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

 

Thinking in box’s – Cracking case study

Put it in a boxExaminations come in many shapes and sizes, short form, multiple choice, essay, case study etc. I know there are other methods of assessment but I am thinking here of the most common. Of these one stands out as being very different, the case study. Developed by Harvard in the 1920s the  case study involves giving the student a  real life, normally business situation and asking relatively broad Socratic type questions e.g. what do you think, why etc.

It not only puts the student in a realistic situation but also requires them to think far more deeply.  The cognitive process involved in answering a question such as what is the capital of France or can you add 2+2, on the whole is very simple and may need little more than memory. However giving student a real life business to analyse and asking them to give an opinion as to what the company should do next requires higher level thinking as well as effective communication skills.

Too much to read

One other aspect of a case study is that it often involves large amounts of narrative, all will need reading digesting and putting into context. On the face of it this can seem daunting, but it can be done and as with so many aspects of learning there is a process that can help. I have written about, having too much to read and the benefits of chunking before but I want to bring these together with another powerful technique “thinking in box’s”.

Thinking in box’s 

Volume and lack of direction is the main problem here, so we need to find our own direction and reduce the volume. Thinking in box’s refers to the natural process we have in compartmentalising thoughts. In order to make sense of the world we often put “stuff” into box’s, work, study, relationships etc. We can then open the box’s when we are best able to deal with them. The  point being that  we can’t deal with everything all at once. If this whole idea sounds a bit odd, then just consider the saying “Thinking outside the box”. This refers to the imaginary frame we put around something that restricts our ability to solve a problem and think more creatively. Strange isn’t it…..

Case study

Imagine that you have 10 pages of narrative to read based on a particular industry, a case study. There are a few sub headings and some paragraphing. You are required to provide guidance to the board of Directors as to what the companies strategy should be in the next five years.

The process 

In order to give the advice required by this question, you need to fully grasp the current situation, which means you have to  read, understand and comprehend what is written on the 10 pages. To add structure to the case firstly take chunks of content and put a frame around it, this will help focus just on this chunk of information, it also reduces the volume. A chunk will often be information under a heading or specific paragraphs. Once you have the content in a box, sift through it looking for the “key words” and underline them.  Focusing only on the key words but taking into account the context, ask yourself, what do I think about this? What does it mean, what is it telling me etc. Then write down your thoughts. Do this for every chunk of information, then number each chunk.

At the end of this process you should have read and thought about each chunk, captured those thoughts and have a numerical reference by which to structure them. The final part of the process is to read each of those chunks again and produce a SWOT. This brings all 10 pages down to just one. And by using the SWOT supported by your detailed analysis you should be able to give the advice required by the question.

watch_this_videoIn this short video I demonstrate the thinking in box’s approach.

      Thinking in box’s

And finally – A few words from Terry Pratchet

I will be more enthusiastic about thinking outside the box when there is some evidence of thinking inside it!

There’s no such thing as a stupid question – Learning by questions

Ask questionsThe Greek philosopher Socrates was born 469 B.C in Athens, and died in 399 B.C. He is considered by many to be one of the world’s greatest thinkers. He is known for the Socratic Method and the pursuit of knowledge. The Socratic Method involves asking a series of questions until a contradiction emerges invalidating the initial assumption.

Socratic questioning does not seek to find THE answer, there are often many answers. The primary goal is to explore the contours of often difficult issues and to teach critical thinking skills. This method encourages you to go beyond the simple memorising of facts, enabling you to develop a higher level of understanding.

Socratic questions

1. Questions for clarification – Why do you say that?
2. Questions that probe assumptions – What could we assume instead?
3. Questions that probe reasons and evidence – What would be an example?
4. Questions about Viewpoints and Perspectives – What is another way to look at it?
5. Questions that probe implications and consequences – What are you implying?
6. Questions about the question – What was the point of this question?

If you can formulate a question – you have 60% of the answer
When you pass one exam the bad news is you are often faced with another. Exams at times can seem endless. But as you progress, what you are asked to do will change. When you first start studying a subject you will be asked relatively simple questions such as, what is the capital of FranceChildren are good at asking questions. To answer questions like this you need little more than a good memory. However when you get to the final level, examiners are more interested in understanding and application, not simply knowledge. What they really want you to do is think….

