Exam resits – getting back on the horse

resit

Failing an exam is not something people plan for but it happens. In fact, I have blogged about it many times because at some point almost all students will have to deal with it. The overriding message is that you should learn from your mistakes and move forward. There are two parts to this, firstly learn from your mistakes, after all you don’t want to make the same ones again, secondly pick yourself up and put together a plan that will take you towards your goal of passing.

Failures, repeated failures, are finger posts on the road to achievement. One fails forward toward success. C. S. Lewis

In the exam world after failure comes the resit, another exam on the same subject sat at some point in the future. But what are the stages in between, how best should you study for an exam that you have already sat and might have only narrowly failed.

Emotional reaction

Imagine the email has arrived and you have failed, as with other challenging situations there are any number of different emotions you might experience. These will depend to some extent on your judgement as to how well the exam itself went. If you didn’t make any huge mistakes, were not fazed by many of the questions and completed them all, you were in with a chance. As a result, you might be shocked, angry, disappointed, frustrated and then you will begin to think about the implications, sitting the exam again, how much time it will take, the costs, having to tell people etc. If on the other hand you thought the exam had gone badly, the result simply confirms you were right. That said the email has taken away that small hope you might have been wrong or in some way fluked it, after all exams have gone badly before and you passed them, so why not again.

Either way, eventually you will end up in the same situation and need the best approach to sit the exam again.

The best approach

  • Mindset

A mindset is little more than a series of assumptions and beliefs that lead to an opinion. What’s important here is to recognise that they are only assumptions. Carol Dwecks work around Fixed and Growth mindsets provide us with evidence as to the importance of having the right mindset and how best to think about it. Dweck argues that students who believe their abilities are carved in stone, intelligence fixed and failure not just a setback but proof of your ability, will find it very difficult to move forward. Alternatively, those with a growth mindset believe they can improve, that intelligence is not fixed, (brain plasticity) and that failure is something to learn from will be in a far better position to learn from their mistakes and try again.

The difference between average people and achieving people is their perception of and response to failure. John C. Maxwell

Failing an exam is a fact, why you failed and what caused that are often assumptions. The secret here is to revisit your assumptions, what you think they mean and change the negative mindset to a positive one. It is very easy to think you are fooling yourself, this is not about putting a positive spin on a set of poor results, if you didn’t do enough work telling yourself it will be better next time will achieve little. The positive mindset here is to recognise that working harder will give you a better chance of passing which of course it will.

Another reframe is to take the advice of the famous behaviourist B.F Skinner, a failure is not always a mistake, it may simply be the best one can do under the circumstances.

  • Learning from your mistakes

Rather than making emotional assumptions as to why you failed far better to spend that energy figuring out what exactly caused the failure. Was it for example lack of work, be honest, was there one area or topic that you simply had no idea what to do, did you run out of time?

Examiners reports and where possible script reviews can be very helpful. One word of caution, script reviews are not remarking exercises. They are there to provide personal feedback on your exam performance. Also, in professional examinations they can be expensive, are not always returned promptly and can sometimes offer little more than what is said in the examiner’s report.

If a script review is not available you could sit the exam again but this time in the comfort of your own home. The purpose here is to provide some insight as to what went wrong, it’s better if you can get your answer marked by a third party, this doesn’t have to be an expert e.g. teacher but it will help. Don’t worry that you will know the answers, think about this in the same way that the police reconstruct a crime, its to give you insight. Not knowing what you did wrong makes it very difficult to do something differently next time.

  • Studying

Firstly, remember you have done this all before, you have a base knowledge of this subject, you’re not starting from scratch. This means you will already have materials, revision notes and a bank of past questions. If you don’t then the good news is you now know exactly what to do!

Past papers – analyse what came up in your exam and add the findings to your existing analysis of past papers. With objective tests or where getting past papers is not possible try and think was there anything different in terms of style, complexity etc.

