Monday, August 20, 2007

Exam Techniques Ode

Beat Your Examiners with Exam Techniques

Are exam techniques better than knowledge?

Half a century ago I learned about exam techniques. At that time I was snowed under with study, and my headmaster said that I had as much chance as the Man in the Moon of passing three Ordinary level GCE subjects.

He was right at that time! It didn't matter how much study I did, term exam questions were always about stuff I hadn't studied.

Then I learned that you perform best in an exam if you know more about exams rather than about the subject of the exam.

I liked that.

Using Exam Techniques

So I studied exam techniques. What were the results? I passed eleven GCE ordinary level subjects.

When artistic talent was handed out, my brother got it all, and there was none left for me. I panic every time I am asked to do a stick-drawing.

However in the GCE exam, my brother set out to do good art, and I used exam techniques to get good marks. To my great glee I got a better pass mark than my brother did. I was sure that proved that exams are unfair, but remained very smug.

Multiple Choice

My wife had a multiple-choice paper on a subject about which I knew nothing. I tried the exam techniques in my book. My wife assured me that I would have passed - without knowing anything about it.

Then came a time that I studied maths again, and I was hopelessly at sea. I learned maths where the best methods were those that worked - fast. New maths had been introduced since I was at college. Now the explanations were just nonsense to me. However when the exam came around, it was another multiple choice test, and I passed!

We've learned nothing

My daughter's final exams were coming. I searched libraries for the most modern examination techniques, and received a great shock. All the books still advised lots of hard work. There was no mention of exam techniques at all.

They mentioned mnemonic techniques to help me remember, but I'd been using them since the middle of last century and knew how they could let me down.

The day before a university exam I decided that I would probably get a question about the life cycle of Fasciola hepatica. So I used a mnemonic technique to memorise every number in the complicated life cycle.

Next day the expected question appeared, and I remembered every number - BUT - I had forgotten the units. It was no use remembering the number 3 if I didn't know if it was three hours, or three days, or three weeks, or three months, or three years. So I couldn't answer the question. Fortunately examination techniques got me through the exam.

Birth of Exam Mastery

I wrote a book about how to pass exams to help my daughter. Unfortunately she thought that she knew everything... and didn't bother to read the book... and failed her exams. Recently I updated the book to take the internet into account.

The arithmetic of success

Suppose you're taking an essay exam with five questions. You know you can give good answers for three questions, but think that you know nothing about the rest. I've seen students walk out of essay exams in that situation - they hadn't studied exam technique.

Your teacher has brainwashed you by punishing anybody who wrote a three line essay for homework. But two essays of three lines each could take you from failure to a pass mark. My book shows what to put into these few lines, but think of the arithmetic.

You got 45 marks out of 60 for your three good questions. The pass mark is 47%. You get one mark out of 20 for each of the remaining two answers. You have a pass mark. That is better than walking out of the exam in a panic - isn't it?

In fact I usually got about 75% by using exam techniques. Oh, they aren't magic. I failed an occasional exam, but I passed many exams that I didn't deserve to pass, especially using crafty essays.

Ian McAllister - You too could write crafty essays to beat the examiner... and more. Get your free report here:

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