And so you may need to form an opinion, a view of your own. I am sure that you have many opinions now, but how informed are they, what facts support your view and how much have you thought around this view sufficient that you can deal with challenge.

This is where asking good questions can really help. When studying on your own, if you can formulate the right question you are more than half way to answering it yourself. Because to even get to this question, you will have had to think deeply about what you are trying to do, how it might work, what resources you might need, why has no one done this before etc. And only when you have thought this deeply will you be able to ask your question.

The next step is to post your question on the internet, someone will have the answer, the interesting thing is, by the time you come to do this, you may have the answer yourself!

Questions really are a great way of learning.

Judge a man by his questions rather than his answers.
Voltaire

The last word will go to Scott Adams
If there are no stupid questions, then what kind of questions do stupid people ask? Do they get smart just in time to ask questions?

Or should it!

Appy Christmas – Apps for learning

appsIt’s always interesting writing a Blog in the holidays, maybe it’s because you have more time than normal so think you should come up with something different, dare I say original. The reality is that when you have such a large canvas on which to think, you can’t think of anything!
The answer is to narrow it down, give yourself something specific to think about. So whilst staring at my ipad for inspiration, I stopped thinking about “everything”, focused on what was on my ipad and then it happened, an idea… ..Why not write about the apps I use most and how you might use them to improve your studying, so here goes.

It’s not about the technology stupid
First a disclaimer, although technology can be all absorbing, learning is a human quality, technology in many circumstances only makes learning more convenient, you still have to work at it. What it does do is provide you with the ability to study when you want and where you want. Time that would be wasted waiting for or actually on a train/bus etc can be much more effectively used learning. How good would it be if you had finished studying before you got home?

Google CalendarGoogle calendar – Helps plan your studies
I have written before about the importance of timetables and calendars. Sitting down and planning what you will study and when not only helps you become more organised it is essential for setting targets and challenges. And remember target setting is key to motivation.

Evernote Evernote – Organise and store notes
I am finding that I am using Evernote more and more. It is in effect a cloud based folder system. Consider setting up a folder for each subject you are studying. Then within each subject folder you can type notes, attach PDF’s, photos, maybe of places/objects/people relevant to that subject. You can even attach video. And if you want to collaborate with others just share the link. Maybe have a folder for revision with the questions you want to attempt linked via PDF, comment on what you found difficult and share with your friends. Evernote has so many uses.

PenultimatePenultimate – for making hand written notes and drawing mind maps
If you prefer to write rather than type, penultimate is for you, although I don’t think there is an android version at the moment. It is part of the Evernote family and links with Evernote so is easy to use. It is just like a paper based note book with a front cover showing the subject, page numbers and has a nice page turning feel. Unlike a paper based note book however, you can change the paper, plain/lined etc, save your work, add photos, and share with others. It also has a very clever way of making sure your hand when resting on the screen does not interfere with what you are writing.

Put simply it’s the best handwriting software I have come across, and comes close to replacing paper, close but not just yet….

DropboxDropbox – for file storage, back up and file sharing
Many of you will already be familiar with dropbox, it is free simple to use cloud based storage. Dropbox is great for saving/backing up all your files. This means that as long as you can get electronic versions of your text books and question banks you will be able to have them with you anywhere…

And you can share folders with friends.

Adobe ReaderAdobe reader – keep all PDF notes in one place and you can write on them!
This is just for Adobe PDF’s but as most documents can be turned into a PDF format that should not be a problem. Imagine having your notes in a PDF file, opening them up wherever you are and then updating them either by typing or writing on top of the PDF. You can also make margin notes that open up in a speech bubble, little reminders of what you were thinking, or additional work you need to look at.

Explain-EverythingExplain everything – become a teacher and teach yourself
Explain everything is a white board that you can add in pictures, shapes etc, and then the really clever part, record what you are doing in a high quality video. What makes this so good is how easy it is to use.

