• Ian Gibbs

Exam Tip #9: The Perfect Answer


Have you ever had a go at archery?


I’m sure that even if you haven’t, you recognise the familiar form of the archery target.


It’s clear and unequivocal.


You only have to glimpse at one to instantly know where the bullseye is.


There’s no ambiguity.


You know exactly what you’re trying to hit.


You know exactly what a perfect bullseye would look like.


But exams aren’t so simple.


You get questions like: ‘Describe the key features of the formation of the Warsaw Pact’ or ‘Explain why heart cells are damaged as a result of heart disease’.


If you want to get full marks, what would a perfect bullseye look like here?


You can try your best to answer the question but what components do you need to include to get full marks?


On the one hand, you want to include as many relevant details as possible. The marking guide we talked about in the last chapter should give you this information.


But on the other hand, you want to do it in the least amount of time possible. You don’t want to spend too long on it.


These two objectives don’t combine very well. Where they do lies the perfect balance.


This is your ideal target: maximum marks in minimum time.


So how can you find out what a perfect answer looks like?


Firstly, self-assess. Are there parts of your answer that are longwinded or simply not scoring marks according to the marking guide?


A common error is to include too many examples to make your point. Unless specified in the guide, one supporting example is enough.


Further examples show you know your stuff but don’t gain any extra marks.


Pay attention to the length and language you used.


Notice the style of your writing.


Do you waffle?


Do you repeat?


Do you say the same thing in a different way (just like I’ve just done here)?


Or do you waste time by stating the obvious?


For example, copying down the question won’t score you any points at all.


Secondly, talk to your teacher about bullseye answers. What answer would get full marks with a minimum amount of writing?


Can your teacher provide you with sample answers to example questions?


So do you know what a perfect answer looks like?


Would it be worth finding out?


With an unlimited amount of time, making sure you’ve covered everything you need to get full marks is easy.


But remember, the trick is to get maximum marks in minimum time.


Having a clear idea of what a perfect answer looks like will allow you to know exactly what you’re aiming at.


Tip 9: Get to recognise a perfect answer. It will allow you to score maximum marks in minimum time.

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