Revision notes – Although you will have an existing set of notes, it’s a good idea to start with a clean sheet of paper and rewrite them. By all means use your existing notes as a template or guide but re-reading your old revision notes is not particularly effective. You might also want to consider an alternative note taking style for example mind maps.

New question bank – as with revision notes you will also have a book of past questions, get a clean copy e.g. one with no workings or writing in the margin. This is a mindset trick; a clean copy will make each question feel new. Also consider buying or borrowing a completely different set of questions.

Timetable – having a timetable was important last time, its essential for a resit because you are more likely to have limited time available so need to maximise what you do have.

All that remains is for me to wish you the best of luck with the resit and take note of what Zig Ziglar said – failure is an event, not a person.

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What to do if you fail the exam? – growth mindset

failure-sucess

Back in 2011 I wrote about what to do if you fail an exam, it’s one of my most read blogs. Last week I delivered an online presentation for the ACCA, (Association of Chartered Certified Accountants) on how having a growth mindset can help improve your chances of passing an exam, the very opposite of failing. But that is partly the point, very few successful people have never failed, in fact coping with failure is one of the reasons they ultimately succeed.   Having the “right mindset” can not only help you pass, it can give direction and motivation if you fail.

Mindset

The term “growth mindset” was coined by Carol Dweck, Professor of Psychology at Stanford University. She became fascinated as to why some children shrink in the face of problems and give up, while others avidly seek challenges, almost as a form of inspiration. What she discovered was that the type of mindset students held was at the heart of these two differing views. This search for resilience in the face of challenge and adversity has become her life’s work and something that has guided her research for over 40 years.

Fixed – When students have a fixed mindset, they tend to believe abilities are carved in stone, that you have a certain amount of let’s say talent or intelligence and that’s that. They perceive challenges as risky, that they could fail, and their basic abilities called into question. And the fact that they hit obstacles, setbacks, or criticism is just proof their views were correct in the first place.

Growth – In contrast, when students have more of a growth mindset, they believe that talents and abilities can be developed and that challenges were one way of doing this. Learning something new and difficult was in fact the way you get smarter. Setbacks and feedback are not seen as confirmation of frailty but as information that could be used to improve.

This does not mean that people with a growth mindset think talent doesn’t exist or that everyone is the same. To them it’s more a belief that everyone can get better at whatever they do, and improve through hard work and learning from mistakes.

How can you develop a growth mindset?

The good news is that you can develop a growth mindset, but just to be clear, the world is not divided into those with a growth mindset and those with a fixed one, a mindset is not a character trait. Everyone is a mixture of fixed and growth mindsets. You could have a predominant growth mindset in one area but there can still be a thought or event that acts as a trigger and moves you into a fixed one. The secret is to work on understanding your triggers so that you’re able to stay in a growth mindset more often.

Beliefs – ask, what you believe about yourself and the subject you are studying. Do you believe you are below average, not very clever or that the subject or topic you are studying too hard? If this is the case you have wandered into a fixed mindset. What you believe is neither true nor false. What we can say is that it’s certainly not “helpful” to believe you are not clever, and is not what someone with a growth mindset would do.

Talent and effort – thinking that people are either naturally talented or not, is a classic example of being in a fixed mindset. You may never be top of your class but you can improve, and this is achieved by making more effort and working harder.

Positive self-talk – we all have voice inside our head, it’s called your inner speech. It has a significant impact on what you believe and how you behave. If you find your inner speech is telling you to give up or that you will never understand a particular topic or subject, change your voice, tell it off, and then say something more positive. Dweck says that just by adding NOT YET to the end of your statement can help. For example, I don’t understand portfolio theory – at least NOT YET.

The importance of mindset and failure

If you have failed an exam or just sat one and believe you have failed, I have two pieces of advice.

Firstly, on the whole students are not the best judge of their own performance. They tend to reflect on what they didn’t understand or thought they got wrong rather than what they might have got right. As a result, you may have done better than you think and are worrying about nothing.

