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How to Ace a College Exam When You Get the Wrong Answer


Glenn Stok likes to explore significant and noteworthy activities of exceptional value, and he writes about it so you can experience it too.

Photo by Ben Mullins on Unsplash

I got an 'A+' on a college exam that I thought I failed. I’ll walk you through my actual experience so you’ll get a first-hand look at the process and learn to do the same thing.

My experience taught me that we can find reasonable solutions to many problems in life by being mindful of the options available and knowing what’s required of us.


It happened decades ago, but I never forgot about it. I was under pressure to complete my final exam, and I was running out of time.

I turned it in with the wrong answer, but I passed with an ‘A+’ because I showed the teacher that I was aware of the directions. Follow along as I explain what I mean.

I was worried I might have failed the test, but I learned later that my teacher merely wanted to see if we would try to solve the exam problem without following directions and checking our results.

As it turned out, my teacher was satisfied to see that I was aware of my mistake. It benefited me to make an effort to check my work and struggle with it in the time I had remaining. I displayed enough knowledge of the subject to show that I knew what I was doing despite the wrong answer.

The thing I learned from that experience was something I applied to many aspects of life later on. It’s interesting how we can learn from relatively insignificant things that are unrelated to other momentous events we encounter later.

The Purpose of the Final Exam

The final exam was for a physics class. The quiz had only one problem that needed to be solved. The instructions said to solve the problem and explain the results by describing how I arrived at my conclusion.

That was stressful because I thought with only one problem to solve, I’d either get it right or fail the entire exam.

The teacher gave us an exam workbook with several pages in which to solve the problem and show how we arrived at the answer. We had one hour to work on it.

After solving that single problem, I reviewed my answer with reverse logic (working backward) to evaluate its accuracy, and realized I had the wrong results!

With only one problem to solve, I knew I would get either 100% or fail. Now, that was pressure!

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.

Using the next couple of pages in the workbook, I redid the entire problem. This time I came up with a different answer. And again, I worked it backward 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!

The Only Available Option Remaining

I knew that I didn’t have enough time to run through the entire problem again. 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. I had a 4.0 average, and this would have spoiled it. This course had four credits towards my masters degree, and it would have had a substantial negative impact on my overall grade.

Considering my options, I thought I could do the next best thing to salvage anything from this fiasco by using the little time I had left to write an explanation to the teacher.

To address the issue properly, I decided to read the exam instructions again. I suddenly realized that there were actually two things the exam required me to complete. Did you catch that in the section above? I almost overlooked the importance of it.

How to Answer Exam Questions

There were two requests to complete, not one.

  1. I needed to work on solving the problem.
  2. I also needed to describe how I arrived at my conclusion.

So now I knew what I needed to do. Taking up that last available page of the workbook, I wrote a note to the teacher to justify my conclusion. I described in detail the process I used to test my answer and how I came to the conclusion that I got it wrong.

I showed my knowledge of the problem-solving methods we learned in class, and I showed the instructor that I understood how to do it even though I kept getting the wrong results.

I wrote a full description of what I had done in the first couple of attempts to show that I understood the assignment.

I had no idea at the time how important that was to the teacher. Getting the wrong answer was not an issue.

The Importance of Mindful Attention to Detail

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

My teacher was testing our ability to follow instructions, and getting the right answer was not necessary. It may have been a trick question with no correct answer, or maybe I fouled up terribly. Either way, I did the right thing by reviewing the instructions and realizing that I needed to give my review of the outcome by answering the second part of the instructions.

I had the opportunity to chat with my teacher after the semester. And he gave me a great understanding of handling life in general.

By showing that I was mindful of the instructions and cared enough to check my work, he saw that I would be able to handle problematic situations in the future.

In Conclusion

Mindful attention to detail can be applied to many predicaments in life to heighten our awareness of requirements.

The method of arriving at a meaningful solution and being aware of how to get there is what’s important. Reexamining the instructions was crucial to getting over the hurdle I thought I was in with that exam.

That was a useful lesson to learn that I took with me throughout my life since my college days, and I never forgot that experience with that teacher.

It doesn’t matter if it’s a problem with a physics exam, a problem with life issues, or disagreements among people. The crucial thing is to know how to manage our limitations and analyze the options we have available.

What I learned from this can be applied to everything we struggle with in life. We can find successful solutions to many problems we have throughout life when we consider the options available.

© 2020 Glenn Stok


Glenn Stok (author) from Long Island, NY on December 28, 2020:

Thanks Pamela, Happy New Year to you too. Glenn

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on December 28, 2020:

Isn't amazing how an experience in life can change you forever? I think mindful attention does apply to multiple things in life, and your college example is excellent. This is a very good article, Glen.

Happy New Year!