23 Apr 2009


As the final professional exam draws near, more and more students ask me for examination skills. Some years ago, I really believed that I knew a few tricks.

Rule number one is to understand why an examiner asks a certain question. It can be because your original answer is wrong, he wants to test you some general knowledge, or he has recently come across a research paper on this topic. When I explained this, a student was quick to point out, “How can we know?” The loophole is I never thought about this.

In the past, many examinations using multiple choice questions had a penalty system – marks would be deducted for wrong answers. Knowing when not to answer was as important as knowing the correct answers. To test my method, I asked some trainees to record their confidence in a question (in percentages) as well as the final outcome (correct or incorrect). In theory, if they learned not to answer when their confidence was below a certain threshold, they would get the highest marks. However, none of them thought this method was very useful.

After all these years, I understand that the so-called tricks are just the rule of 10,000 hours. This is nothing but experience. I kept talking in tutorials whenever my classmates were shy or unsure. With time, I could anticipate questions and give appropriate answers even when I was uncertain.

So, there are no secrets after all. If you still insist on some tricks, I find Sima Yi’s (司馬懿) military advice very useful:


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