Secondly, if you do fail, you have a choice as to what this might mean. On the one hand, it might simply be confirmation of what you already know, that you are not very good at this subject or clever enough to pass. Alternatively, you could move to a growth mindset, recognising that you have slipped into a fixed one.  Find out what areas you need to work harder on, and start again.

Everyone has to deal with failure, it’s what you do when you fail that matters most.

True Grit – Passion and persistence

True Grit“They say he has grit. I wanted a man with grit.” So says Mattie Ross in the 1969 film True Grit staring John Wayne. But what exactly does the young Mattie Ross actually mean, what is grit?

Well maybe Angela Duckworth can answer this, she is the author of a book called, Grit, the power of passion and perseverance.

IQ, EQ and Grit

Many will be familiar with IQ (The Intelligent Quotient). It was developed by Alfred Binet around 1911. Not to measure intelligence so that individuals can demonstrate superiority over others, but to identify under performers so that remedial action could take place. Then in 1995 Daniel Goleman wrote about the Emotional Quotient (EQ) or Emotional Intelligence. The idea that individuals can recognise their own, and other people’s emotions, discriminate between different feelings and use this emotional information to guide thinking and behaviour. This idea has enjoyed some success and helped people shift their focus towards valuing something other than simply being clever.

Grit in a way makes a similar point. If we took at a group of highly successful individuals, what qualities would they have, what would it be that made them so successful? Would it be intelligence, maybe a high EQ or is it something else. Angela Duckworth found that it was grit, which she defines as having a passion and persistence for long term goals.

Grit is sticking with your future, day in, day out, not just for the week, not just for the month, but for years, and working really hard to make that future a reality. Grit is living life like it’s a marathon, not a sprint.’

Gritty people work hard, but they are doing this with a long term goal in mind.  They also find their work meaningful, important and interesting.

I’ve never interviewed someone who was truly world class in what they do, who didn’t say in the first five minutes “I love what I do”.

You can become grittier

To learn how to become “more gritty” we need to bring in Carol Dweck. A professor of psychology from Stanford University. Dweck coined the phrase a growth mind set and identified two groups of people. One those who believe their success is based on innate ability, a fixed mindset and two, those who believe their success is based on hard work, learning, training and doggedness a growth mindset.

The logic being that you are more likely to develop grit if you have a growth mindset. This is because if you fail, rather than giving up, you see it as a learning experience and continue to work hard towards your long term goal. Dweck even uses the term doggedness, often described as someone who has an obstinate determination or persistence.

Grit and exam success

I would argue that examination success has far less to do with intelligence and more to do with grit. This is not to say that passing an exam does not require intelligence just that along the way most will face some form of failure and having a growth mindset together with a large dollop of grit is more likely to result in success.

Think about the following:

  • You don’t have to be the cleverest person to pass the exam
  • It is possible to learn most things – if you work hard
  • It’s a marathon not a sprint – failing an exam can be a setback but that’s all, pick yourself up and carry on
  • Be clear what your long term goal is – three years to pass an exam is a long time but your goal is probably much longer. Passing the exam is only part of the journey
  • You may not at first find the work meaningful, but almost everything you learn can be interesting

Find out your grit score

If you would like to find out what your grit score is then click here, it will take less than a minute and you get immediate feedback.

John Wayne also said

Tomorrow is the most important thing in life. Comes into us at midnight very clean. It’s perfect when it arrives and it puts itself in our hands. It hopes we’ve learned something from yesterday.

A growth mindset perhaps.

“You never fail until you stop trying.” – Toms story

The young Tom

The young Tom – inspiring us even then

I am not sure when I first met Tom but it was certainly early on in his studies. Tom was not your typical accountancy student, he was slightly older and perhaps more reflective, the two points may be related. Students studying for professional accountancy exams are probably around 25 and focused very much on looking forward, not back.

