The purpose of exams and what you need to show during exams

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Exams are just the start of a long road to achievement. As you progress along your career path – or more likely paths – you will face many tests, some practical and others written. Developing the capability when young to handle exams competently will give you a head start.

Examiners set the question or exam topics to elicit specific areas of information from you. They want to know what you know and to assess the standard you have reached in a particular level of the subject. They work on the assumption that it is impossible to examine you in every aspect of the subject but that, if you don’t know the questions in advance, you will have to cover the whole subject in revision and exam preparation. Clearly for some people this becomes a bit of a gamble.Examination-Hall

If the exam paper contains those questions which the student can answer comprehensively rather than others where the student’s knowledge is only marginal, the good marks obtained may give the erroneous impression that the student knew it all. Conversely, if the candidate is unlucky and the exam paper asks all the ‘wrong’ questions, a whole year’s work can be ‘wasted’, in the sense that the required certificate, diploma or pass is not forthcoming.

The first point, then, about developing an exam mentality is to tackle your subject as a whole and not to select only those areas you feel convinced will be the focus of any exam.

What you need to show
The exam may be the ticket to future progress but, in the longer run, what you know may prove to be much more important. To master any area of knowledge you need to be motivated by something more sustaining than just passing a few exams. You have to be interested in the subject to the point where learning occurs as a consequence of a need to know more. This places the emphasis on your selecting subjects, wherever, based on your personal interests and objectives and not according to some pattern determined by someone else – a parent, perhaps, or a university entrance prospectus.examination hall cis

While the examiner wants from you a demonstration of your competence in the subject, and an ability to handle the technicalities involved in exposing that knowledge, you want to learn, to attain a level of education that has the potential to fulfill your personal ambitions. Those two, possibly conflicting, positions have to be reconciled before you can be sure of performing according to the examiner’s expectations. You want the examiner, or more broadly the examining institution, to ratify or certify your skills. Examiners want to maintain the standard, to certify only those people who, in their judgment, have attained a level of proficiency that justifies recognition.

Add to this another problem: few people really know what they know. It is only in the formal process of dragging their knowledge out into the light of day, as in a written or oral exam, that the knower discovers what he or she really knows, what has been absorbed in the back lanes and byways of the subject along the way. If you have no real means of knowing the level of your proficiency in this way, how can you prepare adequately for the exam?


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