Caution with exam practice questions!

It’s a common thing for delegates taking a qualification course to ask for additional exam papers / questions to practice on.  I totally get that it’s one of the best ways to prepare.  Exam institutes usually provide one or two complete practice papers for each subject / level and we always include them in our courses.

However, I would like to urge extreme caution with searching on the internet for extra questions for the following reasons:

  • Qualification versions
  • Un-known source of the questions

With the qualification version issue, you must make sure that any practice questions are for the same version of the qualification that you are currently studying.  For example, there are some differences in the guidance’s between PRINCE2 2009 version (which has now been superseded) and PRINCE2 2017 version.  Questions on the risk theme particularly could throw you because there have been changes to the risk response types.  When you do find questions on the internet, they are not likely to state the qualification version.  In all likelihood, at the time that questions for the 2005 version of PRINCE2 were posted on-line, it was the current version. Unfortunately, I very much doubt that those posting questions would have subsequently gone back and taken the post down or updated it to show that the questions relate to an older version.  Practising on questions from an older version could seriously mess up your understanding of the subject and lead you to lose marks because of subtle changes.

Coming on to the source of the questions, the exam practice papers we provide are verified by a panel that includes the chief examiner for the subject.  Any other questions are written by someone else, possibly a trainer, but possibly not.  Whilst I have been teaching PRINCE2 for over 10 years, I am not the chief examiner and may have a slightly different take on nuances of the subject.  It is possible that even a question written by a trainer could give you a subtly different steer on some small detail of the method from the opinion held by the chief examiner – again this could cause you problems when it comes to taking a real exam.

I will also give you an example of a student of mine who found a couple of free extra practice papers on the internet as a cautionary tale.  He was certainly a bright chap and used the papers to their fullest, but when he then took the real exam, he failed it and came back to me for some additional help.  When I reviewed the extra practice papers’ he used I recognised them to be live papers – that should never be in the public domain!  Now, your initial reaction might be – that’s great I get to practice on real papers and might be really lucky if one of those papers come up.  Well, not so.  Whoever (un-scrupulously) posted the questions to the internet had also decided to state which they thought were the correct answers.  Approved training companies are never provided with the correct answers to live papers because their trainers have to re-sit the exams every so often to keep their qualifications current.  When I looked through this – I disagreed with about 50% of their advised ‘correct’ answers.   The delegate really needed to pass his re-take, so he paid for 2 hours of my time a on a 1:1 basis.  I went through the whole paper with him and (although as stated above I do not have the officially correct answers), I gave him my reasoning as to why the answers this site had provided him were incorrect and the rationale I was using to come up with different answers.  The delegate re-sat his exam the next day and passed it comfortably.  There is no doubt that this ‘free’ live paper had cost him dearly, in his time, having to pay for some 1:1 trainer time, and of course his exam re-sit.

Although I have been using PRINCE2 as an example in this article, the principle applies to other qualification subjects.  So, whilst it might be frustrating to only have a few practice papers, it is much better to concentrate on those official ones than to be given a wrong steer by additional practice questions that could result in you losing marks. 

There are two things you can do instead.  Use the official practice papers you have been given a number of times & make sure that you really understand every question & why the right answers are the right ones.  Especially focus on those questions that you go wrong first time through.  If you still want extra help, you are much better to find a trainer who will give you a little 1:1 time, maybe on something like skype, to brush up on subjects that you feel you understand less well.

Good Luck!

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