Fall 2008 - Approaches to Writing Written-Answer Examinations
Suggestions for Taking Written–Answer Examinations
Written-answer questions are intended to elicit answers in essay and/or outline form. Numerical written-answer questions require extended numerical or formula solutions; credit given is based not only on the correct results, but also on the steps used to derive these results. Candidates should define formulas and show all work.
Paper is provided at the examination room for your answers. Take time to write legibly, since graders can only give credit for what they can read. Each written–answer question is assigned a specified number of points. The number of points indicates the relative weighting each question bears to the total examination and to other questions and suggests the relative time that should be spent on that question. Try to distribute the examination time over all questions and limit consideration of any question to the time proportionately allotted to it. Generally, it will be more profitable to write at least a brief answer to a question for which you are relatively unprepared than to spend time refining an answer to a question on which you are well informed. No extra points are given for padding an answer.
Read each question thoroughly. Before starting to write, determine what is being asked and try to organize the intended answer. It is most important to answer the question that is asked. Points are not awarded for providing a good answer to a question not asked. It may be helpful to write a brief outline before beginning the actual answer. Answer the questions in any order. Some candidates prefer to answer the questions in the order given, while others read over the entire paper, warm up with an answer that comes easily, and gradually work into the more challenging questions.
It may be helpful to jot down on scratch paper ideas that come to mind concerning both answered and unanswered questions. (Hand in the scratch paper with the rest of your papers.) Questions may be answered in outline form, provided the meaning is clear and the question is fully answered. Another acceptable technique is to use one sheet of paper for "advantages" and another for "disadvantages," and similarly for other contrasts. This method allows going back and forth from one page to the other and putting down items as they occur. Use as much paper as needed. An non crowded and orderly presentation can do no harm, and the use of additional pages may result in putting down further facts and considerations that earn additional credit.
If you believe that there is a better answer or approach than what is indicated in the Course of Reading (e.g., because of recent changes in regulations), it is acceptable to provide this answer, although state at the outset that this answer differs from the Course of Reading. If possible, also indicate the answer or approach given by the Course of Reading, thus demonstrating to the individual examination committee that the assigned material was read and mastered. However, there is no advantage to adding to an answer that is already complete.
Obscure interpretations should not be read into a question; each question is designed to be straightforward. Try to cover all aspects of the question in the answer, and include pertinent facts and details even if, based on practical experience, they seem obvious. However, including facts and details not pertinent to the question will waste examination time and will not earn any additional credit. Do not expand upon one or two points to the exclusion of others of equal importance. Try to state both sides of a question where called for in an answer. Do not, however, try to hedge an issue if a definitive statement is called for; no additional credit will be earned through that approach. Show all formulas and work involved in arriving at the answer if the question involves calculations. Review your answers if time permits.
In most written–answer examinations, there is an average of three minutes for every examination point. However, it may be helpful to adjust the time per question to leave some time for the initial reading of the entire paper and for a final review. Then allocate the net remaining time in proportion to the points for each question. It is well worth attempting every question; generally some credit will be earned, even if a question is only partially answered. However, when no more can be done on a question (even though some time remains for it), move on to another.
Questions will cross subject lines. Prepare for this by thoroughly understanding the interrelationship of the various subjects within each course. Case studies will be used as the basis for questions on the FSA level examinations. Be sure to answer the question asked by referring to the case study. For example, when asked for the advantages of a particular plan design to the company referenced in the case study, limit the response to that company. Do not list other advantages as they are extraneous to the question and will result in no additional credit. Further, if they conflict with the applicable advantages, no credit will be given.
Since each question is graded separately, each of the answers must be self–contained. An answer must not say, for example, "Part of the answer to question 1 is found in the answer to question 3." Also, each answer must be started on a new sheet of paper.