Reading Test – How not to jumble up the answers in your answer sheet

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During a practice test, I was watching a student as she was answering the Reading test. As soon as she got the answer to the question, she was directly entering in the answer sheet which is the way to go.
She came to question No. 8 and she could not locate the answer for that. She went on to question No. 9. She located the answer for it and she turned to her answer sheet and entered the answer in the next blank space on the answer sheet. She essentially put down the answer for question No 9 in the place of answer for question No 8. Now she continued to answer the next four questions before she realized her mistake. She had entered the answers for five questions in the wrong place.

Now panic button got triggered for her as she did not know how many of her answers were entered in the wrong place. She quickly found that out and rubbed out the answers for questions 8 to 13 and entered the answers in the correct place.

A lot of time got wasted, panic got triggered, and her mood was upset.

In the post-test analysis session, I asked her,
“Do you think you can do something to avoid a repeat of such errors, Sheila?”
“I don’t really know what to do. I did not notice that I had not answered question 8 but when I got the answer to question 9, I put it in the next blank space on the Answer Sheet which was for question no. 8”
“Yes, I saw what you did and this can happen again in the actual test. There will be times when you don’t get the answer to a question and would like to move to the next question. At such times, how can you ensure that you don’t make errors in the Answer Sheet?”
“There should be no blank space on the Answer sheet. If there is no blank space, then I won’t make such errors” she answered after a bit of thought.
“Excellent. So how will you ensure that there are no blank spaces on the Answer sheet?” was my logical follow-up
“Put in some kind of a placeholder?” she asked tentatively.
“Good. What would you put in as a placeholder?”
“Something like, ‘Not Answered’?” she asked
“Wouldn’t writing two words take time? Is there anything else you can put in?”
“How about a question mark?” she answered gleefully.
“That’s a good idea”, I remarked, “It is only a symbol and will take you just a second to mark that”
“Yes” she answered happy with herself, “I will put in a question mark symbol when I don’t know that answer, that way there will be no blank and I will not jumble up the answers. I can come back later and look at questions I have not answered easily”

In subsequent tests, I noticed that she did exactly that and did not jumble up the answers and then waste time correcting the errors. “Prevention is the best cure” applied very much in this situation.
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