Tom started his exam journey in November 2009, his first 2 papers went well and he passed them first time. You need to pass 10 exams broken down over three levels if you want to become a member of the Chartered Institute of management accountants (CIMA).  Boosted by this Tom decided to sit the next 4 papers all at once, something he now thinks was a mistake, he passed just the one. By the end of 2011 however he had passed the other 3. That was 6 papers and two levels complete, Tom was back on track.

“Even though the ship may go down, the journey goes on.” – Margaret Mead

2012 was not a great year for Tom on a personal level which almost certainly had an impact on his performance in the exam room. As a result the whole of that year went by with only one exam success. Between 2012 and 2013 Tom sat one of the remaining papers three times and the other one six times, to quote Tom, that’s six, count them 1…..2….3…..4…..5…..6….. He finally passed that paper in November 2013.

It’s probably worth pausing at this point, how would you feel if you sat an exam twice and failed, let alone 6 times. At this stage your biggest enemy is your own mental attitude. You begin to question your ability, your intelligence and even your choice of career. On top of this is the boredom and stress of having to study the same exam over and over again, trying to do something different, fearing if you don’t you will get the same result. And of course as many of you will know when you are studying your life is on hold, making decisions about work, family/friends is difficult as you need to put your studies first.

In fact Tom did consider giving up, but there were two reasons he didn’t. One the support of his teacher, Maryla who remained positive throughout whilst working with Tom on what he needed to do to improve, and two Toms stubborn attitude, his determination and desire to get something good from all the hard work he had put in so far. To quote Tom, “all I kept thinking was I have lost so much because of this bloody course I have to get something positive from it.” When Tom finally passed that paper he felt excited, and as if he had slain a personal demon.

“Adversity causes some men to break; others to break records.” – William Ward

With only one paper to go Tom was still to face a number of challenges, and it was far from plain sailing.  Knowing a large amount of detail was essential for the earlier papers, now it was all about the big picture, prioritisation and time management.

He was told that gaining the qualification would open doors … So he imagined an open door, on the other side were green fields, money, cars, holidays, being the boss. This focus really helped motivate him to see it through. He passed his last exam on the 29th of May 2015.

It had taken Tom 6 years, in which he had sat in the exam room approximately 22 times. This is not the story of someone who always knew he would pass, destined for success nor of a naturally gifted student who simply needed the right motivation to bring out his talent. This is about what you can achieve if you are willing to make sacrifices, give everything you have and learn from failure.

Congratulations Tom you deserve your success.

 

Big fish – little pond

Best be a Big fish in a Small pond

It’s taken me a little time to get round to reading the latest Malcolm Gladwell (MG) book, David and Goliath, underdogs, misfits and the art of battling giants. Although consisting of three separate sections they all examine the idea of what it means to have an advantage and how we account for the success of the underdog.

Of all the ideas MG lays before the reader, the one I felt was of most interest is something called the big fish little pond effect (BFLPE) and the theory of relative deprivation.

Relative deprivation theory (RDT)

Relative deprivation refers to the discontent people feel when they compare their positions to others and realise they have less. e.g. I judge BMW ownermyself to be successful on the basis I have a brand new car that cost £15,000.  That is until my neighbour pulls on the drive with a brand new BMW costing £30,000, now how successful do I feel?

MG applies this theory to the world of academia. If you take Harvard’s Economics PhD programme and consider the number of times each PhD graduate was published in the last 6 years, Harvard’s top students will do this 4.31 times. Those that are about 5th or 6th in the class publish .71 times and those that are about average .07 times. If however you compare these results to a “mediocre” school, say the University of Toronto, where MG went,  the top students will publish 3.13 times, those that are 5th or 6th .29 times and those that are average .05 times. The point being that students who attend a much lesser university but where they are top of their group perform considerably better than the 5/6th best at Harvard. The question is why?