This would be ideal for working through a question, talking out loud explaining your thoughts (Explain everything will record your voice and your white board actions) and then when you get to the part that is difficult or simply don’t understand, ask your question out loud….? Then send the Mp4 file to your tutor/teacher or study colleagues for an answer. Unfortunately as with Penultimate I don t think there is an android version just yet.

twitterTwitter – limitless knowledge and support
Twitter can get a bad press when it comes to studying, it can be very distracting! But if used properly it can be great. The key is to follow people that have answers to your problems or are like you. If you are studying accountancy for example you will find lots of tweets from experts providing you with up to date news and information often linking to more in depth guidance, websites/PDF’s etc. Twitter is the most up to date text book you can get.

Okay a word of warning; just make sure you are not too far ahead of you teachers and the exam. Also that the people you are following are credible.
The other use is to follow fellow students who are studying the same subjects as you, it can be very reassuring that you are not the only ones who doesn’t understand something.

The big secret to twitter is is very selective who you follow, delete people that are not helping and keep the list down to about 200.

Mobile
Most of these are accessible on all mobile devises and for me that is the real benefit of the technology.

Happy 2013 and more apps
Hope you are all having a good Xmas and here’s to 2013, what will be new this time next year I wonder?

Related articles

Chunking

Whenever I deliver an exam technique or memory course I always come away feeling I have learned something, although I do of course hope it was not just me!

Last week was no exception; it was the memory technique course. Now I have written in the past about memory techniques, but last week one specific topic stood out, chunking.

One of the problems with learning any subject is that often you are faced with such large volumes of information it seems impossible to learn. This is not dissimilar to the position that memory champions find themselves, for example one of the tasks they have to undertake is to memorise a pack of cards.

How long would it take you, 30 minutes, 2 hours, maybe it’s not possible?

Well it is possible and you can do it in 24.97 seconds, don’t believe me, then watch this video.

So how is it done?

Well the first thing to say is it takes practice; secondly it uses some of the principles of memory, chunking, visualisation, and association. You break the task down into a series of smaller tasks, e.g. remember each separate card (chunking) then create a unique image of each card and finally put the events into a structure you are already familiar with, let’s say your journey to work (association).

Listen Professor Winston and Andi Bell world memory champion in 2002 explain more.

Chunking in a bit more detail

I have promoted the benefits of visulisation in previous blogs so let’s focus on chunking.

Look at these letters for 30 seconds

BAADHLWWFCBBACCA

Look away from the screen and write down as many as you can.

Now look at these letters

ACCA CBB WWF DHL BAA

Look away from the screen and write down as many as you can.

You should find that you did better at the second list, one because some of them are already familiar to you BAA – British Airways, but most importantly because they were broken down into smaller chunks.

It works for study as well

Chunking is not only a useful memory technique but a great way to study. When faced with a new subject, start by breaking it down into smaller chunks then priorities those chunks as to which is the most important. This would normally be the most examinable. You then focus on that chunk, don’t worry about all the other topics; just concentrate on that one, and when you have done that move onto the next etc.

And finally

The guy that broke the world record is Ben Pridmore from Derby in the UK

Sleep, picture, talk – learn smarter

Three stories caught my eye this month that I thought might be of interest.

They are all ways in which new research is providing evidence as to how it is possible to learn more effectively, a kind of smart brain learning.

 

 

Sleep is good for study

A new study from the University of Notre Dame suggest  that sleeping soon after learning new material is best for recall. This clearly has implications for students in those latter stages of revision and arguably the night before the exam.  The answer it would seem is that you can study right up to the last minute (probably memorising  facts) as long as you are getting a good night’s sleep after wards.

Although it is not known with certainty why sleep is so good, it is believed that it brings some form of consolidation of the facts, a kind of updating and reorganising of the brain while you rest.

The idea is not that new, this research was out in 2004

Pictures are better than words

This might come as no surprise to people who have read this blog before but it is reassuring that there is some science to support the view that the brain is more effective with pictures than words.

A story from the BBC about a group of people who had their brainwaves scanned while completing a series of tasks, individually and in groups, to see if data visualisation, presenting information visually, in this case a series of mind maps can help. The results showed that when tasks were presented visually rather than using traditional text, individuals used arround 20% less cognitive resources. In other words, their brains were working a lot less hard.

