How not to answer exams

This page describes some common mistakes made in exam scripts. Doing the things described here will typically not get you any marks.

Answering the wrong question.
This is quite a common mistake. I think it may sometimes happen when the examinee feels that they cannot answer the question asked, but can think of a similar question which they have learnt the answer to, so they answer that one, in the hope that the question is similar enough that the examiner will be taken in. However, examiners look for the answers to the specific question they have asked, and will usually take an answer that appears to be to a different question, to indicate that the student does not know the answer to the question in the exam paper.
Writing everything you know that involves a particular key word that appeared in the question.
Another common one. Again, this gives the impression that you don't understand the subject matter, but have simply memorised it parrot fashion.
Writing the question, but as a statement.
I was surprised to find that this one happens quite often.
Writing tautologies
Quite a few answers contained things like ``This makes it more efficient because it is more efficient.'' I can't tell why anyone expects to get any marks for this kind of thing.

Many classical bad answers appeared in response to the question asking about how interrupts are used implementing virtual memory: many simply gave a description (which looked as if it had been memorised for a book or notes) of what interrupts are. Not only was this not answering the question I had asked, but it also gave no evidence of degree level understanding of the topic: it could have been done by anyone who can memorise paragraphs and, on hearing a keyword from the paragraph, recite that paragraph. This is not what is being looked for in a degree.

Note that I have not included here the correct answer to the question I used as an example above. At this level, you should be able to work that out for yourselves. If you think it would be helpful for me to have included it here, so that you can learn it, you are taking the wrong approach to learning!

Script viewing

It appears that one response to getting a poor exam result is to ask to go over the script to find what you got wrong, to do better next time. This appears to me to be set in the wrong mindset: it looks like an attempt to fine-tune memorised answers. If you got a poor exam result, you are probably going to have to change your way of learning, and your way of answering exams.

[Operating Systems] To me Last modified: Tue Oct 21 10:11:09 GMT Standard Time 2003