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1:42pm on Saturday, 7th January, 2017:
When I was at school, we had absolutely no examination training at all. In any subjecty that involved calculations, we thought that if you were asked a question and just wrote down the answer, you'd get more marks as it shwoed you could do it in your head. Doing calculations in your head meant you were clever; exams are meant to test how clever people are; therefore, writing down the right answer without having to write anything down should be worth most marks.
When it came to the mock exams for our A-Levels, we didn't do well. I remember the one for maths in particular, because my mark of 28% was the highest one. This was perplexing, as I'd got most of the answers right. Our teacher, Dr Dorney, was pretty angry and told us that we didn't get marks for our working out — although to us it was clear that we did work it out, because how else could we have got the right answer?
We had a second mock exam for maths, in which we were told we had to show our working out. We duly did this, and were told off again because our working-out consisted of scratchpad-style multiplications and so on. To us, that's what "working out" meant.
To this day, I regard my actual A-Level mathematics exam as the best exam I've ever taken. I answered all the questions correctly, including the bonus difficult ones at the end that were there for elite students only. I was confounded when I only got a C grade. How could I have got a C grade when I'd got all the answers right and shown my working out?
Years later, when I was setting exams myself, I realised that there was one, simple piece of advice we could have been given that if we had been given it would have seen me at Cambridge rather than Essex. That advice is as follows: when you answer a question, write as if you're telling someone else how to answer it.
Maybe I should give that advice to my own students.
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