You’re listening to The Parents of Hardworking Teens Podcast, episode number 67. How I see students hedging their bets when it comes to exams and assessment, and why this is rarely ever a good idea.
Hi VIP’s. How are you? I hope things are going awesome for you. I actually want to kick off with some very happy news. Our Success Manager, Corina, who some of you may have had contact with over email is expecting her first baby imminently and is sadly for us, but happily for her and her husband leaving Rock Solid Study to be a full time parent. Now, it’s never easy losing a great team member, but the study stars have aligned rather beautifully and I am so happy to have lured Gemma Toms, who is currently our English Focus Coach into working with us full time.
She is stepping out of the classroom over in the UK, and into the online world, taking on the role of Success Manager. Don’t worry, she will still be our English-Focus Coach, AND she is still staying on the ground in all things assessment as she is still doing external exam marking each year and continues to be a senior examiner. I know that she is sad to be stepping away from the classroom - Gemma has been teaching in high schools since I think 2005? But happily for us, this role really suits her family life as she has two young children AND I know that she absolutely loves the work that we do here in the 10WGT and in Next Level and has been keen for a while now to get more involved. So - perfect combo all round for everyone involved. And by everyone, I include you and your teen as Gemma serves you in the inbox, making sure all the content and info you receive is tip-top - you can be sure that any typos or grammar errors will be totally down to me, and supports me in continuing to deliver awesome trainings, resources and events.
Now, let’s get into the episode and talk about your teen hedging their bets when it comes to exams and assessment. This might be giving more points than have been asked for, or answering both questions when they only had to answer one, giving additional information on topic, but outside of what’s being asked, or like I mentioned on last week’s episode - all about pre-exam decisions and optimising exam prep - maybe hedging their bets in their revision and exam practise by not pre-deciding what they’ll actually do in the exam.
I see this happening a fair bit and I think it happens for a variety of reasons.
One - It might be that they aren’t totally sure about what the question is really asking, so they write about all sorts just in case that was what it was asking.
Two - they might not be totally sure of how the marks are going to be allocated, or what’s really required for the top criteria, so they kind of try to cover all bases.
Three - they might not be sure of the subject content. They aren’t too sure of the answer, so they give a few - or give other things that they do know instead, in the hope that some of it will get them marks.
Hedging their bets is something students resort to. It comes from a lack of confidence, it comes from uncertainty, or even confusion. If or when your teen does this - and I’ll explain some actual examples in a moment so you know what I’m talking about - they likely know that this is not the ideal response. It’s not actually what the marker wants them to do.
No question ever said give me two - whatever it is: examples, quotes, reasons, suggestions - and then give me a third just in case. They resort to doing this, but it’s never because it’s what they were directed to do.
If you’ve heard me talk about spaghetti-throwing, hedging their bets is basically a type of spaghetti throwing. It’s one way that they end up doing more than they really need to, or one way that they give more information than is required.
But the issue with hedging their bets is that they aren’t only wasting time, energy and effort - and maybe their word count - they are also potentially sacrificing - kind of wasting - but really just losing out on marks, or missing out on a grade.
And I’ll explain why in a moment.
Before I do, I also want to mention a fourth sneaky reason I think students do this - and I can tell you - I did it too as a student - A LOT.
It’s because it likely served them in the lower year groups.
In say, Y7 or Y8 - maybe even Y9 or 10 as well, you often do get extra marks, or at least effort marks of sorts by giving more points than were required. The teacher probably does take pity and give the mark if you put three items on the list when it asked for two, and two were correct. They probably give a half mark for an extra fact that maybe wasn’t asked for but was related in some way. I’m sure I have as a teacher - because we want to be encouraging, we want to acknowledge the positives rather than the negatives. And we like to reward students who go over and above.
The problem with this, or maybe that isn’t necessarily a problem - I should say the way that this can cause some, let’s say bad habits or misguided expectation around hedging bets later on, is that those same ‘extra’s A) won’t be rewarded when the assessments and exams become more formal- particularly for external exams and assessment, so can lead to disappointment when your teen thinks they did better than their results comes out after. And B) can actually sometimes bring marks down.
Let’s take a basic exam question. One that asks for two items.
It might be that there are two blank boxes in a table that need to be completed for Science. It might be that your teen needs to identify two metaphors in the poem, or maybe two adjectives from a paragraph in English. It might be that they need to complete two labels on a diagram.
I have seen many times, students give more than one answer in each box or on each line. Or just add a third item to the list. Now that might be that they misread the Q and didn’t read that just two were needed. Or it might be that they weren’t too sure about the answers and so basically kinda guessed and decided that if they put three, then two might be right.
I actually marked a question like this years ago for the Y12 QCS short response paper.
And according to the mark scheme, we had to just mark the first two items.
Basically, don’t even look at the third. Even if it is right.
Sometimes I’ve also seen mark schemes where if there’s any hedging of bets, i.e. more answers than asked for, the maximum mark is one. So the mark scheme actually penalises for this, depending on the setup or format of the Q. Because they need to make sure that a student can never have a better chance of more marks if they do choose to give more than the number asked for. That can’t be a rewarding strategy. Because remember, exams aren’t JUST testing subject knowledge, they’re also testing your teen’s ability to put across information in the way it’s asked for. And if they’ve been asked for 2 and they give 3, then they aren’t doing that.
