Common Errors in Students’ Examination Scripts (Part I)

I have more than seven years’ experience in grading students’ examination essays at the university level. While some of the essays have been very inspiring, others have not been so commendable because of some errors that could have been prevented through constant practice and through proofreading. In recent years, I have made a habit of noting these mistakes down while marking scripts. I now share them with the hope that they might be of help to those students who are interested in perfecting their essay writing and language skills.

It is an Essay, Guys!

I prefer students to approach every examination question in the Humanities as an essay, except structured and instructed otherwise. Each question then should be seen as an invitation to write an essay. Students should observe all the rubrics of essay writing when answering questions. They must remember that, like an essay, the response they give in examinations must be in three parts: introduction, body and conclusion. They may not need to actually spell out each of the three parts, but they should structure their response that way.

To write a mark-winning response, the student should attempt only the questions that they have adequate knowledge about. If there is no option to choose questions, students should start with the questions they know best. They can also begin with the simplest questions in order to boost their morale. Teachers usually mix the simplest and the most difficult questions. Mastery of the subject matter is always important when it comes to writing a good essay or making an interesting presentation. Students should first of all interpret the questions to themselves. They must know exactly what the question demands of them. I call this ‘seeing through the questions’. It is a game that students and teachers play! Some questions might look innocent, but are not in actual terms. Interpreting the question is part of answering it, if not the most important part.

To interpret a question, you can ask: what does this question mean? What does the examiner want me to do by asking this question? What does this question demand of me? You might also want to pay attention to the important terms and concepts in the question and how they relate with one another. Taking all these into consideration in relation to what was taught in class, I believe, will help the student know what to write and how to write it.


Paragraphing does not only make your work neat and orderly, it also, most importantly, helps your essay to have cohesion and coherence. Cohesion and coherence are two related terms in essay writing. They are indicative of an orderly presentation of ideas in a piece of writing, as well as how these ideas relate with one another. Each paragraph has a purpose and its place in the whole essay as depicted in its topic sentence. Transition markers for paragraphs should be mastered and used appropriately. Students are advised to adopt indented paragraphing in writing their examination essays.

Respect the Margins

Examination scripts usually have margins and students are often advised not to write outside the margins. If you are given an answer sheet that has no margin, make sure you draw a margin before you start answering questions. Margins are for examiner’s comments. They also create a sense of order in the writing space.

Breaking a Word at the End of a Line

Some candidates find it difficult to break a word at the end of a line. Sometimes you get to the limit of the margin but you have not finished the word you wanted to write, or you realise that the word is too lengthy to be accommodated in that line. You cannot write across the margin because it is against the rule, as you will be penalised if you do. Thus, you need to break the word and carry the remaining part(s) to the next line. The question is; how do you do this correctly? It is a highly technical issue, but it is also very simple. First, you need a hyphen to break a word. A hyphen is shorter than a dash. Please check your punctuation marks to note the difference. Second, you must realise that words are broken off based on their syllable structures. You do not break words as you like. A syllable is the smallest pronounceable unit of a word often made up of a vowel or a combination of a vowel and consonant letters. For instance, the word ‘because’ has two syllables: be-cause. And that is exactly how to break it at the end of a line and no other way. You write ‘be’ with a hyphen and carry ‘cause’ to the next line. The hyphen shows where the word has been broken off. Breaking a word at the end of a line requires careful thinking, planning and mindfulness especially under examination conditions. Of course, with frequent practice, you will eventually do this correctly even without thinking.

The word ‘diachronic’ has three syllables: dia-chro-nic. Depending on the space you have left, you can write ‘dia’ with a hyphen and carry ‘chronic’ to the next line or you can write ‘diachro’ with a hyphen and carry ‘nic’ to the next line. Make sure that the word is broken off based on their pronounceable units. It is wrong to break the word ‘diachronic’ into ‘diac-hronic’, for instance.

The word ‘background’ has two syllables: back-ground. You write ‘back’ with a hyphen and take ‘ground’ to the next line. It is wrong to break it into ‘backgrou-nd’, or any other way. Please be mindful of this.

