History exam - another blog from the subject experts at the tutor team

Business Studies: why it is better to slow down in exams

Desirable difficulty

As a Business Studies teacher keen to help my students, I am always interested in how exam questions are presented. Recently reading Malcolm Gladwell’s great read ‘David and Goliath’ I was puzzled to find a case where exam questions were deliberately written in hard to read text making students squint and concentrate so hard on the questions that the mere fact that they had to stop, slow down and focus a 100% on the questions, this had completely the opposite effect and grades got better. Here is one of the questions.

A bat and ball cost £1:10 in total. The bat cost £1:00 more than the ball How much does the ball cost?

 The instinctive response is £0:10 but that can not be as the bat would be £1:10 being one pound more and that does not add up. The answer is £0:05

Capitalisation Learning v Compensation Learning

It is an illuminating book and the part I like best comments that we often fall into the trap of valuing ‘capitalisation learning’ instead of ‘compensation learning’. Capitalisation learning is where we develop those skills we are actually reasonably good at already and we just capitalise on them again and again. How much more valuable is to challenge those areas in learning we really struggle at. Student life can seem tough at times but it is through those tough times that you grow. It is uncomfortable at times but it is life.

In the subject I teach (Business Studies) we have been looking at different methods of overcoming this difficulty how we can develop those higher level skills of evaluation and analysis that might not come so readily. Like in the book we have realised we must slow down and properly focus on the question as if it’s written in difficult to see font. How else can we highlight and identify the context and question requirements.

For those high mark questions, we might follow a structure to guide our thoughts and include all that is needed. We use four C’s. Connectives, context, counterbalance, conclusion. In business, we connect an issue like product quality with the price to produce it and the price we sell it at and then the sales figures and the cash flowing in and out of the business, changing the liquidity levels in the business. Using the context must also help support our point to demonstrate we know how things fit. Counterbalance has us looking at ‘however’ and ‘it depends’ showing we can see both sides of a point. Finally we weigh up the pros and cons and come to a reasoned judgement.

One last Business Studies question:

If it takes 5 machines 5 minutes to make 5 widgets. How long would it take 100 machines to make 100 widgets?

Related: Mock Exams – 3 Ways to help your teenager prepare


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Mark has taught A-level Business Studies for many years and is an examiner for the subject.  He is a trained teacher and an experienced tutor, who gets good results.  You can contact Mark here.

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