What do Examiners want from you (Grade 9 &12)?

EXAMS are around the corner and I thought it would be appropriate to start a series of Exam Success articles. It is not enough only to know how to revise properly but pupils should also know what examiners want from them. Usually there are no special lessons on what examiners want from candidates because it is infused in everyday lessons and in every revision class. Sadly, there is a wrong perception sometimes that the examiners are mean, scary and cruel creatures who are heartless and ready to fail candidates, not at all! Relax!

This wrong perception arises from Exam Practice in form of Mock Exams or Assessments where teachers give a Mock environment of the actual Exam in order to orient the pupils of what to expect in the actual or real Exam. A good teacher must mark the Mock Exam in the same way that the actual Exam is marked. This “strictness” in marking is good because it provides a wake-up call to the pupils. Unfortunately or fortunately, I am one of the highly accused! So what is it that examiners want from you grade 9 and 12 candidates?

  1. They really want you to pass

Yes! It is the wish of each and every examiner that you should pass that Exam but it doesn’t come cheap because each candidate has to meet the requirements. The examiners will not just dish out marks out of pity, mercy, sympathy, compassion or whatever word you may use. The whole purpose of marking Exams is to award well deserved marks wherever appropriate so candidates should capitalise on that. Let the examiner see exactly where to award marks meaning that you should write your answers in such a way that you should attract marks. In other words your answers should deserve the awarded marks.

  1. They want you to do what they have asked

Since the examiners want you to pass, you must do what they have asked. Do not waste time with irrelevant things. How? You may ask, well READ the instructions carefully and understand them. Don’t be afraid to ask the invigilator if you don’t understand the instructions. Each Exam paper on this earth has instructions so please read them. If you are lucky, the invigilator will either read the instructions for you or remind you to read them yourselves. I hope every grade 9 and 12 candidate is able to read by Exam time (joking). Sometimes, you are given about five minutes to go through the questions, please comply because it is for a purpose.

If you do not read the questions and instructions carefully you are likely to miss the point and write wrong things. I always give an example of a driver who misses a turning and is eventually lost completely due to lack of attention as he drives his car. Students and pupils who are over anxious will be in a hurry to start writing without even understanding the question. Take your time and read carefully. On a lighter note, watch a comedy show of Mr Bean writing an Exam in Mathematics.

  1. They want you to follow the instructions

It is not enough just to read the instructions carefully. You must follow those instructions. In each Exam, there will be instructions on whether to answer ALL questions or only some of the questions. You could be met with a case where there is a compulsory question to be answered. Please don’t miss it lest you be disqualified. Sometimes the Exam paper may be divided into different sections and you should be very careful to check how many should be answered from each section. Some brilliant pupils have failed the Exam because of mixing up which questions to answer. It is very painful to realise that a candidate has written brilliant stuff but has chosen questions from the same section or has omitted a compulsory one.

  1. They want you to answer the question

Now let us zero in on the questions asked in the Exam. Having read and understood the instructions, the candidate should now answer the question and not go around in circles or beat about the bush. No one will ask you to write everything that you have learnt. Questions always have a certain degree of specification so quit impressing the examiner with unnecessary regurgitating. Leave out the unwanted details because the examiners have already spelt out what they want in the Exam question.

Now here is a concern: the instructions in the Exams are in ENGLISH and so are the Exam questions. “So what?” you may say. OK let me give examples of verbs which guide you when answering questions. For instance an Exam question may start with the verb “describe” “prove” or “justify.” Seriously in our local languages these three verbs may mean almost the same thing and it’s no big deal but in the Exam we use English and each verb is different from the other and these are the meanings:

Describe     Give a detailed account

Prove          Demonstrate with evidence why something is so

Justify         Show reasons for

This means that when answering Exam questions you should pay attention to the verb and think seriously about what it means. When you describe you don’t necessarily need to give reasons but some good detail will suffice. When you prove you need to show some kind of evidence whereas when you justify, it’s the reasons that matter most. So as you deal with the subject content of the question, factor in the meaning of the verbs carefully. For instance if the subject content is SIMILAR TRIANGLES and the Exam question is Prove that the triangles are similar, then your answer will definitely be different from Describe similar triangles.

  1. They want you to apply what you learnt

The examiner wants to test your understanding of what you learnt and see if you can apply the knowledge to a new but similar situation. This explains why learning is not all about memorising concepts and reproducing them. I met an adorable little girl who was a first grader at one of the reputable Lusaka schools. I asked her to work out 3+4 but she couldn’t because according to her, she only learnt how to work out 2+5. Oh God help us!

You are also warned not to over generalise concepts and don’t bring your own beliefs to the Exam room but concentrate on academic truths. Trust me the examiner has no interest in your very personal issues like political affiliation etc.

  1. They want your answers to be legible

When I was a kid we had a subject called Handwriting where the teacher would teach us how to write in such a way that anyone would read whatever we wrote. I must say that a bad handwriting always attracted a good beating from the teachers in those days so we all had some neat and legible handwriting. These days no teacher is allowed to beat pupils so things are relaxed! Anyway, don’t worry about that.

Nowadays, most pupils don’t care about their handwriting because they just type words using their gadgets 90 percent of the time. I don’t know whether to laugh or feel pity when I look at certain handwritten work of grade 9 or 12 candidates which look like a chicken was crawling on ink and later strayed on an exercise book or Exam paper (joke). However, there are some candidates who have a neat and legible handwriting. I will leave you to guess what happens when the marker of Exams cannot read your handwriting. I need the answers, please!

  1. They want you to finish the paper

Time management is important in examinations. Each exam is carefully and consciously set to be done within a specific period of time meaning that even an average candidate is able to finish writing it. What we see is that candidates usually spend too much time on the first question that they attempt and very little or no time at all on the last question that they attempt. This unfortunate situation has a bearing on the marks that would be awarded. It is common to hear comments and complaints like, “The exam was easy but I didn’t finish writing it and the invigilator had no mercy, she just said pens down.” Get things straight long before the Exam. Mercy does not apply as far as exams are concerned.

  1. They want your answer to be easy to follow

From experience, I would say that an answer which is difficult to follow is almost as good or as bad as a wrong answer. Unclear answers may always result in loss of marks. You are advised to present your answers in a clear, logical and well structured manner. I still recall marking an Exam where sadly I had to struggle to make out what the candidate was trying to put across because it was difficult to follow.

If you want your answers to be easy to follow, read the question carefully and identify the key points while paying attention to the verbs used. Make a simple plan of how you will go about answering your question. The plan will help your answer to flow logically in a simple clear and straightforward manner. Do not rub off your plan, it may become handy when you run out of time because your examiner will look at it and know your good intentions.

Adopted from Mike Evans (2002), with modifications to suit Zambian pupils.

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