Back to the exam question you were stuck on

Exam-do not disturbIf you find that you’re stuck on a problem in an examination, move on to a different problem and come back later to finish the one that caused difficulty. Don’t waste time trying to get 10 marks and then not be able to finish and miss 20 marks because you ran out of time. If you can not get started at all leave it until last to attempt again. You may find that you can do it the second time round without great difficulty. But if not, don’t panic all is not lost.

We can feel under pressure when we lose control or do not know what to do. When pressured we often react according to habit. That is why we need to develop good and useful habits in our study of maths as in life in general. If you have developed a standard problem solving approach (or a few of them) for your maths studies, then when you might be faced with a problem to which you do not immediately see the solution in an examination, you can enlist the aid of this natural tendency to act according to habit. You might follow a procedure something like the following.

Ask yourself a series of questions:

  • Can you draw a diagram of the information in the question?
  • If yes, draw it and mark in all the values you can including variables like x or y for values you have to solve for.
  • What is the chapter heading in your textbook for this type of problem?
  • Does this show up in the Contents at the beginning of the Formulae and Tables booklet?
  • If yes, go to the relevant page and see what formulae are there.
  • Do any of these suggest a solution to your problem or at least a direction to explore?
  • If yes, write down the appropriate formula on your answer sheet.
  • Substitute any values you know from the question into this formula.
  • If necessary rearrange the formula to make the variable you want a value for, the subject of the equation.

Even if a procedure like this does not directly give you the full solution to a problem, it can get you started and help undo any mental block that might occur due to the initial panic when confronted with a question on which you were stuck.

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