The research was carried out by Mindlab International, an independent research company that specialises in neurometrics – the science of measuring patterns of brain activity through EEG, eye tracking and skin conductivity, which tracks emotions.

This is not just another plug for mind maps, they are just one way in which information is presented visually. When reading a book or study manual, put information in boxes, use graphs, draw people and objects, make it look visual, it will all help.

The first sign of madness – talking to yourself out loud

Gary Lupyan, a cognitive psychologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison often found himself talking out loud so he thought it might try to find out if it helped, and guess what it did.

In one experiment, volunteers were shown 20 pictures of various objects and asked to look for a specific one, such as a banana. In half of the trials, participants were asked to repeatedly say what they were looking for out loud to themselves, the others were asked to remain silent. The researchers found self-directed speech helped people find objects more quickly by about 50 to 100 milliseconds.

Most people talk to themselves when studying, but they don’t say the words out loud they keep it inside their heads. What this research suggests is that what you should do is say the words out loud, use different voices even. I know it sounds strange but it does work. Okay maybe you should do it behind closed doors; you don’t want to upset the neighbors…..

 

 

 

Motivation – How to want to study

2012, another year and an opportunity to set some New Year resolutions, but how many will you keep, and why won’t you keep them? It’s not because you don’t want to, it’s not because they are not important. But somehow you just don’t want them enough; you lack the motivation to make them happen.

Just imagine if you woke up every morning jumped out of bed and said, “I can’t wait to start studying today.” How much would you learn if that was the way you felt? Well, that’s what it would be like if you were motivated. The interesting thing is that motivation can be learned, just like anything else. With the right techniques you can improve your desire to want to study.

People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing – that’s why we recommend it daily.”

Zig Ziglar

What is motivation?

Motivation can be thought of as the wants, needs and beliefs that drive an individual towards a particular goal or perceived outcome. It will generally result in affecting a person’s behavior: they will do something as a result.

Setting goals is the first step in turning the invisible into the visible.

Tony Robbins

Motivation is about setting goals

If motivation is about being driven towards a particular goal, then, to be motivated, you must set a goal or outcome in such a way that it invades your thoughts and affects your actions. In principle, then motivation is about goal-setting. You cannot be motivated if you don’t want something.

In absence of clearly defined goals, we become strangely loyal to performing daily acts of trivia.

How to set goals

The process that you go through in order to set goals is important, below is an easy to follow guide as to what questions you need to ask to set motivational goals.

1. What do you want? State the goal in positive terms, what you want, not what you don’t want.

This needs to be something you want, so, saying “I don’t want to fail my exams” needs to be changed to “I want to pass my exams.”

2. What will you accept as evidence that you have achieved your outcome? – Make it real

  •  Ask – How will you know that you have this outcome? What will you see, what will you hear, how will you feel? or

So if your objective is to pass your exams, perhaps you would see yourself opening the letter and it showing a clear pass, you hear yourself shout “yes” and you feel so proud or maybe just relieved.

3. Is achieving this outcome within your control? –  Must not depend on others

  •  Ask – Is this something which you can achieve? Or does it require OTHER people to behave in a certain way?

If the answer to what do you want was, “To pass my exams,” then, when you get to this point it will become clear that this outcome is not achievable by you. To pass the exam, you need the examiner to consider your script worthy of a pass. So the outcome needs to be refined to smaller outcomes that can be achieved by you. E.g. “I want to practice more questions.” This is within your control.

4. Are the costs and consequences of obtaining this outcome acceptable?  – What do you gain and lose as a result of achieving your outcome?

  •  Ask – What are the advantages of making this change?
  • Ask – What are the disadvantages of making this change?

This will help identify if what you want (your outcome) is really best for you and the balance of your life? If you achieve your outcome, how will your life be affected?

5. And then….. Write them all down

 A creative man is motivated by the desire to achieve, not by the desire to beat others.

Ayn Rand

And finally – The E word

Many of my blogs, including this one contains extracts from my book “The E word,” the book about how to pass exams.

You can buy this book now at Amazon.

PS Want to know what the guys from Apple think text books should look like – check out this video

A beautiful mind or just a different one – Personalised learning

My Daughter is sitting her mock exams at the moment, my wife is taking her to school just in case the train breaks down! And I have just finished teaching revision; only the dog seems unaffected by this November/December exams season.