The smarter your peer group the dumber you feel…..

This is where RDT comes in, we tend to judge our ability by comparing with others, and if you are in a class with very smart people who always do better than you, your perception of your own ability will be effected. The second problem is that this self perception will have a significant impact on your behaviour and ultimately what you achieve, hence the results above. The implication, you will achieve more if you are in a class with others of equal or less ability than yourself.

Bottom line, your performance will improve if you are a big fish in a small pond. It’s even called, the big fish little pond effect (BFLPE)

But what to do?

Admittedly you can’t always pick and choose your peer group, but you can be aware that comparing yourself with the very best may be having a detrimental impact on your own performance, so stop doing it! Instead be inspired by the best but compare your performance with those that are the same as you. Better still compare your current performance with what YOU have achieved in the past and if you are doing better you must be improving…..

David-and-Goliath-Malcolm-Gladwell

 

Listen to MG talking about relative deprivation theory or if you prefer the Big Fish little pond theory….

 

Listen to MG being interviewed about the book

Reflection/Goals/Planning……Inspiration and bravery

2013_time100_yousafzaiIt’s nearly the start of a New Year 2014, traditionally a time for both reflection, taking stock of what went well/not so well and looking forward to what the future might hold. On the whole this is a healthy process, looking back gives you chance to put things into perspective and hopefully learn a few lessons, whilst looking forward gets you thinking about what you might like to happen and set goals to make those events more likely.

Looking back on 2013, one event that stood out for me was the nomination of Malala Yousufzai for the Nobel peace prize in November 2013*. It is not the nomination that is important but the fact it provided a reason to revisit the incredible story of one little girls determination to have an education, something that many of us are fortunate enough to be given for free or at least freeish!

Reflection – The story in brief

By 1997, the year in which Malala was born her father Ziauddin Yousufzai had been running a private girls school for several years in the Swat

A classroom in Swat valley

A classroom in Swat valley

district of Pakistan. This was before the Taliban took over. At the end of 2008 the local Taliban leader, Mullah Fazlullah, issued a warning, all female education had to cease within a month, or schools would suffer consequences. Malala was 11 and supported by her father started an anonymous blog for the BBC Diary of a Pakistan school girl.”  The blog stopped after only 10 weeks as Malala had to leave Swat. Although clearly influenced and inspired by her father Malala had a voice of her own and one that was now being heard outside Pakistan, she was passionate about education, especially for women. A documentary by the New York Times bought the story to a wider audience.

 All I want is an education, and I am afraid of no one. 

But on the 9th of October 2012 when Malala was just 15 two men boarded her school bus and asked “Which one of you is Malala? Speak up, otherwise I will shoot you all” The other girls looked at Malala, innocently identifying her; she was shot in the head and neck and left for dead. She was initially flown to a military hospital in Peshawar and then onto the Birmingham Queen Elizabeth hospital in the UK where she had further operations and continued her recovery.

They cannot stop me. I will get my education, if it is in (the) home, school or any place. 

On 12 July, nine months after the shooting, came a major milestone. Malala stood up at the UN headquarters in New York and addressed a specially convened youth assembly. It was her 16th birthday and her speech was broadcast around the world.

Goals and Planning

Malala wanted to be a Doctor, but wanting to be a Doctor is not an effective goal, it’s a wish or desire, it was outside her control. What was within her control was to work hard, motivate herself and fight for the education she deserved.

Malala wanted to be a Doctor but events changed all that, a bullet intended to kill her sent her down a different path. Now she wants to be a politician, not a goal but a wish, driven perhaps by a deep routed desire to help people less fortunate than herself. Yet those same goals of hard work, motivation and learning will equally help turn this wish into a reality.

Let us make our future now, and let us make our dreams tomorrow’s reality.

