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Modern Exam technique: answer the big questions first (?)

(15 Posts)
lljkk Tue 24-Nov-15 07:57:28

DD 14yo, doing mock (history) GCSE soon.
Says that she is told to initially ignore all the easy low point questions & answer the big 16 pointer first and foremost.
This is a disaster for DD. She puts so much time & detail answering the big Q, she panics at lack of time to answer the rest. She had a panic attack at school over a science test.
I'm convinced that in terms of warming up the memory, she is better off to whiz thru the easy questions, then quickly do the medium Qs, leave hardest Q for last. Plus this strategy takes the pressure off so she can relax into doing a great job on the hardest Q.

Anyway, is DD right that Modern advice is to do the high score Q first, then the mediums, and leave the easy small Qs for last?

Lonecatwithkitten Tue 24-Nov-15 08:29:55

Surely exam technique is about working out what works best for you. Does she take a watch into the exam as it sounds like she needs to think about time management. Remember the first few marks are always easier to get than the last few so making sure every question has an answer is really important. Then if you have time go back and add the twiddly bits.
I have been taking exams for 25 years and am still taking them and this stands me in good stead.

TeenAndTween Tue 24-Nov-15 08:32:39

DD was not advised this.

I would say, make sure she knows how many minutes each mark needs, and just be strict on time management.

e.g. 40 marks, 90 minute paper.

5 minutes to read through, 2 minutes per mark, 5 minutes to check.

purpledasies Tue 24-Nov-15 08:36:20

None of mine have been advised this. Much better as you say to do the short ones first, then you know how long you've got left for the long one. The reason the long question is always placed at the end of exams is precisely because this is the best approach. Your DD's teacher is odd.

Is your DD maybe spending too long on some of the short/medium ones and not leaving enough time for the long question?

Agree with tween - spend roughly the same proportion of time on each mark is the best advice.

LineyReborn Tue 24-Nov-15 08:37:53

I agree with the 'warming up' approach.

Is there a timing issue?

SheGotAllDaMoves Tue 24-Nov-15 08:38:54

DD was advised that in history. Kick the arse out of that one first, then go back to the easier ones.

Better than spending too much time on low mark questions and running out of time on the Big One.

That said, some poeple like to ease themselves in first...

AHobbyaweek Tue 24-Nov-15 08:44:06

10 years ago I received the same advice from one teacher. It actually worked for me but then timing wasn't an issue for me. They also advised that if timing was an issue, read the big question then go back and do the little questions as having the big question in your kind, even just in the background, helps your brain process it and come up with ideas.
The reason it worked for me is I could answer the question in a basic way (to get he majority of the marks) then I would keep coming up with more points to add it increase the mark.

lljkk Tue 24-Nov-15 10:01:11

Thanks, teacher confirms that DD is correct about the advised test-taking strategy (!).

But teacher was also sympathetic that it won't be best for everyone. I will work on unlocking DD's mindset. She needs to at least try it my way. I think especially in a subject like history, the essay response only has high value (and makes sense as a narrative) to present the information with context and nuance. Personally, I can't do that if I don't (to some extent) lose track of time. And really similar with math or science, you need to let yourself get immersed in the thorny problem with no other considerations, for at least a few minutes. Unless actual physical alarms are going off to keep them on a strict schedule, some will stay immersed longer or shorter times (which is fine if they have already covered most rest of the exam). They aren't robots, human brains don't all work at same constant speed in regurgitating information.

DH says (he's right) to do the questions in order but leave the difficult ones for last, which is what we were taught & did well at. Presumably the high marks questions are always on pg 1 (or whatever fixed page) so the kids don't actually waste time reading thru the low mark questions only to come back to them later (?). Still, to do the hard question not really knowing what else there is, ugh. It can benefit to let your subconscious digest thru the hard question for a few minutes before you start. Plus the easy questions often contain bits of information you need for the hard question, so the easy questions are good reminders of what else to put in your answer to the hard question.

Unless modern (English) school exams are totally different from what we ever experienced, with no overlapping or related questions (that would be absurd, right?).

Sorry I'm ranting, no idea I felt so strongly about this! I'm glad DD is a hard worker (also have a feckless teen DS), but shouldn't believe that she has to kill herself with revision to know every detail in order to get a high grade. Not at GCSE. Grrrrr.

