In the examination


You may start now

What do you do first? Well if there are any formulae you need to remember, write them down now, immediately, because in the heat of the moment when you need them in an hour’s time you may remember them incorrectly. At this stage you may want to recreate your essential things to remember page on the back of the exam.


Then we begin…

But where do you begin? Well for me the most obvious place is with the easiest question! In fact here is what I do…

Briefly read through the examination from start to finish until I find a question I KNOW I can do perfectly, then I do it perfectly. I don’t turn back to the start, I continue to read through to the end, doing questions I know I can do perfectly.

I then turn back to the beginning and work my through doing only the questions I THINK I can do perfectly, and hopefully I do. Either way, I work through them to the end, and move on.

When I reach the end of the paper, I now need to go through doing questions I think I know how to do, but look challenging, until I reach the end…

I know really have to attempt every question, or may leave one or two until the very end. With this approach you won’t waste time chasing marks when you could spend your time nailing the marks you know!

Most A level modules only have half a score or so questions, and so this approach is very doable. IB examinations often have more questions, in less time, but you do get 5 minutes reading time, so use that to plan your strategy of attack! GCSE examinations are annoyingly full of questions, so in some respects it may be better just to plough your way through, which should be possible to be fair!


Read each question at least 4 times

Once, to decide to do that question

Twice, as you do the question

Thrice, to check you have answered the question that was asked

Fourthly when checking your work, either immediately or a little later on…


You are only examined on what you are taught

If your teacher did their job, even if they didn’t, if you do your job preparing properly (see my clearly defined steps to revision) then you will know the material from the course, and that is all they can test you on, even if it feels like they’re throwing you a googly  (Americans read this as a curve ball). Example:

Past Paper 1: What is 2+2?

Past Paper 2: What is 5+7?

Past Paper 3: What is 9+12?

The real thing: Obadiah has 7 apples, and decides to invest his money by increasing his current stock levels of apples. He accumulates a further 3 apples, and does not sell any for the rest of the tax year. Assuming he neither loses, gives away or must pay his tax in apples, how many apples does he have at the end of the year?

So you panic and wonder where in the course they mentioned apples, before you realise that this is simply a question on addition. 7+3=10! You’re just being tested on what is on the course, even if they try and make it seem otherwise. Remember that, because…


 There will be a question you think you can’t do

You can do it! Not only because you’re awesome and well prepared, but also for all the reasons given above. The papers have to change over time. The examiners can’t change every questions format every year, or we’d all complain, so instead each year one or two questions get changed quite drastically. Be prepared for it, while the rest of the exam hall goes into panic, you need to calmly think what topic it is, what they are testing you on and how you would normally approach it.


Keep writing for the full time

Seriously, do not stop! Most examinations these days have no negative marking. In other words, while a blank space scores zero, writing 5 randomly still only scores zero… unless the answer is 5, then we’re in the money/points/marks/whatever! But obviously don’t just write 5. If the question is about trigonometry, write every identity you know, draw some trigonometric graphs, calculate some angles using any numbers you can see on the page, maybe even draw some lines, some triangles or any mathematical thing you can remember ever seeing your teacher do on this topic! I have seen a student, who hadn’t a clue what an integration question was asking her, get 7 out of 11 marks by regurgitating everything she could remember about integration – definite and indefinite, shaded areas under graphs, raised powers, even a bit of the trapezia rule thrown in. You may think this sounds like cheating or blagging, but how else can you show the examiner what you know than spewing all that knowledge on to the page, however relevant you may think it is to the question! You will not be marked down even if you write drivel, so what have you got to lose?


Check your work

There are different ways to check your work. The easiest, but not particularly thorough approach is ongoing as you progress through the exam. Every time, ask yourself, does my answer make sense? Children just do not get £14000 a month pocket money, swimming pools are not 15678m wide, and you do not live to be 145π years old! So these won’t be the answers to questions. Obviously it gets harder to check the more abstract a question is, but does it feel right? It is unlikely you will be asked to find the area of a triangle and the area is 31415cm^2. It could happen, so it doesn’t mean it is wrong, but maybe check that one a bit more carefully.

If possible, another way to check your work is to put answers back in to formulae. The problem with this approach is often the formulae you’ve written down were wrong in the first place, but if you have found a minimum point, the first derivative will be zero when we sub it back in for example. So where possible, re run calculations backwards.

The best, and most thorough way (therefore also time consuming) to check your work, is to do the whole question (or calculation) again. Reading through will not work, your brain will think any errors are logical (because it made them the first time right?) and not pick up on them. Of course you could make the same mistake again, but it is unlikely you would misread a number or forget the same minus sign. It’s not foolproof, but if you have time it’s excellent.

 …and you keep checking, and keep writing until the very end of the examination.


It’s over when the fat lady sings/invigilator says so!

It’s done, it’s over, there’s nothing you can do about it! You can’t change your answers, you can’t learn from your friends mistakes for now!

If you have another exam, now is the time to focus on that.

If you don’t, call your friends, arrange a party, and then do just that. Celebrate, fill up your cup, Muzeltof and all that! Well done!




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