And so to 2014

When thinking back on 2013, learn from your mistakes, maybe the exams (life in general) didn’t go as well as you might have hoped. But don’t Happy New Yearask why, ask what have I learned and so need to do differently in 2014. Remember when setting those goals make sure they are within your control and take inspiration from the story of a brave little girl who worked hard, motivated herself and most of all believed in the importance of education.

  Let us remember: One book, one pen, one child, and one teacher can change the world. 

Ps

Malala is now working hard for her GCSE’s incidentally at the same school as my daughter.

Well worth watching – BBC – Shot for going to school.

And the *Nobel Peace Prize 2013 was awarded to Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons “for its extensive efforts to eliminate chemical weapons.

Just answer the question!!! – but how?

Last month I looked at the best way to tackle a case study, but case study is only one type of exam, what about the more traditional style of exam question?

The world is full of great advice, lose weight, exercise more, stop smoking, just answer the question ….all these statements are very clear with regard to WHAT you should do but terribly unhelpful as HOW to do it.

The reason that students fail exams is simple, every examiner since the beginning of time will have made some of these comments.

Students fail exams because?

  • They don’t know the subject – inexcusable and the only reason you should fail
  • They don’t read the questions properly – and as a result  misunderstand what was being asked
  • They don’t  manage their time – so only complete 50% of the paper
  • They don’t write good answers – true this might be due to lack of knowledge but could also be the result of not knowing how much to write

The last three of these can be overcome with the use of good exam techniques. In this blog I want to share with you two simple techniques that I think will help.

How to read questions properly – Tip one, the rule of AND

Below is an exam question worth 12 marks. You don’t need to know anything about the subject so don’t worry.

Using the information given for DT Co, calculate the adjusted present value of the investment and the adjusted discount rate, and explain the circumstances in which this adjusted discount rate may be used to evaluate future investments. (12 marks)

The rule of AND is simple, where there is an AND in the question simply put a line through the AND then make the next statement the start of a new question.

Now read the question

1. Using the information given for DT Co, calculate the adjusted present value of the investment. and

2. (calculate) The adjusted discount rate, and

3. Explain the circumstances in which this adjusted discount rate may be used to evaluate future investments.                                                                                  

There are now three questions and because we have broken it up, it is so much clearer what you have to do.  If we were really clever we might be able to guess how many marks out of 12 relate to those three questions, a tip for another day perhaps.

How to write a good answer – Tip two, Define. Explain and Illustrate

Define Explain and Illustrate is a technique to help you write more using a simple structure.

Read this question

Discuss the proposal to repurchase some of the company’s shares in the coming year using the forecast surplus cash. Other implications of share repurchase for the company’s financial strategy should also be considered. (10 marks)

Firstly Define the technical words. In this example the technical word is repurchase, so firstly we need to say what a share repurchase is.

E.g.  a share repurchase is where a company buys back its own shares and as a result reduces the number of shares available on the market.

Secondly Explain in more detail.

E.g. the share buy back has to be financed in some way so one implication is that it will result in a reduction in the company’s cash balance. It also means that because there are fewer shares, earnings per share (eps) will increase.

And lastly and in many questions most importantly, Illustrate. This could be by way of a diagram an example or by referencing to the question in more detail. The reason this is so important is that this is how you will demonstrate to the examiner that you can apply the knowledge. If you don’t understand something you will not be able to apply it. The application section of the answer will often carry the most marks.

E.g. in the example above it is clear that the company is forecasting surplus cash, i.e. they have more money in the future than they need. Leaving this money in the bank is not considered sensible partly because the level of return that can be earned from the bank will be less than the shareholders require, it can also be interpreted as a lack of ambition on the part of the Directors. Blah blah blah

Depending on the detail provided in the question this final illustration section can go on and on. How much you write will depend on the marks available.

I hope you have found these two tips helpful, if you want more in the coming months just add a comment to this blog and I will oblige.

Epic exam failure – what not to put on your exam paper

And finally a short video showing students real exam answers – funny

Click here