by Mark Wigfall 27/07/2023

Tearing up your lottery tickets

Imagine this: you go into your local newspaper shop and spend some of your hard-earned cash on 10 lottery tickets. After leaving the shop you take three of the tickets, tear them up, and drop them into the nearest rubbish bin - without noting down the numbers on them. On Saturday you check the numbers on the remaining seven tickets against the lottery results.  Maybe one of the tickets you threw away would have made you rich - you will never find out.

The above suggestion seems totally crazy, and yet this is exactly what many students do when they take written exams. They invest years of their time studying for a qualification and then throw away part of their chance of achieving a good result through bad exam technique. Conversely, we all know a few of those annoying people who never seem to do much work during the semester but always get good grades. How do they do this? Read on.

Check, check, and if there is any time left, check again

Rule number one for the successful exam candidate: never, ever leave an exam before the end of the time allowed. Keep checking and rechecking your work until the time runs out. Read everything again. Check your spelling, grammar and content. Tell yourself that if you can score just one extra point this could make the difference of a whole grade in the overall result. If you have studied for years, why waste the last ten minutes of an exam looking out of the window?

The best exam candidates are also the best time managers

Learn to manage your use of the available time by dividing it according to the points allocated to each question. A well set-up exam room (sadly not many) will have a clock at the front that can be seen by all the candidates. You should always wear a watch or take a small clock to exams in case no clock is provided. If you cannot finish a question within the time you have allocated to it, then leave it and come back at the end if you have time left over. Never leave a complete question, such as an essay, unanswered because you ran out of time. You will usually get a better grade if you give some kind of answer to all the questions than if you have, for example, one good answer and one question that you completely ignored. Leave some time at the end for checking your work and use all of it. Read the questions again as well as your own answers.

Answer the real questions

This leads us to the second most common way of wasting points in an exam - answering the wrong question. Many students read the questions too quickly and then write a great answer to the question they THINK is being asked, not the real question. Alternatively, they miss out important parts of a complex question, thus losing the points for the missing items. This commonly occurs when questions are formulated in a way such as "Discuss X, then Y, and Z" - part Z gets forgotten.

Another related mistake is to ignore the instructions given. For example, the question says "List five examples of ........." , so the candidate lists eight examples in the hope that five are correct. In this case most examiners will look at only the first five on the list. Others may not look at any of them. Similarly, if the instruction says "write your answer in the box below" then anything you write outside the box will be ignored by the examiner in most cases.

Here is my final rule for achieving maximum success in exams: if you do not know the answer - GUESS. Never leave anything blank. I am always surprised at how many students leave questions unanswered, even in multiple-choice tests.

So there you have it - maximum profit for minimum effort, the way to get the highest exam grades for any given amount of knowledge. Use all the time given to you, answer the questions being asked in full, and guess if you are not sure. Follow these three simple rules and maybe you will finally start getting higher scores than that annoying guy who sits next to you playing a game on his phone throughout all your classes.