On the day of my Geography GCSE exam, I was fairly stressed. I had spent the previous two days playing video games instead of working. I had not learned a single case study. Case studies are the very essence of Geography GCSE exams. I didn’t have a strategy. I thought I was going to fail.
In the exam, I had answered everything that I thought I could answer. But there was still a very large chunk of unclaimed marks because they belonged to questions about case studies.
However, I still knew most of the various components that make up case studies. I knew about frost shattering, surface runoff, groundwater storage, pyroclastic flow, traffic congestion in cities, and many other pieces of terminology and their meanings which I had crammed. I had some knowledge but I couldn't see a way to use it.
And then it clicked. The examiners didn’t really care about the specific case study. They cared that the examinee demonstrated knowledge of the geographical features and phenomena that make up a case study. The case study is just a nice way of packaging all of that into an exam question.
So I invented my own case studies and included a set of relevant geographical features for each one. I completely fabricated the statistics and even the names of the towns involved. Luckily, I scored 94% in that exam.
This was a large-scale exam. Examiners don't have time to stop and check the validity of every single case study they aren't familiar with. Even if they knew that I had written false information, the primary aim of the question was to test knowledge of a selection of geographical features. Since I did that, they couldn’t heavily penalise me.
Do I recommend that you knowingly use false information in your answers? No. What I did wasn’t exactly honest, and it can be very risky. It won't work for all exam types. But I was in a difficult position. I had a choice between writing nothing and writing something, so I wrote something.
Sometimes in the heat of the moment, panic can make you forget how exams actually work. Exam questions are different to real-life questions. In real life, your answer is a response to the question. In exams, your answer is a bridge between the question and the mark scheme.
When you are stuck on a question, think about what the mark scheme for that question will look like. What do the examiners want to see in your answer? What knowledge or methods is the question trying to test?
You will probably realise that there is a lot that you can still write about which will earn you marks. This is why it is so important to develop an intuition for what mark schemes look like. Don’t let one small part of the question stop you from getting any marks at all.