Thursday, December 11, 2014

The SECRET of scoring well in exams

I went to visit my friend Feeqsays the other day, and he asked about how I succeed in studies. I gave him a few simple answers, like I am passionate about what I am doing, I read a lot, etc. The question he asked is worthy of a deeper thought, and I believe many of you in schooling years are also asking the same question.

Whether you like it or not, taking exam is part of study. I can relate that exams are stressful experiences. From my own experience, Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia was the most stressful exam I've ever sat. Before my first paper, I felt like vomiting due to the tremendous amount of stress.

Coming back to the point of exams being part of education, exams has a purpose to serve for both students and teachers. As a student, you are tested so that you can prove yourself having knowledge of the subject you have learnt. As a teacher, how would you know if you have done a good job teaching your students? You can find out through a test given to your students. In essence, exam is a feedback given to the teacher to let him see how well you learnt, and to measure how well he/she teach. This works both ways for you and your teachers.

To score well in exams, working hard for a subject is a must. Nowadays there are a lot of seminars and tuition centres that teaches you about techniques of answering questions. You are taught to answer questions in a particular way to help you score. Answering skills is only one aspect of scoring in exams and I don't discount the fact.

Given that the Asian culture is to score well in exams, many people memorize ways of writing the answers, getting the score they wanted but ended up with no understanding and appreciation of what has been learnt.

Now I am telling you an important secret many may have missed.

Exam is also about Communication

Has anyone told you that exams are also communication in action? Knowing what the answer is to a question is not a big problem provided that you've studied hard enough. Knowing how to write the answer is an art that carries more weight than knowing what is the answer. The question of how to write the answer is actually a question of communication. Let's put it this way: How to communicate the answer?

My teacher once said about knowing how to communicate with the examiner. Speaking about communicating with the examiner, many of you may be new to the idea. We don't see the examiner face to face. We don't know who the examiner is. So, how to communicate with a person when you don't even see him or know who he is?

Communication with the examiner happens a little differently compared to the day-to-day interaction with our friends. It's more like reading a news article - the journalist don't know who you are, but he/she is communicating the news to you so that you know about it.

Now, I want you to remember this important point. From the moment you pen your answer, you are starting the process of communicating with the examiner. The examiner is a human being. The examiner reads your answer and decides whether he/she understands what you have written. Treat the examiner as a person who don't know about the subject, and your job as a candidate is to communicate to make a point known. Whether your exam is in science, business or art, you'll be using bits and pieces of language to tell the examiner what you know, or what you think it is, or why something shouldn't be the case. Whenever a point needs to be made, language is involved; all that you learnt about a language are actually not confined to language classes. You are free to use whatever grammatical structure available to present your points and take care that no one misunderstands what you are saying.

Answering questions in mathematical papers is not spared from the process of communicating, either. When the answer requires you to state calculation steps, please do not skip that (obvious reason: marks awarded for steps!). Actually, the greater purpose of including calculation steps is to communicate your thought process leading to the answer, so make sure you do not skip a step that renders a reader (examiner) unable to follow your working and needed to make guesses. Also, if you need to invoke a mathematical law/rule/theory, you'll need to state the name of the law/rule/theory in your answer because it is a critical link to the answer.

Your job as a candidate also involves making life of the examiner easier. Toolkits of language are great help to make your point clearer as well as indicating the direction of argument you are going to make. When one page isn't enough for your answer, help the examiner to find where your answer continues with simple words like "(Please turn overleaf)" or "(Continue on next page)" or "(Answer continues on page XX)". They carry no marks, but examiners appreciate it lots for making their work pleasurable.

Coming to the conclusion of my post, I would like to ask you once again: What are tested in an examination? An examination not just tests about knowledge, but also communication. With good communication, you'll score well in exams and get anywhere in life :)

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