Monday, 27 April 2015

How to avoid waffling in an exam

When watching the recent general election debate here in the UK it was brought to my attention how difficult it was to truly see the different parties pledges in amongst all the heated discussions that were taking place. Often you just want them to quickly get to the point in simple language that you can understand.

This made me think how hard it must be for a marker to find an answer when a student 'waffles' in an exam. It goes back to the well known saying quality, not quantity.

Waffling in this context is when a student provides detailed information that isn't necessarily relevant to the actual question/answer. This information is often 'nice to know' and shows you've revised a broad range of topics, but this doesn't actually give you any additional marks if it's not relevant to the question.

There are three main reasons for students to waffle:
  • They are unsure of the answer
  • They get distracted by a small point that they have made in their answers that then takes them in the wrong direction
  • It makes them feel more at ease that they have something down on paper and gives them the illusion that they are doing well.
As a result of this students waste a lot of valuable exam time writing out answers that ultimately don't gives them any extra marks. It can be very difficult for the marker to establish the points that do relate to the question due to the large amount of text in front of them. In addition a rambling answer may signal to the marker that the student has not spent time revising that particular topic.

So how do you avoid waffling?
  • Make a plan! Spend some time at the start of the question making a plan of each point you want to raise in your answer. Sticking to this plan will prevent you from writing down unnecessary information.
  • When you begin writing your answer, make each point and move on. We usually recommend starting a new paragraph after each point. This will also make it clear to your marker what your points are.
  • The key thing is to 'know your stuff'. A good knowledge of the subject matter will help to avoid waffling. You will be prepared to answer a variety of questions on the subject – and get straight to the point with your answer.
  • Read the question and then answer. Answer the question the examiner has asked, not the question you wish he had asked! Re-read the question and look for the key words. Ask yourself what do they really want?
Going back to my point on the general election here is a great example of Ed Miliband giving an answer he wants to give but not actually answer the question (on several occasions!).

So waffle does not lead to good answers or high marks. Remember, make sure you don't go off track. If you start to do so, then be strong. Re-think and re-plan for a few moments before you continue.

For more advice on how to avoid waffling in addition to other exam techniques take a look at our SCS videos via this link:

I will finish this blog now so that I don't start waffling!

Good luck and keep to the point.  

Nick Best and the Astranti team

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