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Exam Takers as Magicians

Being in an exam hall sometimes does strange things to an exam taker.  Thinking can become difficult and thought-lines can get, well, tangled.

One of the most common magic tricks performed by exam takers is getting – trying to get ! – 100% by doing well in some questions when there is that one question that they have no answer to.  The mind goes into overdrive trying to overdo the first few questions, the decision having been made to avoid altogether that last brute of a question or to leave as little time as possible to tackle it – ‘I’ll do three good questions and not the fourth’!

Typically, more of an answer is not going to improve a poor answer and there are limits to how much pumping in additional material will add to an already good answer.  The reality is that there is no magician able to getting 100% when one (or more) questions are left unanswered.  Yet examiner reports frequently mention failure to complete or attempt all questions.

The assumption that marks are harvested in a staight line relative to time and material may suggest that more is better on a give question.  But clearly each question has a limit to the available marks.  At times, marks are harvested more strongly from the start of an answer (e.g., strong opening, good organisation).  In all cases, there are marginal gains from pushing over time and at the expense of the next or often that last question requiring a composed answer.  While there are tricks to exam taking – perhaps even magic tricks – there is no point in doing things that are counterproductive.  Exit stage left . . . that magician.

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