As a member of the teaching profession with over twenty years’ experience and as a past examiner with a leading exam board, the advice which follows aims to ensure that your responses in exams will be relevant and focused. This will considerably increase your chances of attaining a high grade. The issues raised may also be of interest to parents, whose awareness of these ‘do’s’ and ‘don’ts’ will be helpful, when monitoring their children’s work.

1. Read each question carefully. Don’t skim- read a question! Highlight key words, which will ensure that your response will be relevant to the question asked. You may produce a detailed response to a question, but if, for example, you are asked to discuss the ‘Experimenter Effect’ in a psychology exam and you instead focus on the ‘Experimental Effect,’ the examiner will not be able to award marks, as you will have inappropriately answered the question. Each year students risk their chances of gaining higher grades, simply because they overlook the specifics of a question. By following this advice, you can avoid this happening to you!

2. Planning. It’s always a sensible idea to plan before you produce an essay type response in an exam. Planning can take a number of forms, which relate to each individual’s preferred method, so there are no strict rules here! Some students write down a list of ideas, which come to mind in a random order. Once completed, these can then be organised into a structured plan, which will form the basis of a detailed and coherent response. So often, when asked why they’re not producing a written plan, a student will genuinely comment that they have their ideas ‘in their head.’ This inevitably results in a successful introductory paragraph, but unfortunately, this is where the work comes to an abrupt halt. Having ideas for a plan ‘in your head’ is rather like trying to remember a dream first thing in the morning, which you experienced the night before. It’s difficult, if not impossible to remember! This is precisely why written planning is a vital and essential part of the process, and which again, will greatly increase your chances of a higher grade!

3. Ensure that you maintain a relevant response throughout. Regardless of your subject area, always ensure that you maintain appropriateness throughout your response. For example, background information regarding a writer’s life always reflects the meaning of the literature they produce, as this links into the contexts. Whilst these key factors are vital to your understanding of the deeper issues of the text, marks will not be awarded for superfluous details, such as the school a writer may have attended, or their best friend’s name. This can be avoided by applying the simple technique of: Point, Example, Expansion. Focused responses will always be justified. The Point which you raise should always be followed by an Example.

This must then be followed through with an Expansion of your own, intellectual views. If you read the question carefully (see Point One), this technique will certainly contribute to a specific, clear, focused and detailed response, which is fully justified. By combining all of these factors, working consistently throughout the academic year and revising for your exams, your chances of success are high!

Good luck! – Kelvin Hall English Specialist

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