Why everyone should blag their exams and how to do it effectively
The word ‘blag' has lots of negative connotations. It brings up images of people getting something they don't deserve through deception or guile.
However, the best students are the ones who are confident in blagging their exams. This is probably a huge surprise to all the perfectionists out there, and maybe even more of a surprise to the chancers and crammers who are constantly being told to revise earlier and more thoroughly.
In this article I will explain:
- What blagging looks like when it comes to exams
- Why everyone should be aiming to blag their exams
- How to blag your exams effectively
What blagging looks like when it comes to exams
Have you ever sat in an exam, read a question and thought, “I don't know the answer to that.”?
Some people would give up on a question immediately if they don't think they immediately know the answer. But, this isn't what a student who gets great marks does.
Instead, a student who is destined to get higher grades asks themselves, “What do I know that can help me to answer this question?” From there, they are able to put together an answer that gets them some marks, if not all the marks, that are available.
Why everyone should be aiming to blag their exams
Everyone should be aiming to blag their exams because literally no-one is 100% sure of the answer to every exam question when it's first put in front of them. However, the students who know their subject (having done their revision), understand what the examiner is looking for and are able to think on their feet to put together an answer that makes sense and earns them marks.
I did this all the time throughout my GCSEs, A-Levels and degree. I can distinctly remember sitting in my GCSE geography exam, being faced with questions that I didn't have the perfect case study to answer, but managing to use something from another case study. I got an A*. The same thing happened at university. Some of the questions I had to answer in exams were ridiculous. In my first year, we had four lectures covering the whole of world history and in the exam, I was asked something about 18th-century woodland policy in England. It was ridiculous – but under pressure, you find a way to pull something together and answer the question.
The thing is, you literally can't excel in an exam without blagging.
What do I mean by ‘blagging' when it comes to exams?
When I'm talking about blagging in the context of exams I am absolutely not talking about turning up to the exam having done no homework and no revision in preparation.
Instead, what I'm talking about is using your wits to pull together what you know to have the best stab possible at giving a good answer to an exam question.
Let's talk about what this looks like in practice.
How to blag your exams effectively
1. Know your stuff
If you're going to be prepared to blag in your exam, you actually need to really know your stuff. This comes down to doing really thorough revision – making sure you know your specification inside out. You never know what bit of knowledge you can use to help you gain a mark here and a mark there across an exam paper. We talk about how to make sure you know your specification in the Plan Your Revision module in The Extraordinaries Club, and in my regular, live Revision Kickstarter workshops.
2. Know what the examiners are looking for
It's not good enough to know your specification inside out, you also need to be intimately acquainted with what the examiner is looking for in your answers. You can get a flavour of this from my article What no-one's telling you about what GCSE and A-Level examiners are really looking for. However, if you want to do this properly you need to be:
- Doing past papers, in the form of Revision Power Hours
- Marking your past papers yourself so that you get inside the head of an examiner and how they're thinking when they mark your work
- Reading examiners' reports on exam board websites to get further insight into what examiners are looking for
If you do all of the above you will understand:
- The structure of the paper and how questions are asked
- The language and structure examiners are looking for in your answers
- Common mistakes that students make and how to stop yourself from making them
You can also get a leg-up with all of the above when you do the How to Revise masterclasses for individual GCSE and A-Level subjects in The Extraordinaries Club. All delivered by subject specialists, they give huge insight into how to approach your revision and exam for each key academic subject. The How to Revise A-Level Maths masterclass even has a section on how to blag your A-Level maths exam!
3. Have a good night's sleep
If you're going to blag effectively you need to be mentally sharp. This means being well-rested and alert, having had a good night's sleep not just the night before the exam, but every night in the run-up to the exams.
Good blaggers don't leave their revision until the fortnight before an exam and cram all night long. This doesn't lead to nimble-thinking in the exam hall.
4. Read the question
Good blaggers do their very best to answer the question that's in front of them, not the question they wish was there. So, make sure you've read the question, and use your intimate knowledge of what the examiner is looking for (see point 2 above) to interpret what answer they need to see to give you the marks.
Once you've read the question, you can marshal your knowledge to get as many marks as possible. Things you might like to consider include:
- Looking at the number of marks available and using that to give you an indication of how many points you need to make
- Echoing the question back to the examiner in your answer e.g. writing, ‘Four reasons why X happened include: [list your four reasons]'
- From your knowledge of the mark scheme, judging whether it's a point marked or level-marked question and writing your answer according to the guidelines you've seen in the mark scheme for this type of question
You can learn more about exam technique in the Exam Technique masterclass in The Extraordinaries Club.
5. Use what you know
Once you understand what the question is asking, you can gather up everything you know that might help you to answer the question. Don't worry if your knowledge isn't a perfect or complete fit for answering the question – what you're trying to do is make the best of what you know – both in terms of subject knowledge and your understanding of what the examiner is looking for. If you're intelligent and level-headed about it you can put together a good answer, and possibly one that still gets full marks.
What stops people from blagging well?
There are multiple reasons why people don't blag well – all of which lead to them getting lower marks in an exam than necessary. Here are some of them.
1. Perfectionism – if you're the type of person who can't put pen to paper unless you've got the perfect answer, you're in trouble.
2. Lack of confidence – blagging takes confidence in what you know, and your own ability to adapt it to the situation you're in.
3. Lack of preparation – as I've said already, blagging exams well takes preparation. The best blaggers are well prepared, but not overly perfectionist in their approach because perfectionism is a sign of insecurity and lack of belief in your abilities.
4. Unwillingness to take risks – you might be thinking that you need to play it safe in an exam. However, the riskiest thing you can do in any exam is write nothing, or something very poor. So, give yourself permission to risk something that might not be right instead of playing it safe by writing nothing, or very little, when you haven't got the perfect answer.
Now, go blag your exams!
I hope this article has given you the confidence to go out there and, firstly, prepare well for your exams and, secondly, use what you know to give every exam question your best shot. After all, you can't get marks for writing nothing.
If you need more help with how to do your best in your exams check out the Ace Your Exams module, as well as the Upgrade Your Mindset module, in The Extraordinaries Club, my online hub that supports families in the GCSE and A-Level years with study skills, mindset and communication.