Chapter from: https://www.amazon.com/Secrets-Successful-International-Baccalaureate-Student/dp/0993418783
Although you should keep in mind that you need specific revision techniques for each individual subject, there remains much to be said about examination technique in general. Your success in the exams will not only rely on how well prepared you are in terms of the material, but also how well you perform under pressure. To deal with this you will need to master a few exam techniques. Most of them are simple, but nonetheless are often forgotten or severely underestimated.
You need to be able to allocate your time proportionally across the entire duration of the exam. This includes taking off a few minutes from the beginning for reading and the end for proofreading. Whatever time you devote to actual writing and working out should be spaced out across the whole exam. Luckily, the IB have made your task even simpler as they now indicate how many points each question and sub-question is worth. For most papers this is the same year in year out however pay close attention to this as it will decide how many minutes you will need to spend on the question. If it takes you less time to answer than you had anticipated, then move on to next question as you may need that extra time.
You absolutely must, and under no exceptions, finish your exam from beginning to end. If you have not answered all the questions that were required of you then you can consider your grade 7 a missed opportunity. Once the examiner sees that you have left questions at the end blank, this immediately sends out a signal that you have mismanaged your time. This mistake is made every year by countless bright students and the only reason for it is poor organization and time use – something that is not expected from the best candidates.
There is absolutely no reason why you should not have enough time to finish the exam. I hear this excuse all the time but the truth is you did have enough time, you just didn’t use it wisely. It’s one thing to leave a question blank because you just had no idea how to answer it – which is something I also highly discourage. But it’s a totally different matter if you didn’t answer the last few questions because you messed up your timing.
These ‘command terms’ are specific words and phrases that the IB like to use in their exam questions. The IB examiners are not just trying to grade you on your knowledge of the subject, but they want to test your ability to answer the question that they have set out for you.
This is not something that is unique to the IB examinations. At university, and also in some job applications, you will be tested on your ability to really understand what is being asked. There is no point in answering how something happened if the question asked why did it happen. Get used to reading questions carefully and answering accordingly because this is a skill that you will reuse often.
Again, your success at identifying and answering these command terms will largely depend on your practice with past papers. That being said, no amount of preparation can spare you from being careless. For this reason make sure to double-check what is being asked. If time is available then I even recommend you highlight or underline the command term so that you don’t forget what it is you need to answer. There’s nothing worse than writing an answer explaining something when you were simply asked to define it.
A full list and explanation of command terms can be found in the syllabus/subject guide for the subject in question. These can be found online, or by asking your teacher. The terms differ from subject to subject. Please make sure you understand the command terms well before you go into the exams.
Along with your lucky charms and favourite pen I strongly advise that you bring in a well-functioning clock in order to be able to manage your time properly. This varies amongst personal taste but I know that some like to have wrist watches, while some bring digital clocks, and I have even seen some bring countdown timers that were preset to countdown the exam duration. You need to keep in mind that although there may be already clock in the exam room you could be assigned a seat all the way in the back. Perhaps your eyesight isn’t as great as you thought it was and as a result you struggle to see the time. Don’t take any of these chances. Bring some sort of time device with you.
I always have a little bit of paranoia when it comes to calculators malfunctioning in exams so I strongly recommend that you bring a spare calculator (not necessarily the graphing one) or at least a spare set of batteries for the calculator-based exams. It goes without saying that you need a spare pen or two just in case the one you have runs out. Also, try to bring a set of highlighters because you can use these to remind yourself of the key terms in a question as discussed before in this chapter.
Answer the Whole Question and Nothing but the Question
This is self-explanatory. When answering any question on the IB exams you must make sure you address the exact phrasing in the question and give the examiner exactly what he/she is looking for. For all my examinations, I brought along a highlighter or two so that I could highlight key words in the question sentence. For example, if a math question stated “give the answer in cm3” I would highlight the cm3 part. I know that this might sounds a little pointless and a waste of time but you would be surprised to see how many candidates “forget” certain parts of the question. One common example is when a question asks you to “explain why” and you write an excellent essay on “how”. By highlighting the “explain why” part you will significantly reduce the chances of this kind of slip up.
There is usually absolutely no reason to write more than what is required. If the question is worth two marks this means the examiner is probably looking for two key points – no more, no less. You don’t have time to be writing everything you know. You need to pick the most valuable bits of information and keep to your own time limit. There are no “bonus” points and you will not get extra credit for writing what is not required. Remember, the key is to write efficiently and aim for maximum marks with minimum nonsense.
Less is More – Usually
There are a few exceptions to the above paragraphs. If, in the unlikely scenario that you stumble upon a question you don’t how to fully answer, then sometimes (very rarely!) writing something that you do know on the topic might give you a few marks. This technique is very beneficial if used wisely, but it can also be very risky and damaging to your time if you abuse it. I can give you a good example. Suppose you get a “define” question worth two marks. This usually means you need to give two concrete points in order to get full marks. Let’s suppose that you could only remember one. Whereas normally I would suggest that you not waste your time and just move on the next question, there will be times when a little bit more ‘filler’ might get you that other mark. Either expand on your first point or throw in some other information that could, maybe, give you the remaining mark (like adding an example).
Remember that directly you will not get marked down for writing more. Indirectly, you always run the risk of losing valuable time. There is a general belief that examiners will only read the first few points you make and ignore the rest if you haven’t hit the nail on the head yet. Personally, I find that this notion is too general to apply to every examiner in every subject. Your best bet is to keep writing “educated guesses” until you think you have good odds at getting most of the marks. You won’t lose marks, but you might not gain any either. Remember that you are facing a balancing act – writing more BS versus having more time to answer later questions.