If we had a dollar every time a student told us they were unable to complete their essay/examination paper on time, we would have become very wealthy.
The concept of time management seems ridiculously straightforward, but yet it remains the biggest roadblock to students across all levels and subjects from achieving their desired distinction. It bears repeating, so that every student CAN and MUST internalise this: Time management, and not your ability to produce the perfect answer, is the key to a good examination result.
To start, let us understand what is the objective of an examination: It is to answer (correctly) a set of given questions within a stated time. An examination is a test of your understanding on the subject matter, your level of comprehension, your ability to process the question under time constraints, and coming up with the answer within those time limits. The examiners are not looking nor expecting perfect answers, which could be produced if time was not an issue, but to assess your ability for all of the above.
Taking an examination is a race against the clock and a mathematical game. We have to be practical and look at the mark allocation of each question, and decide on the time that must be given to each question. For the purpose of illustration, let’s take the example of the A-Level H2 History Paper.
H2 History Paper 1 – 180 mins
Q1a (10 marks) + Q1b (30 marks) Source-Based Question
Q2 or Q3 choose 1 (30 marks) Essay Question
Q4 or Q5 choose 1 (30 marks) Essay Question
TOTAL: 100 marks
Based on the above mark scheme, in an optimal setting, 72 minutes should be allocated to the Source-Based Question, with the remaining 108 minutes to be dedicated to both essays. Within the source based question, after taking up 10-12 minutes to read and annotate the sources, students should take about 12 minutes to complete Q1a which takes up only 10 marks, and 48 minutes to complete 1b which takes up 30 marks.
In any scenario when a student takes too long to complete earlier questions, and fails to complete the last question or worse, have no time to even attempt the last question, the result is easy to extrapolate. No matter how good your answers are for the previous question, failure to complete the paper will mean that there is NO DISTINCTION for you.
Time management is a skill, and also an act of self-discipline. How then, do you improve your time management skills?
5 Keys to Perfecting Time Management
1. Understand your mark scheme for each subject, and know the time that should be allocated to each question. Commit to memory. Internalise this.
2. Practice, practice, practice. It is not enough that you know all your content and concepts at the back of your hand, you must practice writing out your answers within set time limits. The more you write (this is especially true for Humanities and Language subjects), the easier it will be when you sit for the actual examination, because you will become speedier.
3. Students must be less fixated with producing unnecessarily long and meandering answers which do not get them additional marks. Go straight to the point. Be accurate and exact. This applies to O-Level students who have 1,2 mark questions.
4. During the exam, make sure you have your eye on your watch all the time. When time is up, move to the next question. Come back to the unfinished question if you have extra time at the end.
5. No matter if you have spotted the question, memorised a model answer, do NOT spend extra time on an answer even if you know it very well. This is where self-discipline comes in! Write out the answer to your best ability within the set time, and move on when time us up!
All the best for your upcoming examinations!
Humanities Hub Team