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Monday, June 21, 2010

Positive Attitude Towards Examinations

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There are several factors that could affect a student’s performance in examinations. These factors can be distributed into three periods in an academic year, namely during a semester or year prior to preparatory leave, during preparatory leave and during the examinations. Systematic approach based on failure analysis should result in better performance in examinations. Factors that are known to the author and remedies to overcome some of the deficiencies are given in this note.


We often read contradicting news, views and comments on student’s performance in the current examination and assessment system. Perhaps a positive attitude by students towards examinations and analysis of past performance to improve in future examinations is required. Here are some of the points I have observed as a parent, professor, examiner and a student counselor. My intention in this note is to bring awareness in students about various factors affecting their marks. Remedies mentioned are only illustrative but not exhaustive. Readers are welcome to let me know of other reasons and remedies I might have overlooked.
One could broadly divide an academic year into three parts for examination point of view: a) the year or semester prior to preparatory leave; b) preparatory leave and c) the examinations itself. A student getting poor marks need to work towards solutions in each of the three parts. Approach as well as strategy to address these three parts is not the same.

During a year or semester prior to preparatory leave: 
A student should analyze marks obtained in the previous year or semester. If the marks are good and the student is satisfied, there is no need to worry and student should follow the strategy followed in the past. Marks can be good only if these marks can take a student one more step towards student’s objective. If the objective is higher studies or research, a student needs at least first class in every semester and every year. If the objective is to get a lucrative job in a reputed company with decent remuneration, marks should take a student to top 25% of the students passing out of the same branch, same university. 
If a student’s marks in the previous semester or year are not good or not to satisfaction, then it could be due to the following reasons. Here I am excluding the cases of ill health during examinations, unexpected incident or accident in family, a bad paper or erroneous correction in one subject. In my view, if a student is getting low marks in several subjects, then there is a need to find out reasons behind these marks. 

Some of the common problems known to me are: 
  • Poor handwriting
  • Poor presentation
  • Inability to complete answers to requisite number of questions due to lack of time during examination
  • Inability to attempt requisite number of questions due to lack of preparation and knowledge.
There is no point in blaming university examination system or college if a student is facing any of the above problems. A student should apply necessary corrective measures to get better marks in subsequent semesters or years. Students taking pessimistic view of “however hard I read, I am going to get same marks, no one actually reads answer books” are not doing any good to themselves. I am certain that applying appropriate remedies should improve the situation. 

Poor Handwriting: 

Poor handwriting could be due to any of the following.
Some students are casual in their handwriting. 
Practice writing religiously. No examiner would like to correct illegible answers. While genius like Einstein had poor handwriting that does not mean every student with poor handwriting is going to be another Einstein.
Unclear about the answer. 
Some students try to confuse examiner by scribbling illegible answers, hoping that examiner gives benefit of doubt. Unfortunately, such students loose marks because no examiner is expected to give good marks without reading answers.
Handwriting deteriorates during the examination. Handwriting goes from good to worst. At the beginning of the answer sheet handwriting is good, but it deteriorates, either gradually or suddenly. 
This happens if student has failed to plan answers properly. As the closing time approaches, say last 30 minutes, if the student attempts 50% of marks, having spent 2 hour 30 minutes on remaining 50% of marks, then there is a risk student gets poor marks. Student might be given poor marks for 50% of marks due to illegible answers. Worst if there are mistakes in the remaining 50% paper written for 2 hour 30 minutes.

Poor Presentation: 

I believe that poor presentation is the main reason behind poor marks, even more than poor handwriting. A couple of reasons behind poor presentation are:
Student thinks in a language other than the one used in the answer book and translates thoughts word by word. Unfortunately, most of the Indian languages have sentence structures different from English. Students coming from rural areas and those coming from schools practicing language other than English encounter difficulty in presenting concepts also. One ugly turn in a student’s life starts if the student resorts to memorization to overcome problems in presentation. In my view this is the beginning of decline in a student’s academic career. It is pity that neither the educationists nor educational institutes address root cause of poor presentation skills of students coming with background other than metropolitan and cosmopolitan cultures.


In my view, as soon as a student realizes deficiency in presentation skills, student should start switching thought process to English, the medium used for writing answer books in higher education.
A student might be under pressure to perform to unrealistic expectations. In an attempt to present perfect or ideal answers, student might end up in writing in-coherent sentences. Nothing is done by our education system or society or industry to reduce pressure on students because of the need for selecting few best performers out of large number of students for lucrative jobs and professions.
I believe that every student is good in one or more fields of interest. Pressure can be reduced if a student is encouraged to pursue fields of interest. Those students not clear about interests should start thinking about objectives in life and then develop interest in fields that could take the student towards the objective.

During preparatory leave: 
  • Go through previous years questions papers in all subjects.
  • Prepare a time table for preparation. Keep some time for relaxation, entertainment. Allocate 1 hour in the morning every day to practice writing answers.
  • Note that the time allocated per subject, topic should be dependent on your confidence. It need not be even. Most of the times, students make wild guesses, not good enough for students getting poor marks. Don’t use other student’s schedule without convincing yourself.
  • Every day in the morning practice test one hour writing answers as if it is an examination (without referring to text book/ other notes). Choose a subject and topic you studied two days back, but not the one read yesterday. During practice self test, try to write answers in your own sentences. After completing practice test, check your answers meticulously.
During the examinations: 
  • Read the question paper completely. Five minutes spent in reading questions will be useful.
  • Tick the questions you know most and are confident in answering. Order the questions based on your confidence and allocate time for each question you intend to answer. Keep 10 minutes for revision.
  • Start with the question you know best.
  • Keep monitoring the time taken for each answer. If a question could not be answered completely with in allocated time plus 10% extra, leave it and proceed to the next in order. You can always come back to it later if you have time. Leave some gap and start next question / bit.
  • Write answer in detail unless there are instructions like “answer in few sentences”. Never write irrelevant or unwarranted answers. Some students tend to write everything they know about topic irrespective of the question. Firstly, it will take longer time to write. Secondly, it might irritate the person correcting your answer because the examiner has to fish for the required points in large number of sentences.
  • Write important points in first paragraph and then elaborate each point separately in subsequent paragraphs. Include illustrative figures or diagrams. A diagram illustrates much more than several sentences.
  • In mathematical subjects, do not skip steps.
  • In diagrams use legible legend
  • Use ruler to draw diagrams. Free hand drawn diagrams look awkward.
  • If a word or sentence is wrong, cut it completely and write fresh word or sentence. Never overwrite on words or letters.
  • Remember that you are giving examination. Person correcting paper would not know your knowledge unless you write answers explicit and concise.
  • Try and maintain good handwriting through out the answer book.
  • Remember to revise your answers even if you have to leave one question unanswered. Students getting less mark than expected should revise answers without fail.
  • Never concentrate on one or two subjects during a semester or year. Give importance as per the prescribed examination scheme. Whether liked or not, a student is required to pass all subjects.
  • Never keep the question you know best for the last during examination. Some students have a tendency to keep their best question for the end as they feel certain about answering it. Unfortunately, if the difficult or unknown question attempted could not be completed, the mood might get disturbed. The student might fare badly even in question known best.
This article is a reprint of the article published in Education times of Timesw of India Pune Edition, 2004 and also in Gudlavalleru college of Engineering news letter in June 2007.
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