Answering Exam Questions When Running Out Of Time

This is a solution when lack of time hinders finishing an exam.
Running out of time, I was sure I would fail the exam. But I found a successful solution.
Running out of time, I was sure I would fail the exam. But I found a successful solution. | Source

Back in my college days I had an interesting experience while taking a final exam. I was under pressure to complete the exam and I was running out of time.

The way I Aced the test taught me a lesson that I never forgot. I discovered that showing an understanding of the problem is more important than just being right.

The incident occurred when I reviewed my answers after completing the test and realized I had come up with the wrong results on a problem that needed to be solved in the quiz.

I still received an A on the exam and passed the course. I'll explain what happened. The same solution that I discovered applies to any type of exam.


My test had only one question. It was a physics problem that I needed to solve and show how I did it. But the method I used applies to anything. So don't shy away just because I mentioned it was a physics final.


The way I saw it, with only one problem to solve, we would either get 100% or fail completely. Now that was pressure!

We were provided with an exam workbook that had several blank pages in which we could solve the problem and show how we arrived at the solution. We had one hour to work on the problem.

After my first attempt and taking up two pages of explanation I tested my answer by a method we learned during the semester. This was done by doing the process in reverse to see if I come back to the initial set of figures.


Managing Time Limitations

Consider Your Options When Running Out of Time


When I discovered that I had the wrong answer, I looked at the clock on the wall and realized that I still had a little time left to try again.

Eight-page workbook in which to solve the problem for the final exam.
Eight-page workbook in which to solve the problem for the final exam. | Source

Using the next couple of pages in the workbook, I redid the entire problem. This time I came up with a different answer. Once again I reversed the logic to check if it was correct.

To my horror I discovered once again that I got it wrong. Now I was really feeling the pressure.

I thought that I might be able to get around this serious snag by managing my knowledge of problem-solving methods and showing the instructor that I knew how to do it. But I kept getting the wrong results.

I knew that I didn't have enough time to run through the entire problem again. And besides that, there weren't enough pages remaining in the exam workbook to fill out another lengthy solution to the physics problem. I only had one page left!

I gave some more thought to my predicament. I didn’t want to fail physics. This course had four credits towards my degree and it would have had a huge negative impact on my overall grade.

I considered my options and realized that I should do the next best thing. I used the little time I had left, and the one blank page that remained in the workbook, to write an explanation to the teacher.


The Effect of Showing You Understand the Problem


On the last page of my exam workbook I wrote a full description of what I had done in the first couple of attempts, to show the teacher that I had an understanding of the assignment. I just wanted to let him know that.

I admitted I was wrong. But more importantly, I explained how I knewthat I was wrong. I had no idea at the time how important that was to the teacher.

I explained how I did the problem twice and referred to the two previous attempts. I explained that I knew I got the wrong answer and described how I came to that conclusion. I also explained that I didn't have time left to do it a third time and therefore I'm giving this explanation instead.

I realized I was running out of time to do the exam problem all over again.
I realized I was running out of time to do the exam problem all over again.

I thought for sure that I would fail the exam, but I had to do what I had to do.

To my surprise when the test scores came in, I got an A+ ! Wow! I was ecstatic! I never would have expected that!

I soon realized why the teacher gave me an A+. It was either a trick question that had no right answer, or I fouled up terribly.

If it was a trick question, he probably just wanted to see if I was able to discover that something was wrong. And if it was something I was doing wrong, at least I knew it and I showed that I knew it.

I'm sure that the teacher just wanted to see two things:

  1. That I knew how to address the issue.
  2. And that I was able to explain how I came to that conclusion.



Showing an understanding of the problem is more important than being right.


Being wrong doesn't matter. What really matters is that I could show that I understood the problem sufficiently to analyze the outcome and determine that I was wrong.


So what does this mean in general terms? It's a lesson that I remembered the rest of my life since my college days. I was able to apply this, as an analogy, to many other potential failures in life.

There are so many times in life when we just don't know how to do things. Or we think we know and then we feel stressed when things don't work out as expected.

The important thing is to manage our limitations and analyze the options we have available. Even under pressure, we can get a passing grade on a test. The beauty of what I learned from this is that it applies to everything we struggle with. We can find successful solutions to many problems we have throughout life. It's just a matter of thinking about what options are available.


© 2012 Glenn Stok

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Comments 10 comments

twoseven profile image

twoseven 4 years ago from Madison, Wisconsin

Great story!! I think this would be a wonderful story for teachers to share with their students. Too often, I think people get stuck in thinking about how to follow the right format, or whether they have gotten something purely right or purely wrong and they forget to think for themselves and come up with a creative approach using their own brain power! Great and inspiring story.


FGual profile image

FGual 4 years ago from USA

You did the right thing by explaining your predicament, and you were rewarded. Many situations are actually a blessing in disguise, even as they seem to be a trial by fire.


hscchemistry profile image

hscchemistry 4 years ago from Sydney, Australia

Really interesting hub - I feel that not enough students are rewarded for doing such a thing in an examination situation, and you were quite brave to take the time to do that. It was a risk as your teacher may have dismissed your efforts - but you were rewarded which is fantastic. I wish that many more teachers would be as open-minded as yours was - and congratulations on your fantastic mark too :)


RTalloni profile image

RTalloni 4 years ago from the short journey

Very motivational! What we do with failure in our heads usually makes the difference in how we go forward.


pstraubie48 profile image

pstraubie48 4 years ago from sunny Florida

You are so right....manage our limitations...an important lesson for each of us. I admit that I am not so good in the getting things wrong department. I have a type A personality so making mistakes, getting things wrong is a huge issue for me.

It has nothing to do with anyone else...just me. I am better about this than I used to be but still do not like to get things wrong.

Thanks for sharing this...food for thought for sure.


Dolores Monet profile image

Dolores Monet 4 years ago from East Coast, United States

Great story. If we can't admit to being wrong, or unable to understand something, we will never learn. After all, we don't know a heck of a lot more than we do know, a fact that will never change.


denise.w.anderson profile image

denise.w.anderson 2 years ago from Bismarck, North Dakota

This is a great example of awareness on your part of what was happening in the situation, and of using your resources wisely. Oftentimes when we are anxious, we cannot see past the current situation enough to regroup ourselves and come out on top. You did a great job, and provided a good example for us all!


Glenn Stok profile image

Glenn Stok 2 years ago from Long Island, NY Author

Denise - Thanks for that clear explanation of how I did what I did. In similar situations,I tend to always take a step back to see things clearly rather than get frustrated. I find that usually helps. So I regroup. That's a great word for it. Thanks.


mgt28 profile image

mgt28 2 years ago

Hi Glenn, I am an engineer and I relate to your method especially in physics. Physics is the most fundamental of all subjects and usually solutions must be developed from first principles. Your approach is a most recommended when working physics problems. Understanding is more important than the mathematics to bring out the numerical results.


Glenn Stok profile image

Glenn Stok 2 years ago from Long Island, NY Author

mgt28 - Having read your comments actually gave me closure after all these decades. Since I never had a chance to talk to my teacher after that final exam, I had to guess for myself why he gave me an A+ in the course. Your explanation make it clear that he graded me on my understanding of the problem. Thank you for that explanation.

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