Since schools are due to start again in September, I thought that it was about time I shared the best advice I ever got from school. In many ways I was let down, feeling held back which led me to not care how I did. One teacher’s marking effort did do me a massive favour.

To give some context, this was near the end of my school life when I was at the age to be doing GCSE. Obviously, the teacher needed some way to evaluate our progress and as teachers do, he set a test question. Coming back to see them marked the next time we had that lesson we found the letters RTFQ mixed into the usual teacher scribbles. When we asked what it meant, the teacher replied “read the question”. What was the F for? He just looked at us as if to say we already knew. Of course, being a group of fourteen to fifteen year olds we did definitely know. The teacher said full when his colleagues asked about it.

So there we are, Read The Full Question.

However, the advice is a bit more than its literal meaning. Most teenagers at GCSE age have the ability to read, it’s also impossible to answer a question without first reading it. What RTFQ really means is that you have to properly register and understand what a question is asking.

Imagine something simple like a multiple choice question, it asks “which two” but you only tick one, clearly you haven’t read it. A silly mistake but it will lose you marks. There’s also the possibility that multiple choices mean very similar things which is just cruel as the correct answer may be unclear.

Then look at something like RE or RS, the religion lesson that most schools will provide. You get a question like “What did Jesus do at the temple marketplace?” before a question asking “Why did Jesus do what he did at the temple marketplace?”. The difference between what and why requires demonstrating different pieces of knowledge, to know the subject is one thing but to understand the English language is just as important. Know what the question is, even if you have to make notes about key words it is critically important.

Then there’s Maths, the stupid one. Now, if I say Maths you think of numbers with addition, multiplication or maybe algebra being the first things to come to mind. Quite often though, they can ask a question that’s worded a bit strangely. Example:

- a) Work out 8 – 5
- b) Given that 5 – 8 = -3, is it true that 5 – 8 = 8 – 5?

First of all part a), the words work out doesn’t need to be there as the sum will do with whoever is answering knows that the subject is Maths. Secondly, part b) needs dissecting for understanding. They’ve given one answer, then a yes or no question asking “is it true” which could confuse a young learner. What it wants is a demonstration of understanding of Maths but first the English must be navigated around. What it means is ‘Do 5 – 8 and 8 – 5 give the same answer? Show your workings.‘ They’ve not even given the clue of show your workings which seems designed to confuse and potentially marks could be lost if the learner gave the exact answer and nothing else. It should be about negative numbers but the question doesn’t help.

So for everyone either at school or not, RTFQ. Understand it. Translate it. Make it easier for yourself. Because taking that extra moment to know what you’re answering will help so much to take away the stress of a test. Stop and think.

Good luck to anyone learning.