Five Ways to Tackle the Toughest Exam Questions in the World

I like to be fully prepared for an examination. Unfortunately, no matter how ready we are for the papers, there will be situations when we encounter a really tough question.

What do we do then?

I made a collation of some of the advice I tell my students. The following tips are applicable to all subjects.

1. Never leave a question unanswered.

Even if it’s the world’s toughest question, give it a try.
Always remember: If you leave it blank, it’s a 100 percent chance you get ZERO for that question.
If you attempt it, there’s a higher chance of getting some marks. Sometimes you may just need that half mark to pass or get an A.
If it’s a MCQ question, you have a 25 percent chance of getting it right!

2. Elimination
Sometimes, you may not know the answer but by elimination you can guess it.


Mary __________ her mother a bag for her birthday.
a) bought b) loved c) liked d) fancied

Even if you don’t understand the word “bought”, options (b), (c) and (d) are the same. This probably means that those are not the answers and the answer is (a).

3. Making sense

We may not be a know-it-all but we have our common sense. When we read our answers, sometimes it could be obvious we are wrong.

May fell in love with a director but he was more ___________ in Sue. Jealous, May accused Sue of betraying their friendship.

One of my students wrote “he was more jealous in Sue.”
When you read the answer again,
a) it doesn’t sound right. You are jealous of Sue, not in Sue.
b) Why would Mary accuse Sue of betraying the friendship if the director is more jealous of Sue? And what has it got to do with May loving the director?

From this example, you can tell that the answer is not logical and hence, wrong.

4. Don’t mull over the question forever
Some students face a tough question and insist on having the right answer before moving to the rest.
Do the other easier questions first, then come back to this difficult question later.
This way, you have secured the marks for the other questions. Time is limited during the examinations. You need to optimise your time.

5. Last but not least, keep calm, composed and don’t panic
We tend to panic when we see a tough paper and we end up getting even the easy questions wrong. We don’t think clearly when we fret. When you are calm and steady, you may remember what your teacher taught.

Education is about learning.

Some may argue that we should abolish the exams as it places the wrong emphasis in learning. Well, it’s here to stay- since we cannot do anything about it, we should make full use of the experience.

Learning to be exam-smart is also a part of education. By learning how to adapt to exam conditions, we acquire the ability to work under stress and work smart when we are in the real adult world.   

Wei is a reporter who teaches students on Fridays and Saturdays because he loves children. He started this project with his buddy Wallace. Their username was previously PSLEGURU. To know about them, you can visit their facebook at and website at
To know more about their classes, click here.


Good point!

The article is targeted more towards the Pri Sch students but yes indeed- answering the question is very important! Very valid point.

It’s a skill that one continues learning throughout his life too. I often find interviewees not answering questions, though in adulthood, it’s a smart way of dodging a bad situation/diverting attention! haha!

Good tips... but I think you left the most important tip out...

… which is…


This is true especially for humanities subjects, which require expository essays.  Many students choose to ignore the context of the question and simply regurgitate based on what they have memorised.  They use quotes, definitions, etc to try to pad up their answers without considering their relevancy to the question.

Remember – a short answer that directly answers the question is more effective than a long one which attempts to circumvent the question.


A question such as “Are you hungry?” requires a direct answer of “Yes” or “No”.  If you simply give an answer: “I ate something an hour ago”, you are leaving it to the other person to infer that you are not hungry, which may be the wrong assumption because you could still be hungry as what you ate was not enough to fill your stomach.  The best answer would be: “No, I’m not hungry, because I ate a heavy meal an hour ago.”  This is an excellent answer, because not only did you directly answer the question – you also explained why.

I have marked enough essays to see how many students fail to provide proper answers despite understanding and knowing the answers.  They would give examples without explaining how those examples relate back to the question.  Excellent and well detailed examples are wasted for the want of a simple statement that states why they are relevant to the question.  Remember, examiners will NOT make any assumptions about your knowledge, even if they may have a gist of what you are trying to say!

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