Read the question!!!!

I came back to work last week from Germany to find, as expected, a pile of exam papers to mark. This is par for the course for a university lecturer. Also par for the course, regrettably, is seeing the same mistakes made time and again from students. And the biggest and simplest mistake of them all is simply not reading the question.

Yes, I sound like a broken record, I know, but why do people doing exams throw away credit by not paying enough attention to what is actually being asked? For example, when the question says describe the differences between X and Y, and explain the physical reasons for these differences, I expect to see some mention of BOTH what those differences are, AND how they arise. 

Alison Campbell has made a nice list of her gripes with exam answers – it is biology-focused, but most carries straight over to physics.

Reading your instructions is not just an exam skill – it is important in the workplace too. Make sure you know what your customer is asking for before supplying it, or it might be the last piece of business you do with him. Plus I’m sure we’ve all had that experience of assembling that bookcase and finding several screws, a washer, and a shelf left over afterwards.

Inidentally, there are also a few students who insist on answering beyond the question. That is, their first sentence or two neatly answers the question (and gets them full marks), but rather than stopping there they go on to regurgitate everything they know about the subject. Nice for me to see that they understand the subject, but, for them, it achieves nothing but wasting time that could have been spent on other questions.

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