Watching my Daughter study was interesting, she has discovered that you don’t need a white board to make notes, and just like John Nash (A beautiful Mind) has been writing on our dining room windows with a marker pen.  She also created a game where the answer was under a flap of paper and found that she learned more effectively when teaching someone else, me. Go on ask me a question about respiration or stem cells…..

I have written on the merits of learning styles before,”learning styles don’t work or do they,” but in that blog I focused more on how you process information rather than using differing methods to learn. For example making notes using mind maps rather than in a linear format or writing on the window rather than on paper…..  Different people learn in different ways and at different speeds. This is why there is a big push in education to personalise learning, to make it sufficiently flexible for each individual to learn in their own way.

The argument is that in the last century education was delivered in a style needed to prepare people to work in factories. It required little in the way of individual thought just the ability to perform simple repetitive tasks, the same as everyone else. As a result pupils were all taught in the same way, sat in rows, repeating the same thing over and over again, and dressing alike. Okay a bit Orwellian and not entirely true, there have always been great teachers, but you get the point.

But now we live in a world that is constantly changing, problem solving is highly praised and keeping up to date with the latest information or developments is essential. So learning needs to change.

Different ways to learn

There are of course many ways to learn, but below are a few tips and hints.

  •  Making notes – writing something down is an incredibly powerful method of learning. Some people like mind maps, others prefer lists or bullet points and why not try Concept Mapping. The key point, just write it down.
  • Cards – reducing down what you have to learn and put it onto small cards. This is great for individuals who like to rearrange information, putting the most important first or eliminating what has been mastered.
  • Get a learning habit – make a routine out of what you do so that you perform a task without thinking. Learn one new fact before you go to bed, always have a book to hand or have notes on your mobile so that when you are on the train everyday you can study for 20/30 minutes.
  • Talk out loud – okay people may think you are a bit strange but listening to your own voice can really help.

Of course not all of the above will work for everyone that’s why you are you, an individual, the secret is not to give up if one method does not work.

Ps other great films about learning

Good will Hunting and the best of all Dead Poets Society

Let me know your favourites?

Exam results – what to do if you fail!

August is an interesting month, for some it is the time to take a well earned holiday and so de-stress for others it is the month in which the exam results drop through the letter box or inbox and so a time to get stressed.

I have taken the easier of these two options and so have been on holiday, which for me is always a chance to read a couple of books. One of them was called Talent is overrated by Geof Colvin, senior editor for Fortune magazine. In the book Geof puts forward some interesting arguments as to the role talent plays in the success of people who by many would be considered exceptional, even gifted. He argues not so much that innate talent does not exist, more that successful people, those at the top of their respective tree, Tiger Woods (okay not personally – but he is still a great golfer) Warren Buffet, Bill Gates for example have other qualities, they worked hard, and practised a lot…..

Greatness does not come from DNA but from practice and perseverance honed over decades. The key is how you practice, how you analyse the results of your progress and learn from your mistakes.

What has this got to do with exam failure?

If you looked around your class and picked the best, brightest, most talented students, I bet they passed their exams. And the reason you failed was because you are not good enough, you are not talented!

Well here is the bad news, what Geof Colvin and in fairness many others have found is that it is often not down to talent, it is down to hard work and practice, and we are all capable of that. If you believe that your poor exam results were because of your lack of innate abilitiy then you are wrong. You are in fact creating what is called a fixed mindset, you begin to believe that you can’t affect your performance and so don’t try. What’s more it’s not all that good to believe you are naturally talented. Research has proven that if you believe that you do well because you are talented, when faced with failure you are more likely to give up. If you believe that you did well because of hard work and then you fail, you carry on but just work harder next time.

So what should you do?

Geof goes on to say that it is not just practice that matters but how you practice, you need to practice deliberately. He calls it deliberate practice and it should;

  • Be designed to improve performance
  • Be repeated a lot
  • Enable you to get feedback continuously
  • Be highly demanding mentally
  • Not be much fun

But what satisfies the above criteria…….. yes practicing using past exam questions. So if you were not successful in your exams, find out when you can re-sit then;

1. Take a deep breath, get out your notes from last time and draw a mind map or review the one you did for revision, sometimes it’s best to make a fresh start. This will remind you of what you have to cover and get you thinking about the subject again.

