Firstly a disclaimer: These are my Golden Rules to answering maths exam questions – they have not been obtained from some teaching tome, some are a tad peculiar, most are common sense and frequently advised by others.
1. Follow your nose.
Many pupils panic at the sight of an exam question and then give up without writing anything. With many questions there is only one way to start. Make a start with this if you can, even if you think you don’t know what to do after that –because it may well lead you to a point where you are clearer what you need to do next.
2. Don’t just stop – KEEP GOING.
It is far too common to see a pupil stop mid-flow, for example writing
3x = 4 + 11
Why would you not add the 4+11? Then dividing by 3 is more obvious. Once you have the value of x, it is often much clearer what the next step is, if there is one.
3. Draw a sketch.
Most solutions benefit from a sketch, but pupils are very reluctant to draw them. They help you to understand what is going on and to plan your strategy for solving the problem. When you have found extra information, add this to your sketch as you go along.
4. Read the formula sheet.
If you are stuck and looking for inspiration then the formula sheet may suggest a strategy. Some pupils also find it useful to consider what topic the question is likely to come under.
- You get no marks for a blank page. So do NOT cross out any work unless you have something else to replace it with. Pupils are often seen to have put a line through work that would have gained then some marks, then they give up and go on to the next question. This is almost guaranteed to make the marker cry.
- Explain what you are doing as you go. A few (say 3 or 4 )words explaining what each calculation represents makes it clearer to yourself what your strategy is, makes your work far easier to mark and far easier to check over at the end.
- Prepare your answering sentence and reread the question.
If the questions asks ‘what is the perimeter of the field?’ then end by writing at the bottom of the page ‘the perimeter of the field is……..’. That way you are less likely to get as far as working out the length of the field and giving that as the answer, forgetting that another step is required. Many questions require a simple final calculation that can be easily forgotten. Furthermore, it is better to write ‘the perimeter of the field is 452m’rather than just ‘452m’. This ensures not only that the marker knows what your final answer is, but that you answer the question asked. Rereading the question also reminds you of this.