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5 things they didn't tell you about... exams

By Danny Harrington



If you’re reading, this you likely have exams in your life and they may well be looming. I’m not talking about a class quiz or even a year-end school test, I’m talking real exams – public examinations – the kind that can help determine the direction your entire life can take. The kind you only do when you’re old enough – to round off secondary school, college or university. So here’s five things to help you approach them…..

  1. The opening paragraph you just read is way over the top and sounds like your mum/dad/school principal/any other concerned person in your life. Exams do not determine the outcome of your life. They give you options for sure. You’re not going to go to Oxford with two grade D A-levels or 28 points at IB. Equally, you could go to Oxford without perfect grades. They are just one of many elements of the admissions process.
  2. Who wants to go to Oxford anyway? There is no such thing as the “best” school/college/university. The “best” course is the one that suits you best – your talents, your likes and so on. Be brave enough to aim for what you want not what someone else wants for you.
  3. An exam is only an audit. It will test you on a small slice of the course. if the exam covers 10% of the course and you get 9/10 then they assume you know 90% of the course. Potentially this means you could score top marks only having learned 10% of the course. This is high risk strategy but the principle is sound.
  4. So if you don’t need to know the whole course, don’t learn the whole course. Work out from the exam structure how much you must know to have a good shot and then do really, really well at it. You may need help here. Ask an expert. And note that exams are not all about the content, they test skills as well. You could say that these skills include learning how to play the exams game.
  5. Not everyone is wired to perform well in exams. Exams are the default measure used in most education systems but they are not perfect. They do not measure intelligence, ability to do well at work, value as a human being…I could go on. If you have worked out that you do not do well in exams because they are exams; if every strategy to play the exam game has fallen short. Then move away from exams. If you’re bad at tennis you don’t try out for the tennis team. Bad at exams? Don’t do exams. There are plenty of well respected assignment/project-based qualification frameworks. BTEC is one.

So choose your place of learning, courses and type of assessment carefully. Avoid exams if that is a smart move for you. If you’re ok with them, learn how to play the game even better. Above all, don’t stress. Easier said than done, but those of us who’ve been there can say it. Most of the world did not ace their exams. And life goes on.

ITS Education Asia teachers are experts at helping students approach exams in an effective, low stress way. Whether is be one-to-one specific help or a revision class, ITS will help you perform to your potential. Support is available in our Hong Kong schools or online.


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