Strategies to solve the paper – III: How to manage your time

Often, although a question paper has been solved very well, the score is much less than the student deserved. In such cases, usually, the first few answers earn good marks, but subsequent answers go on getting less and less marks. The reason? This happens for one of two reasons – the student either ends up answering less than the required number of questions, or writes the answers in a hurry towards the end of the answer book. And why does this happen? This happens due to lack of time management or bad time management at the examination.
What is time management? Time management means planning an activity or a set of activities in a way that it will be completed within the time given, with some time to spare. How to manage time at the examinations?
It is simple mathematics, actually. An example will make it clear. A paper commonly will be of 100 marks, and of three hours duration (there will be exceptions, of course, but the calculations will remain the same). You will generally be required to solve five questions, of 20 marks each. Three hours means 3 x 60 minutes = 180 minutes. So how much time should you give for one mark? Simple: 180 minutes ÷ 100 marks = 1.8 minutes. So how much time for one question of 20 marks? 1.8 minutes x 20 marks = 36 minutes.
However, if you actually take 36 minutes to solve each question, it will leave no room for error, and you will have no time left to review your answers, tie your supplements, and so on. So 30 minutes is a good figure. Solve each question in 30 minutes exactly, by the watch. It means 30 x 5 = 150 minutes in all, which gives you 30 minutes extra. If you want, you can utilise 10 minutes at the beginning to read the question paper through (if you are not allowed extra time for this), which will leave you 20 minutes extra at the end. If you don’t read the question paper first, it will leave you 30 minutes extra at the end.
Now, while actually writing the paper, keep strictly to the schedule. STOP writing the answer once the allotted 30 minutes are over, and go to the next question. Don’t worry and fret about what you have written and what you have left out. In fact, to eliminate this, try to put all the important points of your answer at the beginning of the answer itself. This will not hold true for mathematical or scientific derivations, for example, so try to write the steps within the time. Also remember that in descriptive answers that don’t involve step-by-step derivation, the law of diminishing utility applies – writing more does not mean it will fetch you more marks, because you may tend to repeat yourself or write irrelevant things.
To give you an analogy, the joy that you derive from eating gulabjamuns one after another goes on decreasing with each piece – you enjoy the first one a lot; the second gives you probably only half as much satisfaction, the next few a quarter of the first, till you reach a stage where you can’t even stand the sight of one!! The examiner will be in a similar position. So resist the temptation to keep writing after the time for the question is over.
All right, what if you feel that you have not covered all the points? Simple – still stop writing, leave a page or two blank, and solve the remaining questions, and then come back to this one in the extra 30 or 20 minutes that you will have at the end, and write the remaining portion in the pages that you have left blank. If you don’t do this, you will have very little or no time left to solve the last question, which will cause you greater loss of marks. How? If you took ten minutes extra to solve each question, then you will have taken 40 x 4 = 160 minutes to solve four questions, which will leave you with only 20 minutes to solve the last one, and no time to review or revise!
Even with five minutes extra for each question, you will take 35 x 5 = 175 minutes to solve the paper, leaving you only five minutes for review! This holds true even from the scoring point of view. Even if a very long answer fetches you 20 out of 20 marks, how many marks will you score in all? Just above 80 (80 to 85), because you will score 20 x 4 = 80 for the first four questions, but very few, or even zero, for the last question, which you botched up for lack of time. On the other hand, if you solve all five reasonably well within time, and at a moderate estimate of even 18 marks each, you end up scoring 18 x 5 = 90 marks! In exams where grades are given, this difference will mean the difference between an “A” and an “A+”!
Remember, we are assuming that your very long answers will fetch you full marks, which may not happen in reality, because nothing is more frustrating for an examiner than to read long-winded answers with repetitions or irrelevant information. So it’s better to cover your risks and stick to the schedule. Also, for sub-questions, divide the 30 minutes for the main question into as many portions as sub-questions you have to answer. For two, give 15 minutes each, for five, give six minutes each, and so on. You may have a pattern different than the one discussed here, or different patterns for different subjects, but the basic calculations remain the same – calculate the time for one mark, then for one question, then round off to a suitable duration. [The series on “Strategies to solve the paper” concludes with this part. = LearnNext Team]

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