SheGotAllDaMoves Tue 24-Nov-15 10:05:23

IIRC the high mark question is the last one and not on page 1.

The opening questions are the lower mark ones and don't necessarily have anything to do with the high marker.

DD simply bypassed the early questions, turned the page and went straight in for the kill.

As a tactic it worked perfectly (for her).

purpledasies Tue 24-Nov-15 10:11:14

I think one important reason to do the easy ones first is to avoid panic setting in. Once you've done a few easy ones you feel more confident in tackling ones you're less sure about. Similarly with the longer question if you tie yourself in a knot with it, and suddenly remember lots more to say after you've already been going on it for most of your time, you'll get in a mess and panic about not having left enough time for the short questions.

blueemerald Tue 24-Nov-15 10:11:40

I'm an English teacher and I am torn between the two approaches. I work in an SEN school (for boys with social, emotional and behavioural difficulties) and my students really struggle with exam stamina. They ace the first (easy) part of the exam (answers from one word to 10 sentences worth 20 marks in total) and then write 10 lines for the 30 mark question.

I haven't yet given them the advice to write the long answer first because I still think they need time to warm up... It's a minefield.

lljkk Tue 24-Nov-15 10:16:36

Thank you all and specifically to purpledasies, that's a really valuable point to make to DD. She knows she's prone to panic so your point may make a lot of sense to her and her teachers will accept it, too if she has to discuss the strategy directly with them.

Peregrina Tue 24-Nov-15 10:51:25

For exams which were all essays bearing equal marks, I was once advised to spend about a quarter of an hour planning them all, before picking up my pen to write the proper answer. It took some discipline when you could see that everyone else had got stuck into their first question, but the advantage was that you knew you already had something prepared for each, and your brain would be ticking over allowing you to add bits to your plans. If the worst came to the worst and you ran out of time for the last question, you could whop your plan down, saying that this was how you would tackle the question and still pick up a few useful marks.

In later life, taking accountancy exams, we were told never to balance off when preparing a balance sheet - because if it didn't balance you would waste time trying to find the balance, whereas most marks were gained by demonstrating understanding of the method. The same might well apply for maths exams - odd arithmetic mistakes can be tolerated if you show the understanding.

As others have said, your DD needs to try different approaches and see what works for her.

I was taught with essay based exams to do your 2nd best question first as a warm up, your best question 2nd when you were into the swing of things and your 3rd and 4th questions in that order so if you were running out of time you were writing your shortest essay on your worst topic.

I think when you have short questions followed by a long one, your DD should try different techniques, does she need to do some shorter questions first to settle into the exam or is she better feeling she had the toughest question out of the way.

I agree with the PP poster that all long questions should be planned and your DD needs to practice writing to a time limit as that is a skill in itself.

nooka Tue 24-Nov-15 16:26:48

I wasn't taught exam technique at all, so the OP's dd is at least receiving some advantage! When I met dh (at university) he taught me the approach he had learned, which was pretty much a combination of Chaz and Peregrina's approaches/ 1) read the exam paper. 2) Select the questions you think you have the best chance of getting a good mark at (and for a humanities paper that doesn't necessarily mean the ones that you know most about as some questions are easier than others too). 3) Decide how to split your time across the questions and write down when you need to change questions. 4) write the key points for each question you've chosen/ think of a plan/write the plan 5) start with your second best essay question, then the first, third and fourth. However that only works with equal value questions.

For the OP with a mix of short and long questions I'd still start by reading all the questions first, even if there is no choice about answering them all. To me the OP's approach seems a bit unwise, as it leaves the hardest and highest marked section to the last, meaning that if her dd has run out of steam or time she may well lose a lot of marks.

I'd look to do that section second if her dd needs to warm up a bit and panics doing it first. How about medium first (for warming up), then long and then easy and quick to finish with? Or de chunk them and do a couple of short ones, a couple of medium ones, the big one, the rest of the medium ones and then the final short ones?

Whatever strategy she uses she needs to think about how she uses her time. I used the immersive approach until I learned how to take exams and I got much better marks once I approached them in a business like way as opposed to throwing myself into the questions that interested me.

Presumably your dd has a few practice papers to do before her mock in any case so she can get into the swing of things? Personally I think that the current approach of staggering GCSEs across several years is a bad one. 14 is very young to be doing a significant exam, and History seems an odd choice to go early with.

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