Career & Education

Exam techniques

Dr Karla Hylton

Sunday, May 12, 2019

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So, it's exam season once again and tertiary level students and those sitting external examinations, as well as their parents, are likely stressed and overwhelmed. Internal exams are also just a few weeks away and therefore this is a serious time for students across the board.

Consequently, revision and good study techniques are now the order of the day. Is your child ready? Has your child been taught good test-taking techniques?

Let's talk about some of the strategies for sitting particular types of examinations.

The Multiple Choice Exam

Many students mistakenly feel that a multiple choice exam (MCQ) is a 'walk in the park'. Afterall, the answer to the question is given, and so, one only needs to discover the answer. while there is some element of truth in this, good multiple choice questions will not have the answer easily recognisable so students understand that it will require more than just rote memory.

An MCQ question is composed of two parts: a stem, which identifies the question or problem, and a set of alternative possible answers. Of the alternatives, there will be one answer plus a number of distractors that are plausible but incorrect.

If there is difficulty in answering question, the process of elimination is useful. Try to not get frustrated. Reread the question and try to understand what is being asked. If necessary, underline subject and verb.

The most frequent error that students make in doing MCQ's is to not read their questions carefully, leading to misinterpretation of the question. It is critical that you pay attention to qualifiers — words that alter a statement (for example, usually, none, always, never) — and keywords (except, the best, the least, all but the following). Look out for negatives and circle them. These negatives (no, not, none and never) can reverse the meaning of a sentence.

Unless wrong answers are penalised, make an educated guess if you feel that you cannot answer the question. Resist the temptation to change answers unless you are absolutely sure that the first answer is incorrect. Usually, your first choice is the correct answer.

The Essay and/or Short

On a short-answer examination, you are typically asked to provide concise but thorough answers using complete sentences. On the other hand, essay exams require significant writing and critical thinking skills. The essay usually requires an introduction, body and conclusion. Some will require an argument followed by supporting evidence.

Both essay and short-answer type of examination use 'directives'. This is the instruction which tells you how to answer or present your information. I have found that many students fall down in this area, not because of lack of knowledge, but because they have not answered what is asked. Note that some questions may even include more than one directives.

A clue to how much information is required lies in the number of marks allocated to the question.

Common directives include discuss, compare/contrast, enumerate, criticise, analyze, evaluate, explain, assess, justify and relate.

Some students who may be lacking knowledge on a topic pad their answers with irrelevant and repetitious information to fill up space. This will not fool the examiners. It only serves to demonstrate that you lack knowledge on the topic.

Be sure to watch the clock and to divide your time wisely among questions.

Extra tips

It is expected that athletes or musicians, for example, practise every day in order to achieve success. The principle also applies to students. Many students are convinced that one or two days of intense study and no sleep is sufficient to ace an exam, but like I have pointed out on numerous occasions, consistent preparation and practice cannot be replaced. Be reminded that a good night's sleep is more valuable than a night of cramming.

Please write legibly and proofread your answers, paying particular attention to spelling and grammar. If your answer cannot be read, it cannot be scored.

Remember to utilise all the time that you have been allotted. Reread, rework and rethink your answers if you find yourself with extra time. On the other hand, if time is running out, jot down the remaining main ideas in outline form.

After the exam, be sure to take time to relax. Put the exam behind you. Pass or fail, it will not be the end of the world.

Dr Karla Hylton is the author of Yes! You Can Help Your Child Achieve Academic Success and Complete Chemistry for Caribbean High Schools . She operates Bio & Chem Tutoring, which specialises in secondary level biology and chemistry. Reach her at (876) 564-1347, biochemtutor100@gmail.com or khylton.com .


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