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  • Writer's pictureIan Gibbs

Exam Tip #21: Your Examiner Is Not An Alien

Take a moment to consider the person who will be marking your exams.

Can you imagine her?

Maybe you’re thinking of some sage professor, with a cardigan and slippers, probably bifocal spectacles, grey curly hair and maybe a pearl necklace. Oooh... and a cat, too, curled up on her lap while she earnestly pores over your exam paper pondering each word to extract its optimum meaning.

Or maybe you’re imagining some poor, overworked and underpaid soul with several boxes of papers to mark, and some faceless superior demanding she must have all of them graded by tomorrow morning.

Which do you think is closer to the truth?

Now let’s get one thing clear: Examiners are rarely in it for the money.

If you consider the hourly rate, even babysitters get better pay than examiners do.

Most examiners do the job because they care.

Because they want to.

Because of a sense of duty.

Examiners try very hard to be fair and unbiased when marking - it’s important that a student’s grades be the same regardless of when or where or by whom their paper was marked.

To do this, examiners have strict guidelines to follow to make sure the grade they give you is the same as any other examiner who were to grade your answers.

However, examiners are under tremendous pressure to mark papers as quickly as possible.

As they are only human, this means that factors such as stress, tiredness and feelings can affect their judgement in a way that can influence the marks they give you.

What this means is that anything you can do to make life easier for your examiner is time well spent.

Ask any examiner what sort of things help or hinder their ability to mark an exam, their answer will always look something like this:

Illegible handwriting

Number one, right at the top of the list in huge, bright, neon lettering is unreadable handwriting.

If your handwriting is difficult to read, you’re risking losing marks.

Your handwriting might be easily read by you, but that’s not the point.

The point is, can an examiner easily read it?

Write a paragraph of text and give it to the nearest adult not already familiar with your handwriting and ask them to read out loud what it says.

If they are able to do so confidently without falter, then it’s safe to say your writing is clearly legible.

However, if they pause, frown, hesitate, say the wrong word or appear to be guessing, then Houston, we have a problem.

This isn’t the time to start justifying your scrawl.

It’s the time to practise writing by hand so that anyone can easily read it.

What you are aiming for is handwriting that is so clear, your examiner will weep with joy at finding an exam paper so easy to read.

Bad spelling, grammar and punctuation

You might have the handwriting of an angel, but if what you write sounds like it’s been written by a five-year-old, the opinion of your examiner will also be affected.

Your sentences must make sense.

They must be well structured.

They must mean what you want them to mean.

Your exam might be on chemistry or history but your ability to express yourself fluently and accurately is also in the balance.

Make the effort to learn the spelling of the more complicated names that are likely to come up.

Test yourself regularly.

Punctuation is important, too.

A simple comma can drastically change the meaning of a sentence. ‘Let’s eat, Granny!’ is a joyous call to sit down for dinner. ‘Let’s eat Granny!’ suggests something completely different.

Confusing answers

Your examiner isn’t telepathic.

Always remember to state clearly which question you’re answering.

Use clear headings and subheadings to structure your answer and guide your examiner through your paper.

It’s often a good idea to start each answer on a new page, clearly labelled at the top. By doing this, you’ll be leaving a substantial amount of space at the end of each answer.

This is good because you have plenty of space to add more text if you remember something important later on.

If you do need to add text into an existing paragraph, do it with clearly labelled footnotes.

Don’t squeeze tiny sentences in between lines or write sideways along the margins.

Don’t make your answer sheet look like a snakes and ladders board by drawing long arrows across the page connecting one text to another.

Failure to show reasoning

When you answer a question, arriving at the right answer isn’t as important as showing HOW you arrived at the right answer.

By setting out your reasoning, you’re not only demonstrating your knowledge of the subject, you’re also proving your answer wasn’t just a lucky guess.

Don’t just give your final answer.

Show the examiner how you got to it.

Even if you made a careless mistake, by showing your reasoning was correct, you would still earn valuable marks.

Now is the time to reflect for a moment on how you rate, regarding these important factors.

How legible is your handwriting?

How accurate is your grammar, spelling and punctuation?

How clearly are you able to set out your ideas onto the page?

Have you included all your suppositions or calculations?

If you’re honest with yourself and the answer to each one is ‘pretty good’, then you don’t have to worry.

But if any of these leaves room for improvement, then now is the time to do something about it.

Because when it comes to exam time, it’ll be too late.

Bear in mind, examiners do not have superhuman powers. They are not relentless robots or emotionless aliens.

The more you can do to make your examiner’s task of marking your paper easier and quicker, the more positive they will feel about your paper and the more marks you’ll be awarded to make sure you get the best grade possible.

Tip 21: Make sure your answers are easily legible, well written, clearly set out and include your reasoning. Your examiner is only human.

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