Can you predict exam questions?

There are few things TSR users like to do more around exam time than speculating on what questions are going to come up. 

Yes, you can predict what’s going to come up ….

Here are five ways you can predict exam questions.

1. Examiners can't ask anything they like. They can only ask about what appears on the specification. Know the specification and you’ll have exactly the same source of questioning as the examiners.

2. The papers will always be structured in the same way, often with different sections covering different parts of the spec. This ensures that each paper covers a wide range of topics from across the specification. 

3. Some papers use similar wording in every paper. For example, some questions will always ask you to ‘outline’, ‘describe’ or ‘assess’. Check previous papers or ask 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 not exactly

If a paper was completely predictable it just wouldn’t be a good test of students’ skills and knowledge. Answers could be prepared and memorised so it would resemble a memory test rather than a valid assessment of subject knowledge and skills.

Examiners are well aware that students and (especially) 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 all their skills and knowledge.

So who does know the questions? Actually just a few senior examiners and exam board officials who were involved in constructing the paper some 18 months previously. 

What about when the papers arrive in schools and colleges? Haven’t teachers had a quick peak? Can’t they give their students a hint of what to be ready for? 

No. Once they arrive in schools exam papers are high security items. They are kept under lock and key in sealed packages with strict regulations governing their security. 

Occasionally there are breaches in security. In 2012 Edexcel had to hurriedly construct a whole new Maths A-level paper when copies of that summer’s paper were sent by accident to British schools in Egypt inside a packet of old practice papers. But this is very unusual.

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!