Friday, 30 June 2017

An invigilator share: Keys to writing examination failure

If you are taking an examination that requires you to write an extended piece of writing, then there are a few things you really shouldn't do. If you want to know what you should do to give yourself a fighting chance of success, then any good exam preparation textbook will give you a list of tips. My recommendation for success in FCE (Cambridge: First) would be a copy of First Result from OUP.

In no particular order, are ways to make sure you will not pass:


  • Bolt into the writing as soon as you are told to open the question paper & write furiously....good chance you did not read the question properly, certainly no planning or clear construction of an argument.
  • Rewrite everything - do it in pencil first then write over the top in pen....I have seen this done so often while invigilating I want to shout at the candidates! If you've got that much time, make a better plan.
  • Rubbing out your plan/notes....what's the big secret?! All question papers & rough work go in the shredder immediately after the test. And the table knocking on the wall while you do it?
  • Looking for extra questions....if you haven't prepared for the test then there's a good chance you've already wasted the entry fee. 
  • Reading & underlining the instructions...as above - you must know what you have to do, and have a solid battle plan before the day of the test
  • Writing two answers simultaneously....if you can do this then you should be in the circus. Concentrate on one task at a time. Recently saw a candidate write a whole paragraph in the middle of the wrong answer, realise the mistake, panic, copy it out word for word in the right answer (but wrong place) 
  • Go to sleep after blitzing the paper...are you really that good - there are no improvements you could make? Remove repetition maybe, improve vocabulary, elaborate or embellish maybe? At the very least, re-read critically. Inevitably, this is the candidate that did not make a plan.
  • Demonstrative body language while 'brainstorming' or thinking of a word...I'm not impressed, candidate - I don't do the marking!
  • Crossing out a full answer and doing another question....good luck with that against the clock.
  • Doing a Dostoevsky...the first question answered was such a masterpiece, the second one was no more than a post-script. Did you notice both questions were equally weighted? The marginal returns to scale are very limited if you go over
    your time allowance (ie 50%) and certainly counterproductive if you go over the word limit.
  • Counting...1,2,3...167... You should know how many words you can write on a line of A4 already! How many lines will you need to write to be within the target range? How fast can you write? Fine tune at the end when you've finished smoothly producing your work.
  • Leg-shaking...stop it. It annoys everybody.
  • Pencil-twirling...does that help you concentrate? Really?
  • Looking around a lot...relax, there's nobody sneaking up on you. Unless you are cheating, in which case I already caught you.
  • Checking your watch...we are on my time, the clock at the front of the room. It might not be 'right' but it is the one we are all using today.
  • Blanket on your knee...do you want to be disqualified? It's June and it's hot. The a/c will keep you awake at 24 degrees - you won't get frost-bite.
  • Using your favourite erasable pen...did you not read the instructions we sent you/that are posted on the door?
  • Shoehorning in all the must use phrases you could remember...appropriate? Relevant? 
  • I don't do paragraphs...which is a shame, because you just missed out on a load of marks
  • I usually write in the present tense...which makes telling a story kind of hard, and will likely put the reader to sleep. Pity, because the only person reading your work needs to be impressed with a variety & range of grammar & can only drink so much coffee while marking.
  • I just answered the question...so you didn't do all the other parts, like write a greeting, reason for writing, closing, ending? 
  • Plea for help...the marker really won't be swayed by begging. Nor will apologies get you anywhere.
  • Artist impression...this will work in Young Learners, perhaps, but very unlikely to be getting you any extra marks at this level. Pictures, emojis, lines joining ideas together, different colour pens? Not going to work.
Wow. That's a long list already! Obviously, Cambridge English does not mark candidates down, but rather employs a Can Do approach. However, if you set out to pass a writing paper and do any of the above, I guarantee you will not be scoring as highly as you could. 

So, exam candidates, please have another look at your teacher's or textbook's top tips, and use them. Plan. Prepare. Pineapple. Pen.


An IELTS (writing) examiner adds: " I don't invigilate exams but I sure do mark a lot of scriptsHey Candidate ! Know the exam you are going to take ! Not the name of the test but what is required to pass . I see a huge difference between candidates who have studied for their choice of test and those who wing it , as their university teachers cannot be arsed properly correcting their content , style or approach."