One of the things my Dad used to say to me when he was coaching me on how to take a good exam was this: read the rubric. He was the only person I know who regularly used the term.

It pays to read the rubric, or the instructions on how to do something, even if you think you know what you’re doing. If the exam tells you to answer any 4 of the following 10 questions, and they’re all worth the same points, then answer 4 and spend about a quarter on each one before to the next. If it says you must answer all questions, answer them all if you can. If one question is more points than others, make sure it gets the right amount of time allocated to it.

Sometimes the rubric or instructions are simply too long to bother reading, like a car manual’s. This is why a lot of good companies also now produce a quick start guide, a much short document that gets you up and running and gives you the really key stuff.

Read the rubric. It gets you in the right frame of mind for the task ahead. Unless you’re absolutely sure what you’re doing, a quick double check never hurts.

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