How to crack graduate school exams

A happy graduate
A happy graduate. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Muroki joined university excitedly after completing his KCSE. He held big dreams of becoming the CEO of a leading Kenyan bank. He intended to start as a commercial credit analyst and work his way up to a vice-president in commercial lending and then to CEO. He estimated it would take him 15 years to reach his goal.

But during university, Muroki performed erratically in his classes. Sometimes he received distinction while other times he did not pass. He could not understand why he could not perform reliably and consistently. During his internship in a retail bank, his colleagues and superiors all appreciated his efforts and offered him a full time job upon his graduation. After two years as a credit analyst, he decided he needed to go back to university and undertake an MBA programme in order to get a workplace promotion.

Following his first semester in graduate school, he received his grades with horror.

He performed poorly in every subject. Even though he thrived as a stellar employee at work, in the classroom he did not measure up. But in class he knew everything the lecturer taught and actively participated in course discussions. Why could he not perform on examinations?

Exam paralysis


Muroki suffered from exam paralysis. Examination situations do not recreate real life scenarios. A banker does not sit down with a prospective client who asks the banker for their opinions on macroeconomic fiscal policy and international affects.

Patients do not ask medical doctors to recite their knowledge on cutting-edge flu prevention research prior to getting a prescription. The real world utilises applied learning. But most students approach examinations through definition regurgitation.

A pupil can often survive secondary school with definitions and memorisation. In an undergraduate degrees, definitions and memorisation can work some of the time, but not always. Then by the master’s degree graduate-level, purely restating definitions in different examined scenarios does not work at all.

Definition knowledge represents the lowest level of learning. But universities and lecturers desire to see deeper applied learning. A good professor will teach and examine a learner’s ability to synthesise information, evaluate situations, and apply the learning to real world scenarios.

So, graduate students might find it more effective to incorporate the WEA method for answering master’s degree examinations. In graduate school with incessant case studies in classes and on exams, WEA represents what, example and analysis.

Case study

First state the WHAT you are about to assess. If you desire to explain something related to the Theory of Debt, then state it and which aspect you will look into. Replying to a leadership question? Your what could be “empowering leadership” or whichever aspect of leadership you will discuss. When you first state your what, your reader understands the direction you will take.

Second, give an example from real life or a case study. Make sure your reader understands the what in the context of the real world. Do not over-explain the example. Keep it brief and specific.

Third, provide your analysis. An analysis can include both a linkage to the “what” and the effect or how it matters.

Link your argument to the what to show that you understand the relevance. Do not give a marketing analysis for the Theory of Debt.

The analysis must remain relevant to your what. Then go in-depth about the effect. Maybe your firm in your example failed to follow the Theory of Debt principles, so the impact on the company proved detrimental. You can give positive or negative analysis based on the presence or lack of the what in your example.

Learning how to avoid circular non-cohesive arguments can help professionals perform better in their workplaces as well as their higher education pursuits.

Follow the WEA method for more effective answers.