When the answer to every exam question is "A" ? Exam tips to survive finals week.

By Bill Roth

This is one of the most stressful times of the year for college students throughout the country. Finals Week is here, which means pressure and anxiety is at its annual zenith.

Allright kiddos, want to ace that exam this week?  If you’ve gone to class all semester and studied hard for your exam, the rest is easy:  Just trust yourself and don’t overthink it.

For example, last fall, I gave students in one class a 20-question, multiple choice quiz.   Students use their own laptops and learn the results of each answer instantly.  A ‘correct’ or ‘incorrect’ icon (the latter shown in red)  appears on their screen as soon as they submit their answers.

Well, I created this quiz so that the answer to each question was “A.”  Yes, every  … single … answer on the quiz was “A.” But of course none of the kids knew this in advance.

There were roughly 50 students in this particular section, and as the quiz began, it was mostly quiet in the room.   You could see the kids confidently answer “A” to question No.1, No.2, and No. 3.


But by the time we got to question No.4, the pace slowed down.   “Could “A” really be the answer to four straight questions?”


Well, I created this quiz so that the answer to each question was “A.”  Yes, every  … single … answer on the quiz was “A.” But of course none of the kids knew this in advance.

As we progressed to questions No. 6 and No. 7, kids starting taking subtle glances around the room at others who were taking the test, and looking at me in the front of the room. 

“Seven in a row? All “A”?”  Really?

 Now, by the time we got to No. 10, the pace was really slow.

There’s No Way the answer is “A” for 10-in a row”.  There was a quiet murmuring in the room. 

Someone would answer “C” and the red incorrect icon would pop up on his screen. 

“Gott#$&*#&@!!!”

This wasn’t a difficult quiz.  Moderate at best.  But by questions No. 11 and No. 12, kids were squirming.  Light sweating.  Heavy breathing.

Their thought process: There’s no way every answer is “A.” He’s gonna sneak in a “B” or “C” in here sometime. I know it!” 

But no, the streak of “A” continued. They would stare at each answer, convinced it was a trick. But there was no trick.

Then we came to question No. 14.

Now, No. 14 was a difficult one and to be honest, B,C or D looked pretty good.  

“This is it! This is were the streak of “A” answers ends.”

I could see one kid stare at his screen.  Reading and re-reading the question over-and-over.  He pushed “C.”

“Mother&$*#F*@&*(#*$!!!!!”

 By the end of the quiz, only 15 of 50 got 100-percent on this quiz.

“That was one of the hardest quizzes I ever took,” one student told me.


Why?

“Because every answer was “A” and nobody gives a test where the answers are all the same.”

I suggested that we covered all this material in class.  You knew this stuff.  It wasn’t hard.  You just overthought it and stressed yourself.

You knew the answer was “A” because you had read it.  You had it!


But you answered “B” anyway.

So the key this week? Trust yourself.  You’re at a college or university because the admissions people know you can do the work. The instructors and professors in your classes have worked hard to present the information for you to absorb and learn.

Exams are hard. But don’t make them harder than they need to be.

Trust yourself. Relax. You got this.

Oh, and when it doubt?  Go with “C.”

Good luck this week!

William Rothpast