Monday, 16 May 2011

Exam Thoughts

In school's, Colleges and University's across the UK, exams are underway. In the subjects of Law and politics what will examiners be looking for?

The first thing to remember that examiners don't mark for the pure entertainment of it! They have a job to do. Their task is like that of an auditor - they must look at what a student has written (in the way an auditor looks at the accounts the company has provided), and then must satisfy himself that the evidence is there to justify his conclusions. An auditor may conclude that the accounts are a true and fair record - or he may have to conclude that his report must be qualified in some way. The examiner must give the student's work a grade - he must do so on the evidence provided by the student in the exam script.

So help the examiner out! Put yourself in the examiner's shoes - ask what he needs to see in order to justify the grade YOU want? Examiners reports, your course (module) guide can help here. Your university, school or college is expected today to give you more information about the criteria for the different grades. Use that information.

Make sure that you answer the question set. If the examiner concludes that you have a general knowledge of the subject, but have not sufficiently applied the knowledge to the specific problem or issue asked for in the question - it is inevitable that you will get a lower Mark!

A well planned and structured answer will attract higher marks than a "stream of consciousness". Time spent planning and structuring your answer isn't a waste of valuable time - it enables you to present to the examiner a readable, well argued & logical piece of evidence. It shows that you've engaged with the subject matter and thought about the substance - and how best to communicate it.

In Law exams particularly, if you make an assertion, back it up with the appropriate authority - be it the relevant section of a Statute, a case or a distinguished academic opinion. (note to my students - AV Dicey is a powerful authority - "David Morgan said in lectures" is not.)

Definitions are useful - to describe and explain something, but don't waste your time trying to achieve word perfect quotes. Explaining in your own words show you have thought about the subject - being able to quote lots of sayings is a party trick.

It's good to describe; better to explain too. A reasoned discussion shows higher levels of thought. Critical evaluation - weighing up arguments is the best.

If you are facing exams - may I wish you all the best - but that's not going to help you pass. When the Prime Minister walks into the House of Commons he is prepared. He knows what his objectives are for his weekly ordeal. He anticipates and prepares for what MAY come up - but has prepared to be flexible in the face of the questions he is actually faced. Go and do likewise