So, my first piece of advice for students is, even if you’re not sure, make an informed decision i.e. a best guess and pick the strongest answer or answers. Give the right number of points or answers in your response with the best choices you can. Otherwise you might automatically be limiting yourself to lower marks, which was the exact thing you were trying to avoid by doing the hedging in the first place.
Here’s another example. Something that isn’t just about writing three words or naming a certain number of items.
This is a real exam question from the WACE 2022 Economics exam:
‘Describe two ways in which organisations such as the World Trade Organization (WTO) can influence world trade.’
And it has 4 marks allocated to it.
So NOT just two ways, two marks.
Now, I can tell you - for sure - there would’ve been a small number of students who gave more than two ways in that paper. I didn’t mark this, but I’ve marked enough other papers to know there would’ve been.
Just for a quick bit of exam technique here, cos you know I LOVE exam technique and I just can’t resist digging into this just a tiny bit. In case you’re wondering why it asks for two but has four marks - and so you’re wondering: How do they get the four marks, or what are they awarded for? - here’s the clue in the question. In fact, let me read it to you again and see if you can pick it out. Fun quiz time.
‘Describe two ways in which organisations such as the World Trade Organization (WTO) can influence world trade.’
Did you spot it?
It’s the word influence.
They need to state the way and then say HOW it influences world trade.
Now, honestly, if I was on that scrutiny panel, I would actually debate whether that command therefore should technically be ‘explain’ rather than ‘describe’. (That’s the sort of thing we do on the scrutiny panel for exam boards - it probably sounds SO dull to you, but I love it. But we don’t always get our way. Sometimes I might raise a point, but that doesn’t mean it’s upheld. Sometimes I then agree with the counter view, sometimes I don’t. That’s just the nature of these things). But given that it just says describe, then at least we know that means they just need a simple statement to say how it influences. Not a big in depth series of linked explanations.
So to break it down:
‘One way is this [1mark] - and here’s what it does to world trade - or how it influences world trade [1mark].
Another way is this [1mark] - here’s what it means for world trade [1mark]’.
That’s a simple mark scheme prediction.
This is why it’s so important for students to be confident in command words and become mark-scheme savvy and understand how and where marks are allocated, and to be able to ‘predict the mark scheme’ where they aren’t given any marking criteria.
Full training on all of this is in the 10 Week Grade Transformation Program. Specifically Catapult 7 - Conquering Command Words, and Catapult 10 - Mastering Mark Schemes. (You know I always say how I’m not creative - I like to call modules and tutorials and resources obvious names where they ‘do what they say on the tin’. And a bit of alliteration - I like that too as you can tell).
I’m sure that you can envisage that seeing four marks, there will be some students who give four ways, thinking they want to make sure they write down 4 different things for the 4 marks.
Then there will be some students who give lots of in-depth explanations for the influence. Totally understandable. This definitely would’ve been me as a student. The big hedge-better that I was.
They either weren’t confident that they had the right impact, so they waffled around it a bit, not really being precise enough, or they put a few different ways, not sure what the influence really is, so giving a few, just in case one is right. Or, they weren’t confident in how much explanation - or I should say ‘description’ would be needed for that second mark, so they wrote a bit more ‘just in case’.
And that’s the dangerous phrase here, isn’t it? - ‘Just in case’.
I’ll write more for how it influences world trade, just in case.
Or, I’ll give an extra way, just in case. Either because I’m not too sure of those ways, i.e. the subject knowledge. Or because I’m not too sure about the requirements of the question or mark scheme.
And this is a problem because either the student then runs out of time to complete the rest of the exam (because of all the extra writing - just in case) or they don’t actually run out of time, but they don’t spend enough time on other questions where they do need more points or more detail.
Finally, one other way where I see students lose out on marks when they hedge their bets by adding in extra, just in case, is in extended response and essay questions, where there are descriptors for bands or levels of marks and likely one of them is something like:
‘gives a coherent and well structured response’.
In these cases, usually for questions with at least 8 marks, probably more like 10 and above, if there are extraneous points that aren’t needed in their work, those will likely take away from the coherence or cohesion of their writing. Unnecessary info may detract from the structure or flow of their points. And so, even if the information isn’t wrong, if it isn’t directly contributing then it can actually be detrimental to their mark. Going off on a tangent or adding in something extra here, ‘just in case’ can mean that the focus or the argument or the analysis is not as strong and therefore will bring down your teen’s mark or grade.
So, I wanted to share these exam and assessment insights with you today, because I want your teen to maximise the results they get with the knowledge they have. And hopefully these examples have served to show that more info isn’t always the key to more marks AND that anything we can do to reduce the guesswork or uncertainty for your teen around their study, exam technique and performance in assessments will serve them both in terms of their confidence and in their results.
And if you’ve found anything I’ve ever shared on the podcast helpful, I’d REALLY appreciate it if you could take 6 seconds and wherever you’re listening to this, leave me a rating. It’s just two taps of the thumb to do it and it would mean so much to me and be a huge help.
Thanks for listening, have a wonderful rest of your day and your week and I’ll see you back here next week.