Problem Solving

When I was in Primary 6, exams are no big deals.  Unlike kids who normally performed well in class but will freak out during the actual examination, I learnt the trick to exams – do those easy questions first, and leave the harder ones till the back.

I’ll tackle those questions that can be solved, and if I am uncertain with the answer, I’ll mark a tiny circle beside the question number.  If there is a problem that makes my mind go blank, I’ll skip it first, mark a big circle beside the question number, and come back later after going through the paper one round.  Once all the questions have been tackled, I’ll go back to question 1 and do the checking.  At the question with the tiny circle, I’ll answer the question until I am satisfied, and erase away that little circle.  When I reach a question with a big circle, I will carefully and slowly solve the question.  Usually what seems like a difficult problem suddenly looks manageable now, for my brain has already seen it the first time round and was already dissecting the question while the rest of the brain works on the other easier question.  Also, now with ample time in hand as all the other questions have been solved and even if I have spent too much time on this single problem, I know that at least I will not fail with 60% of the paper unanswered.  This comfort boosted my confidence and the big circle is either erased or becomes a small circle now.

This method continues to be with me even until today when I go for professional exams.  During that how-many-hour exam, I will always complete those questions that can be solved, and come back to the harder ones when I have finished the whole paper.  Many a times, it is with these big circle questions that I spent the rest of the exam time until the bell strikes stop.

Life is however not as simple as exams.  No doubt that we encounter problems in our daily life, but the ‘small circle big circle’ method of solving problems become not so applicable now.  If we are conscientious, we will make a bigger life problem into a smaller one first (the small circle method), and tackle the rest slowly and later.  However if we choose to escape from it, we will draw a big circle beside the issue, and hopefully come back to it later, but more often than not, wish fervently for it to disappear as soon as possible.  In an exam scenario, there is a time limit, and the maximum duration that you need to face the big circle is until the exam ends.  But in a real life situation, if there is no time limit, most of us only looks at it once, hope that it goes away, looks at it again at a later date, pray that it goes away, and slowly but surely, we forget about it altogether.  That is procrastination, and how many of us can claim innocence to it?

As intelligent people, we know that difficulties do not go away just like that.  If the problem has to be solved, it has to be solved.  Be it putting a small circle or a big circle beside it, it is about putting a circle there first and coming back to tackle it soon. And just as students want to get flying colors in all exams, this can only be achieved if problem sums can be solved, or if you really have no clue to the answer, at least attempt to write something noteworthy.  The point is about giving your best to tackle the problem.  This is the essence of problem solving.

– Dear2


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