2.  Analyse the past exam questions (including the last exam) and find out what is examined the most then identify the areas you need to improve.

3. Start to practice these past questions using the answers for feedback, and no it may not be much fun but then you now that.

Failure – the only way to learn

Here is a great video by a guy called Derek Sivers, Derek is a professional musician and founder of a company called CD baby in the US. He makes an argument as to why we need failure because it is a major factor in how we learn and grow.

Final thought

I know at the moment that failing an exam can feel like the biggest disappointment in the world and that it may seem that your career is over before it really got started. But it is what you do next that really matters

As Michael Jordon once said “I can accept failure, everyone fails at something. But I can’t accept not trying”

Inspirational true story…Never give up!

Congratulations on failing from one failure to another…

Sorry is not good enough – Exam paper mistakes

9 exam paper errorsExams seem to be in the news a lot these days, unfortunately often for the wrong reasons. This month we were told of at least six errors on exam papers sat by students studying A-level, AS-level and GCSEs taken in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The errors were on questions with marks ranging from 1 to 11 and effect 90,000 students. In fact it is hard to keep up; only yesterday there was news of another possible three mistakes, bringing the new total to nine!

The examining bodies have said they were sorry and that they would take into account the errors when they come to mark the paper, ensuring that no students would be disadvantaged as a result. Firstly an apology is not good enough, it should not happen in the first place and secondly they can’t “take into account” the full impact of the mistakes. And it looks like David Cameron agrees……

Now of course everyone makes mistakes, but when the consequences are as important as this there should be a system in place to ensure they are spotted. That system should include having an examiner, an assessor and a sitter. This is in addition to the normal proofing and arithmetic checks. The examiner writes the paper, and presumably checks it, the assessor also checks the paper, ensuring the wording is clear and that what is being asked is within the syllabus and technically correct. The sitter should then attempt the paper under exam conditions, to make sure that it can be completed in the time available. If these processes are followed it would seem almost impossible for a mistake to be made, I wonder what went wrong?

Equally it is not possible for the examining body to ensure that no student is disadvantaged. What can they do, be generous with the marks for any attempts made?  What if the student looked at the question tried to do it, panicked and as a result wasted valuable time, making little or no attempt at the rest of that question, there is in effect nothing to mark. What can you do in these circumstances; just add on say 5 marks!

How can you take into account the student who raced through the second question because they spent so much time on the first and made mistakes due to the time pressure, add on another 5 marks!

And what about the student who looked at this question, lost their confidence and so failed to complete the paper, add another 5 marks!

Listen to this confident student describe the impact of a mistake in the exam.

And he got no reply…..

What to do if there is a mistake

There is however some good news, you can still give yourself the best chance of passing if you apply some simple exam techniques.

1. Stick to the mark allocation – if it is a 10 mark question then only spend 18 minutes on it, 1.8 marks per minute for a three hour exam. So even if you cannot answer the question because of a mistake on the paper you will not be wasting time that could be better used on the next question.

2. Don’t think you have to get everything exactly right. Your objective is to pass the exam with the highest mark, so you may have to accept that you will not get 100%. And of course getting 100% correct is impossible when the examining body has put down the wrong information! Do your best and move on.

3. Make assumptions – read the exam question slowly, underline the key points and if it doesn’t make sense clarify what you think it is saying by stating your assumptions. Then answer the question in accordance with your assumptions.

4. Don’t bother asking if you think there is a mistake. There is little point asking in the exam if there is a mistake on the paper. The invigilators on the day are unlikely to be subject experts and so will do nothing. Let others put their hand up and ask, you should keep your head down and get on with answering the question.

Remember exams are more than tests of knowledge and they are not always fair, but they are equal, everyone in the exam room is faced with the same examiners mistake. How you deal with those mistakes however can make all the difference….

Another TED lecture worth watching

And finally I have another TED lecture for you to watch. It is presented by Sir Ken Robinson who gives a very interesting talk on what he describes as a crisis in our education system – personalised learning not standardised/production driven learning.