:

      1. Give answer to the question.
      2. Use details provided in the ‘source’ to support your answer.
      3. Use knowledge outside of the source to further support your answer.

Many students answer only one or two parts and are surprised when they do not score high marks.

010Maths and Science are no different. Students must practice only different types (A1, A2, A3….) of questions. Practicing their variations (A1a, A1b, A1c….) is not important. Refer Fig 1 below. If students can solve one type, they can solve all its variations. For example in Physics we know:

Force = Mass x Acceleration or F=MA. This equation can have only 3 possible question types.

Type 1: Given Mass & Acceleration, calculate Force
Type 2: Given Mass & Force, calculate Acceleration
Type 3: Given Force and Acceleration, calculate Mass

Why then students who practice hundreds of questions get surprises in exams and complain that they have no time for revision? Obviously they practiced many variations of few types of question. Different types require learning different steps to solve. All variations of a particular type can be solved using the same steps and formulae.

The best way to master any chapter is to practice at least one of each question type A1, A2, A3, etc.

  • To compile different question types of each subject and chapter collect previous examination papers, class assignments, guides and test papers. Eliminate duplicates and variations. What remains are all the different types of questions possible. The numbers will be manageable to practice.
  • Finally students must verify with teachers, guide books and peers whether the answers they have practiced will score full marks.
  • Even students, who are well prepared, get nervous on the exam day and are unable to perform to their highest potential. Avoid the following pitfalls to remain calm and confident.

    Arrive early

    Arrive half hour early for exam. Breathe deeply. This allows your mind to relax. A relaxed mind performs best.

    Do not discuss the exam

    Do not talk or discuss with friends or anyone else about the examination on the day of the exam. Last minute study tends to create negative stress on the mind. It may cause confusion and disturb the information integrated and organised in your brain subconsciously during sleep the night before.

    Remain motivated

    Use the power of the spoken word and imagine a positive outcome to your efforts and be self motivated.

    The question paper

    As soon as you receive the question papers read all instructions and questions carefully.

    Students sometimes just read a few words and assume the rest, thinking it is exactly same as what they have practiced earlier. It takes only one word to change the context of the entire question. If you do not read carefully then chances of misunderstanding are great. You may answer wrongly even though you know the answer well.

    For example do not read ‘and’ when the question says ‘or’. Do not confuse ‘which of the following is true’ with ‘which of the following is not true’.

    Manage time wisely

    Plan the order in which you will answer the questions and the time you will spend on each section. Keep track of time. Occasionally look at your watch to check whether you are within the time allocated for each question and section. Practice this during the study sessions.

    Provide at least 15 minutes time to review your answer sheets before handing them over.

    Easy first Difficult later

    To demoralise students, examiners sometimes deliberately position difficult questions in the beginning and easier ones later in the paper. So be aware of this time trap. General rule is – easy first, difficult later.

    If you do get stuck with a difficult question, mark it and move on. Return after answering other questions. Always leave questions that require a lot of thinking, analysis and writing to the end after answering most of the questions. By then your mind is relaxed to tackle the difficult questions.

    Give right amount of information

    Understand the weightage of the question with respect to overall question paper and what the examiner wants. Don’t give too much, too little or irrelevant information. A good indicator is the marks allotted to the question. Sometimes the number of marks equals the number of points to be provided. Don’t get carried away with familiar questions and write on and on till you find too much time is wasted.

    (For more information refer to New Age Learning and Reading Skills by Ajay Aggarwal)

    Ajay Aggarwal

    Ajay Aggarwal

    Ajay Aggarwal is author and master trainer of New Age Learning and Reading Skills. He also contributes through magazines his views on global trends and how India can leapfrog its education standards.
    After a successful corporate career, Ajay co-founded Apsara Foundation in 2011. He conducts regular workshops for teachers and students on new age learning skills: mind mapping, long term memory techniques, managing study time, listening skills, whole brain learning, speed reading and preparing for exams. He helps education institutes absorb these study skills into their culture and curriculum. To-date Apsara Foundation has trained more than 550 teachers and 6000 students.
    For more information visit or
    write to

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