There's no way of knowing exactly what questions are going to come up on an exam, but you can make some reasonable predictions
Here are five ways how:
1. Examiners can only ask about what appears on the specification. So if you know it, you’ll have exactly the same source of questioning.
2. The papers will always be structured in the same way, often with different sections covering different parts of the specification. This ensures that each paper covers a wide range of topics.
- Read more: how to use past papers to ace your exams
3. Some papers use similar wording in every paper. For example, some questions will always ask you to ‘outline’, ‘describe’ or ‘assess’. It's worth checking previous papers or asking your teachers.
4. There are only a limited number of topics that can be asked about and only a limited number of ways of wording questions on these topics. In that sense, exam questions can be quite predictable.
5. Certain ‘rules of thumb’ or conventions exist for different papers. For example, minor parts of the specification may be ignored. Check with your teacher to see if any of these exist in your exams.
So exams are quite predictable…
...but your predictions might not be 100% accurate
If a paper was completely predictable it wouldn’t be a good test of your skills. Answers could be prepared and memorised so it would resemble a memory test rather than a valid assessment of subject knowledge.
Examiners are well aware that students and teachers will question spot so they deliberately avoid falling into predictable patterns. They will ask about the same topics but try to put a slight spin on the question so pre-prepared answers can’t be used.
Their aim is to make the questions accessible to everyone so all students have a chance and the very best are given an opportunity to display their ability.
So who does know the questions? Only a few senior examiners and exam board officials who were involved in constructing the paper 18 months beforehand.
What about when the papers arrive in schools and colleges? Haven’t teachers had a quick peek? Can’t they give their students a hint of what to be ready for?
Unfortunately not; exam papers are high-security items once they arrive in schools - they are kept under lock and key in sealed packages with strict regulations governing their security.
- Read more: how do I revise when I'm really lazy?
So can you guess what's going to be on your paper this summer?
Yes, partly. You know the topics that are going to come up, the skills that are going to be tested, and how the exam paper will be structured.
But you don't know the exact wording of each question or what particular angle questioning may take.
So make the exams as predictable as you can by knowing all there is to know about the specification and how it’s assessed - but always be prepared for the unpredictable!
- Read more: how to study effectively for your exams