Answering the question

Often you hear the time old mantra 'answer the question', yet just as often candidates genuinely believe they have answered the question and don't fully understand where they have gone wrong. There are a few things that you can think about to help you avoid the most common examination trap.

The most frequent mistake candidates make is that despite having read the question, the response is not well tailored and precise. Instead answers often address the topic generally, rather than the question specifically. This is sometimes because the candidate is nervous, but often it is because they want to show off their knowledge. The marker however, doesn't want you to talk generally about an issue demonstrating that you understand every piece of information. They have asked you a question, and they want you to answer it. You need to therefore work towards understanding what a question is asking.

As an example the question below is from the Liner Trades exam in 2008:

Letters of credit are the 'lifeblood' of international trade and the different types of letters of credit are of benefit to both the buyer and seller. Explain why you would agree or disagree with the above statement and why the documentary credit system is more popular outside the EU Single Market.

In the examiner's report for this paper, it was identified as a very popular question that was often poorly answered.

This question wants the candidate to focus on two things:

  1. A discussion on whether or not letters of credit can be described as the 'lifeblood' of international trade and the benefit they have to both buyer and seller
  2. An explanation on why the documentary credit system is more popular outside the EU Single Market

A lot of people would have entered into a general discussion on letters of credit and the process of a bill of lading in an effort to show-off their knowledge to the examiner. These people would have extracted from the question an outline of the topic, but not gone further to establish exactly what the examiner was looking for.

To avoid this, you really need to not only read the question but also establish what the question requires you to do. One tip to think about is instead of just reading the question, take your pen and highlight the main parts. Often questions have one or two main components that you really need to address in your answer. Sometimes (as is the case above) they start with a leader, which is something for you to think about, not something for you to write exclusively about.