The word ‘although’ has two syllables: al-though. So you write ‘al-’ and take ‘though’ to the next line. It is wrong to break it into ‘althou-gh’ or any other way.

The word ‘requires’ has two syllables: re-quires. You write ‘re-’ and take ‘quires’ to the next line. It is wrong to break it into ‘requir-es’ or any other way.


Spelling can be very challenging, especially in examination conditions. I have observed words that students commonly misspell in examinations. Students should be conscious of these words.


The correct spelling is ‘interpret’ without the final ‘e’.


The correct spelling is ‘writing’. It has only one ‘t’.


The correct spelling is ‘writers’ with just one ‘t’.


The correct spelling is ‘meaningful’ with only one ‘l’.


The correct spelling is ‘until’ with just one ‘l’.


The correct spelling is ‘elegy’ without the ‘r’.


Handwriting is an aspect of mechanics in any examination. It is usually taken into consideration when the examiner is awarding marks for clarity of expressions. Apart from this, legible handwriting helps the examiner to easily decipher the meaning of the candidate’s expressions. The candidate must remember that he or she will not be there to explain to the examiner what their handwriting means. Thus, candidates must make extra efforts during examinations to write legibly. They must also express their thoughts as clearly as possible so as to leave no room for ambiguity or ambivalence of meaning.


Grammatical accuracy is part of mechanical accuracy in any examination. I have noted that grammatical mistakes form the bulk of the errors students make in examinations. I am therefore compelled to devote more space to it by stating the offending expressions and giving the correct expressions for them, as well as explanations where necessary. Here we go.

‘What we may called. . .’

The above expression is grammatically incorrect. The rule is that the main verb that follows modal verbs should be in infinitive form. Thus, the correct expression is: ‘What we may call. . .

‘Taking care of sheeps. . .’

The plural of sheep remains sheep. Hence, the correct expression is: ‘Taking care of sheep. . .’

‘They misses the pleasure of the countryside. . .’

The above sentence has a concord problem. The pronominal subject ‘they’ does not agree with the verb ‘misses’ because the subject is plural while the verb is singular. To correct the sentence, the verb should be changed to its plural form, which is ‘miss’. Thus, the correct sentence is: ‘They miss the pleasure of the countryside. . .’

‘Agamemnon was ask to return. . .’

There is something wrong with the verbal group of the sentence above. Grammar rule stipulates that main verbs that follow auxiliaries should be in their past participle form. In the expression above, ‘was’ is the auxiliary verb while ‘ask’ is the main verb. Being a regular verb, the past participle form of the verb ‘ask’ is ‘asked’. Thus, the correct expression is: ‘Agamemnon was asked to return. . .’

‘. . . classical period was base on excellence. . .’

The correct expression, following the just concluded explanation above, is: ‘. . . classical period was based on excellence. . .’

‘Humanism is a philosophy that suggest. . .’

Again, this is an issue of subject-verb agreement. The subject of the expression is singular, so the verb ‘suggest’ should be in singular form. The expression should then read: ‘Humanism is a philosophy that suggests. . .’

‘. . . the lost of life. . .’

The word ‘lost’ in the above expression is a verb that is occupying the structure of a noun. This is why the sentence is grammatically incorrect. The noun form of the verb is ‘loss’. Thus, the sentence should read: ‘. . . the loss of life. . .’

‘. . . one of the classical epic poem. . .’

Here is another often confusing concord issue. The expression ‘one of’ is usually followed by a plural noun or nominal. For instance, ‘one of the men’ or ‘one of my friends’, and not ‘one of the man’ or ‘one of my friend’. The above sentence then should read: ‘. . . one of the classical epic poems. . .’

#I hope this was helpful. Watch out for more#

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2 thoughts on “Common Errors in Students’ Examination Scripts (Part I)

  1. Pingback: газовые котлы отопления
  2. As a student of English, ” Common Errors in Students’ Examination Scripts ( part 1) ” was very useful to me as I read through.
    Thank you very much.

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