Content and Context

We have seen that exams are not a direct reflection of what you know, or what you are capable of. Your knowledge is simply the raw material from which you produce your answers. This can be thought of as content.

Content is essential, but content alone is not enough. You need to learn how to turn content into great answers in an exam. This is where context comes in. Context includes everything you need in addition to knowledge in order to ace your exams.

Let’s list a few elements of context:

These things matter. But most students don’t think carefully enough about them. Instead, they focus the overwhelming majority of their efforts on content. To them, context is merely an accident rather than a carefully considered process. In order to produce great answers, you cannot let context be an accident. You need to be aware of context in order to adapt and apply your knowledge in the best way possible.

Context Influences Learning

This brings us to another idea. Context isn’t just about translating what you know into an answer. Context is just as much about how you learn what you know. This is because the way that you learn has a huge impact on how you interpret your own knowledge.

If you learn exam material in exactly the form that it should take when you use it in an exam, you won’t even need to translate it. Your knowledge will already be optimised for exams.

For example, you could learn a lot of facts for a history exam, but then you would need to translate those facts into suitable sentences for an essay.

Why not skip the translation step altogether? You could simply prepare sentences that discuss the facts and directly use those sentences in the exam. This is why learning from past papers is so effective. We will discuss this in further detail in Part 2.

There are many different ways of learning exam material, and they are not all equally effective. Some methods are vastly superior to others.

Learning in the right way will make you far more productive. You will learn more useful information in less time. You will be able to recall that information more quickly and more reliably. You will think about that information in a way that results in much better answers, and will ultimately lead to much better exam scores.