Question hour, simplified

Testing Times

Question hour, simplified

 Exams call for clarity in thought and presentation.

Are exams a proper test of a student’s learning abilities? The introduction of the semester system, the emphasis on project work and the shift to multiple choice questions versus lengthy compositions may have made exams more bearable but they continue to be the cause of worry for many students.

Most exams are not entirely satisfactory ways of testing knowledge. Instead, they are methods of testing your skill in answering a certain number of questions in such a way that the examiner is able to approximate a fair judgment of your knowledge only in respect of those few questions. An exam is usually characterised by these features:

*You are expected to complete the exam within the stipulated time.

*Most exams are a test of your writing skills. (There are oral exams but they are not within the scope of this article).

*Your handwriting assumes great significance because the examiner should be able to read what you put on paper.

*You must read and understand the instructions on the question paper because not all questions are alloted equal marks.

*You may possess vast knowledge on a given subject but  you would need to marshal your thoughts and present them in a precise, relevant and coherent manner.

Step-by-step guide

Let’s focus on the instructions first. Before you embark on a project, whether it involves activating your new mobile phone or adding your favourite song list to your ipod, you would need to read the instructions manual, wouldn’t you?

Take this simple test, if you need some convincing on the value of instructions while taking an exam.

1. Please write neatly and legibly.
2. Please read carefully before answering.
3. Please answer only those questions which are clear. Leave out instructions, requests or directions.
4. If instruction No. 3 is not followed the answer paper will be invalid.

Maximum Marks 100
1. What is your name? 10
2. Please state your father's name. 10
3. Your qualifications. 10
4. What is your favourite colour? 10
5. Do you believe in democracy? 10
6. Who is your favourite stage actor? 10
7. Explain what is meant by the Presidential form of Government? 10
8. Discuss the Internet briefly. 10
9. Draw a triangle. 10
10. What is ISP in IT parlance? 10 marks

Did you read the instructions and the questions before beginning to answer the paper? Now, how many students would hasten to answer all the 10 questions without reading and understanding Instruction 3?

Bright students, who are impatient, often make mistakes about the number of questions required to be answered (choice), distribution of marks (equal or varying from question to question) and so on.

Smart time management

Assuming that you have three hours to answer a paper, you need to consider the number of questions in the paper, check how many are compulsory and study the pattern of allotment of marks before you begin to write. Next, quickly formulate a time management strategy. Often, students spend hours on the first few questions, and, on realising that their time is running out, race through the rest of the paper. In this race against time, many questions remain unanswered. You are often under pressure to keep filling reams with your writing. Remember to keep your answers focused and relevant.

Good time management also starts with reaching your exam centre ahead of time, staying  calm and relaxed, and being able to start the exam with a plan. Sometimes, the very bright student keeps cramming until the very last minute, races into the hall and hunts for her seat in a panic. By the time she settles down, her mind could be in a turmoil, preventing her from taking the exam with a cool head.

Hints that help you score

I know you’ve heard this ad nauseum from your teachers and parents, but the fact remains that your handwriting should be neat and legible. After all, you need to get your examiner to read your answers carefully. You’ve heard the joke about the scribble of doctors, which only the chemist can decipher, right? However, your scrawl isn’t going to earn you any laughs or marks from your examiner. Many American business houses, I’m told, insist that job applicants send in a sample of their handwriting which is then sent for analysis. 

Begin every answer with a brief introduction. Go on to argue your case and lead up to a proper conclusion. Clarity of thought, language and expression will certainly help you score high marks.

Shabby work with splashes of ink from a leaky pen will reflect poorly on you. Remember to correctly number the questions and sub-questions, the pages of the answer book and the additional sheets. Confusion is often created by a student who answers sub-questions on different pages. Examiners, after all, are only human. You may answer some five papers in an exam, but they have to value some  500 papers!

Writing technique also includes a wise selection of questions that can be answered first and those which could be handled later. Tackle the questions that you feel confident about first. This is sure to prepare you for the tough questions ahead. Luckily, our exam system allows you to answer questions in any order.

It’s important to make a clear assessment of what information is being elicited before putting pen to paper. It would do you good to work out question papers from earlier years, not to forecast likely questions but to understand the question paper pattern. It also helps to recognise the key words of a question such as ‘define’, ‘discuss’ or ‘describe’. Some questions demand short notes while others ask for a comparison between theories  or doctrines.

For instance, if  a question asks you to compare Theory X with Theory Y, your focus should be on drawing comparisons between the two, not describing the individual theories in painstaking detail. In case you are required to make short notes, remember to give a brief statement of the topic, illustrating it with an example or a case study.
In Language and Literature exams, you may have questions on appreciation or criticism, annotation, paraphrasing or character sketches.

On rare occasions, a printer’s devil may creep into a question paper. Usually, such errors are detected and announcements are made in the exam hall. Mistakes regarding figures/ numbers are easy to spot, but mistakes of language could go undetected. The invigilator may not be able to help when such a mistake is brought to her notice. In such cases, use your common sense. You might wonder why I have laid so great an emphasis on a seemingly mundane subject  like handwriting in this article. Of course, it is possible that gifted mathematicians and scientists have handwriting which is far from clear. The handwriting hint, as with many others in this article, will  help you tackle exams with a smile. Good luck!

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