Exam success: get the best score on your worst question

If you’re looking for a high rating, the question that will make or break you will be the worst, not the ones you know well. Choosing that question correctly can make all the difference. The time constraints within an exam make the choice of question even more important. You don’t have time to start another one if you make the wrong decision!

So how do you choose and how do you approach those questions?

First, scan the paper and quickly recognize the questions you know you can answer well. There will usually be one or two where you feel less confident.

Put this aside for now, and assuming you’ve divided your time correctly and left enough for these questions, start with the good ones. This will put you in a state of ‘flow’ and boost your confidence. Don’t dwell on problems. When you have finished your good questions, feeling more confident and having already passed part of your exam, take a look again at the ones you are not sure about. They will need a little more attention than the good ones when you scan them.

Go through each section and write down the parts you know and the parts you don’t know or aren’t sure about. Try to assign rough marks to these areas. Sometimes they can be in the same exam. Otherwise, use your knowledge of grading schemes in your exam preparation to estimate scores. Make a rough estimate for each question you are considering.

The choice may be obvious at this point if one stands out from the others. If they’re still close to the marks, pick one anyway, but start, if it makes sense for your topic, with the hard part last. Don’t start with the parts you know. If you find that the hard part is worse than you thought, you will have minimized the time wasted on that question and have some time to switch to the other question. If you had started from the beginning and then realized your mistake, then the damage would be worse.

Of course, it is preferable to choose the right one the first time, but with this technique you can at least reduce the pressure of choosing your question, which in itself can affect your judgment, knowing that the time lost will be minimal.

Be sure to practice this technique on old tests before the test and finish your two worst questions to see if you made the right decision. It will be a good content review exercise at the same time, so I hope there will be no bad questions when it comes time for the exam!

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