How to Answer SPM Exam Questions When You Have No Idea What the Answer Is
Not knowing the answer to your exam questions is no reason to leave your answer sheet blank! Use these handy survival exam tips to help you score some vital marks in your exam.
Updated 05 Mar 2019
Find yourself in the exam hall staring blankly at your SPM paper with absolutely no clue on what the answers are?
Trust us, we've been there ourselves.
Instead of blindly guessing, there are some tricks for you to make an educated guess. Here are some clever exam answering tactics that can grant you a tiny glimpse of hope.
#1. Survival exam tips for multiple-choice questions
All tests are prepared by humans and it is impossible for a multiple-choice exam to be 100% random.
Using this fundamental flaw, William Poundstone, the author of the Rock Breaks Scissors: A Practical Guide to Outguessing and Outwitting Almost Everybody, studied the patterns that commonly exist in multiple-choice exams and outlined a few tricks you can use.
No more relying on pure luck and start making some educated guesses. #ohyes
(a) Remove false answer or outliers
In order to pick the right answer, you need to increase your chances of landing on the right one. Simply put, it’s crucial to reduce the number of choices.
As a start, try to remove at least one option out of your set answers. For a four-choice question, eliminating one option will effectively increase your chances of landing on a correct answer from 25.0% to 33.3%!
If you cannot decide which one to remove, look for similarities or patterns among the choices and pick out the odd one. The outlier is usually the wrong answer.
Reason? It's hard to imagine how one answer can be so clearly right and the others can be so clearly wrong.
(b) Choose the longest answer
This is usually applicable for papers that test your ability to recall vital information (read: memorisation skills) like History, Science or Moral Education. Typical questions are those that probe you for definitions, reasoning and concepts.
Very often, if you find yourself struggling to find the right answer — either you have no idea what the answer is or you just can’t decide — the longer answer is usually the right one.
Reason? Your teacher is more likely to make the right answers indisputable. Therefore, there is a tendency to be extra specific. Usually, less effort is put into creating the wrong answers; hence, they are more likely to be visibly shorter.
(c) Go for ‘None of the above’ or ‘All of the above’
Multiple choices within a multiple-choice question can be extra tricky. #inceptionmuch
You’re probably already paying extra attention to make sure you don’t fall into petty traps like except or not true. But what if your final combination of choices isn't among the set of answers?
Don’t fret. If ‘None of the above’ or ‘All of the above’ (usually in the form of I, II, III & IV) is an option, go for it as your answer!
Reason? Based on Poundstone’s research, ‘All’ or ‘None’ answers were found to be right 52% of the time. Yes, it’s still a 50:50 chance, but the odds are still much better than blindly guessing since it’s 50% for one answer vs. 50% for the rest of the answers.
(d) Check out your answer patterns
Have you ever felt an underlying sense of discomfort whenever you notice your answers are a string of Cs for consecutive questions?
Turns out, your uneasiness is not uncalled for. Correct answers seldom repeat consecutively.
If you’re stuck on a question, have a look at your answers for the questions before and after. For example, if you’re stuck on question 2, but you’re pretty certain the answers for question 1 and 3 are A and C respectively, it is quite likely the answer for question 2 is probably B or D.
Reason? Based on Poundstone’s analysis, for a four-choice objective question, correct answers only repeat 19% of the time.
(e) Look out for grammatical clues
At times, there may be questions that offer obvious grammatical clues.
It can be as obvious as the use of the word ‘an‘ or perhaps a particular answer sounds like the most appropriate response to the question posed. For instance, if you're asked "The word used to describe a noun is an _____", you can try guessing that the answer begins with a vowel (the answer is 'adjective', in case you're wondering).
Reason? Teachers tend to pay less attention in setting the wrong answers, so they may not notice they have given out such a clear clue. When such questions come along, it’s a godsend for you.
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#2. Survival exam tips for subjective questions
Unlike multiple-choice questions, there is no ‘luck’ factor in subjective questions. You either know the answer or you don’t.
That’s why you’ll encounter more subjective questions as you progress to higher levels of your studies, such as your university degree, since it’s a better way to measure your understanding of your study material.
That being said, don’t lose hope. Here’s what you can still do if you have no clue how to answer the question.
(a) The longer, the better
When it comes to essay-type questions like your Bahasa Malaysia or English papers, the general rule is the longer you write, the better.
With that said, it’s important to keep an eye out on the essay format (you can’t write a 3-page formal letter complaining about a pen, can you?) or the maximum number of words allowed.
If it’s okay to write away, the main idea is to keep your sentences short and simple to avoid careless grammatical mistakes but provide more context or examples. It’s even better if you can throw in two or three peribahasa or proverbs in your writing so that you can score some precious bonus marks!
Reason? Marks are usually allocated when there is clear elaboration and relevant examples.
(b) Write down the relevant keywords
What if you’re asked to explain in detail what happens during a cell division (remember Biology Chapter 5 in Form 4)?
If you are struggling to explain the details but can somehow recall the key stages that a cell goes through, write them down anyway. Whatever keywords and bits of information that pop in your head, make sure to include it in your answer.
Reason? More often than not, correct answers for subjective questions are determined whether you’ve used the right keywords or points as part of the marking scheme. Check with your subject teacher to see how you can score some cheeky points.
(c) Bonus tip for Math and Add Math — try it anyway!
We can certainly understand the urge to submit a blank answer sheet when you’ve gone through the questions and lost all worldly hope. However, before you trudge your way towards your heavily disappointed teacher, let your saner mind prevail and give it your best shot.
Most math questions require you to go through multiple steps to get to the final answer. Even if you don’t know what all the next steps are, you may be able to figure out the first step at the very least, so write that down.
Attempt every question and never submit a blank paper.
Reason? Your work in progress answer can still earn you a couple of marks, even if there is no final answer! This is also usually stated in the marking scheme, so check with your Math teacher as to which mathematical steps can earn you marks.
With all that said, nothing can help you score in your exams better than consistent effort and keen discipline. These hacks aren’t a recipe for acing your papers — they merely increase your chances of earning a couple of marks to propel you to a higher grade or prevent you from failing. So, study right, keep a healthy diet and go ace those papers!