Read the question
What do the words in the triangle say?
Does it say ‘Paris in the Spring’? Read it again, carefully this time. Did you notice the extra ‘the’?
When young children learn to read, they read every word in a sentence. But the more we read, the more we begin to skip over words for the sake of speed. Our minds automatically fill in the missing information.
But sometimes these bits of filled-in information are incomplete or just blatantly wrong. It can make us careless, which is something you do not want to be in the HSC. This is why teachers constantly say to ‘read the question’.
When reading questions in an exam, you need override your fundamental instincts to skip words and fill in the blanks with preconceptions and expectations. Circle or underline the VERB in the question first – ‘identify’, ‘describe’, ‘explain’, ‘discuss’, ‘assess’ etc. This is very important because it will define the scaffold of your response.
Then, go through and highlight any KEY words or phrases. Anything that signals to you what information you should be putting down on the page, and especially any potential traps that could lead you down the wrong path.
Once you have gone through and thoroughly analysed the question, REREAD the question. Take your time to digest its meaning and begin to PLAN your response. Only then, once you have a concrete plan in mind, should you begin to write down your answer.
Slowing down to thoroughly analyse each question may seem like a time-waster, but an extra minute spent properly reading the question could save you a lot of time down the track. It’s not a fun feeling to realise you’ve spent twenty minutes writing a totally irrelevant response to an 8-marker.
So make sure you take the time in an exam to read the question carefully. Overrule your brain’s desire to skip over the words. Circle the verb, underline the keywords, then reread and plan your response. Then, and only then, begin to write that perfect Band 6 full-mark response.