Logical Thinking In Exams

logical thinking in exams

Most of this exam stuff comes down to logical thinking. Teaching someone to be logical isn’t easy, but it’s very simple to apply once you understand it. In fact, it’s a lot easier, more effective and most importantly, more reliable than someone who adopts a more creative or alternative approach.

Actually, I don’t know how to approach any exam that doesn’t involve the use of logic. The only time I can think of where you can just use instinct is in practical exams such as art or maybe physical education. But even then, there are also written exams for these subjects and for the practical exam, you will have learned skills maybe years ago that were based upon logical steps.

I’m Not Logical

Some people will say, “But that’s not how my brain works”. This may be true, but developing at least a bit more logic will help massively with exam technique. And everyone uses logic every day.

For example, do you walk into the shower with your clothes on in the morning? Do you put your socks on after your shoes? Probably not. Why not? Because it doesn’t make sense or is illogical.

Even things like what train you will catch, what time you will leave the house, what jacket to put on, and what shop you shop in are all based on some sort of logic. They are decisions based on what makes sense to you.

You don’t have to be creative or some sort of wacky genius for exams, and for almost all written exams, creativity won’t help you.

Problem Solving

Some might say, “But what about problem solving, that’s very creative”. It isn’t, it’s very logical, and that’s where a lot of people go wrong. They assume that problem solving or working out answers requires creativity and somehow inventing answers, which is completely wrong.

You just have to go through a series of steps to get to an answer based on knowledge that you already know. And that’s the secret to all of this: you already know the answer (assuming you’ve studied enough), so you don’t have to be the wacky genius who invents brilliant answers.

What is Logic?

When we talk about logic, what does it actually mean?

  • “valid reasoning”
  • “a tool for distinguishing true or false”
  • “the science, as well as the art of reasoning”
  • “the science which directs the operations of the mind in the attainment of truth”.

These are a few of the many definitions of logic. Can you see how this can help in exams?

More Problem Solving

Another common argument: “But sometimes you have to think outside of the box”, which of course is true. But you have to base your thinking on something to start with. You must have some knowledge or information you can work with and expand upon. Otherwise, you are just making it up on the spot and can’t do that in exams.

In exams, thinking outside of the box means taking knowledge from one area and applying it to another. It’s realising these vital links again.

It’s perfectly okay to think of as many examples as possible or even come up with what might seem crazy ideas, but to get the answer, you need to look at them individually and assess which one is correct or most likely to be accurate. How do you do that? It all comes down to reasoning based on what you already know, i.e. the stuff that you have been learning all year.

The Bridge Problem

An example of logic or problem solving can be demonstrated with the following example.

Imagine that you are in a forest, and you come to a large, wide river. You need to get over that river. How do you do it?

Are you going to try to fly over it? No. Why not? You know you can’t do that. How do you know that? You already have this information stored in your brain, and it has been proven many times that humans can’t fly by themselves.

logical thinking

So what do you do? You’d first look for the easiest and most obvious option: a bridge. Why? You already know that this works and is a good solution; it’s a logical solution.

If there is a bridge, you won’t even think of anything else; you’ll instinctively decide this is the best option. If you don’t automatically look for the bridge, you need to work on these skills.

I’m serious; if your first thought is to dive into the river head first, that is totally illogical and potentially life-threatening. In exam situations, you get the wrong answer if you dive in head first.

Let’s assume there isn’t a bridge and there is no obvious answer. What do you do now? You start to think outside the box, exactly as you would do in exams, which I would call problem solving.

But you are still not simply inventing answers; you use the information immediately at your disposal. Is there a boat or a raft? No? Well, is there a narrow part of the river or where the water isn’t deep? This is logical.

You’d think I can’t get over easily, so how else can I do it? I need to find a way. You also need to do this in exams when you can’t instantly work out the answer: persevere. Those who give up and scream, “agh, I can’t do it,” lose all the marks. In the forest, if you give up, you might not make it out alive.

Maybe next, you will test the water by throwing a stone or prod it with a stick to see how deep it is. It’s all logical. This exercise could go on and on. So, you can come up with ideas, but you need to bring logic into them to decide whether they are viable.

You don’t need to be as creative in exams as in the forest. You just need to know your main concepts inside out. Those concepts are the bridge over the river. The better you understand the main concepts, the easier they come to mind when you need them, and the quicker you will answer questions, the more marks you will get.

It all eventually comes back to how well you study and how much time you have devoted to it.

Practise

To improve at anything, you need to practise. With logic, it’s a bit more difficult, but I have seen a few ways that are really useful.

Aptitude tests are brilliant for this. The main ones are verbal reasoning and numeracy. Having looked at them very recently, they also help with your exam technique.

For example, in verbal reasoning, you must read a passage, and then quite often, you have to say which answer is most likely correct. This is, in theory, an English exam-type scenario, but you have to be logical here. A lot of people will tell you that you don’t need logic to do languages or arts subjects….not true!

With verbal reasoning tests, you have to read the question extremely carefully. With these questions, you are reading a paragraph on something you probably won’t have encountered before. This makes you really pay attention and read the question very closely, probably several times.

One of the main mistakes in exams is that people rush, assume far too much, and don’t read the question properly or even answer what it asks. Training yourself to read the question properly will help eliminate silly mistakes.

You then have to apply logic. These questions where they say, “Which answer is most likely to be correct” can be difficult. This implies that all the answers are correct, just that one might be slightly better than the others. You really need to start reasoning.

Why is A better than B, etc? Exhaust all the possibilities and come up with the one that you think is best. This is perfect exam practice. These are the thought processes that you need for your exams.

Don’t worry if you can’t do these to start with. It just means you need more practice. Get the answers and sometimes they will give explanations with them.

I have told students about this when I have been tutoring, but the number of students who actually do it is very small. Again, it’s not the magic ingredient that they are looking for. Remember variety? And that by doing lots of little things, you will improve?

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