Tackling Longer Exam Answers

Tackling Longer Exam Answers

Students generally have the knowledge to answer questions but have big problems getting all the marks, especially when the questions become worth four marks or more.

This is normally caused by rushing and not reading the question well enough, resulting in them going off on tangents or becoming overwhelmed and anxious by the number of marks available. Confusion often occurs, and the answer comes out in a bit of a mess, and it usually isn’t easy to read.

Sometimes, all the required points are there, but they are all over the place, which means the examiner may not give you the full marks. They sometimes don’t stop writing even after answering the question! They add extra information, which is fine if it is relevant or correct, but often it isn’t. You must make life easy for the person marking it; don’t give them a headache!

At AS level, students often have the old GCSE mentality of filling the space! If they give you seven lines to answer the question, you might need all seven lines or only need three. You should aim to answer the questions concisely and clearly and not fill the space for the sake of it.

Break it Down

A question worth high marks does not mean high difficulty. The higher mark questions often mean that the content required is generally straight from the textbooks. The test is on how well someone can summarise and write in a logical and easy-to-understand manner.

My first piece of advice is to break the question down and try to work out how you can get the full number of marks. You need to know what to write. The preparation is the important part here.

The more marks the question is worth then, the longer you should take before starting to write

If you were doing an essay, you would hopefully plan it before you start to write. You need to do the same with any written question, just to a lesser extent. When planning, you are trying to think of keywords or bullet points that will get you full marks. It’s just then a case of making sure they are in the correct order.

Look in the question for clues; they might even give you a breakdown of how to get the marks. If not, do it yourself. The way to do this is to go back to the beginning and become a storyteller. When “planning” what to write, you need to think of a start, middle and end. This is a logical structure.

The aim is to answer the question in terms of correct content but equally to make it easy to read. So, “rewind” in your head to the first thing you know about that topic/concept or whatever it is. Go back to the start. It is impossible not to write logically if you start at the beginning. Then, work forward and make links. Start to link that starting point with something else.

Make Your Points Clearly

For most subjects, you do not have to write incredibly brilliant English. The content and structure are far more important. Short to the point sentences are ideal.

Remember that your goal is to make it easy to read and understand. Pretend that it is aimed towards someone in the year below you. Look for places where they could potentially say things like “what’s that?” or “why?” if you find any of these, then it is not clear enough.

Be careful of too many words like “it” and “they” as the answer can become vague, and the examiner won’t know what you are referring to.

I know you know what you mean, but that won’t get you the marks.

Do not assume anything!

Replace those words with the name of what you are talking about.

After you have written the answer, you need to check if you have answered the question. Getting caught up in the question and writing too much is very easy. In Chemistry, I often see students give brilliant explanations but are so immersed in it that they forget to answer the question with a simple phrase like “yes, it is higher”. And that’s another mark down the pan!

Extra Exam Support

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