Tatiana Ginzburg: Exam result = Function (knowledge + strategy)

Whether you like it or not, we are living in ‘interesting times’. In case you’re wondering, here is an explanation why this is not such a positive expression, as well as information on how it came into the English language.

Change is happening very fast, causing many of us extra anxiety, extra work, and the need to quickly get extra knowledge and skills. I think that education is one of the areas where lately, these changes have been especially rapid. Covid-19 has definitely served as a catalyst for transformation. We do not yet know how everything that is happening will impact students and pupils in the long run, but we can argue that, albeit kicking and screaming, education has been brought into the 21st century. One definitely positive outcome is more active communication among teaching staff – exchange of ideas and sharing of solutions, both internationally and here in Latvia. Conferences, webinars and teachers’ forums in social networks, as well as cooperation between secondary schools and universities have never been as numerous and various as now.

Why admission requirements have been created

In my professional area I quite frequently encounter questions about knowledge of secondary school graduates, as well as inquiries about what to study if one wants to be accepted in a good university. And now this question is becoming even more relevant, as universities do not lower their requirements. Why? Those were created not to make young people’ lives harder but to make sure the study process will be successful and they will be able to manage academic and psychological load. Since a university knows this load the best, admission committees assess each candidate very carefully. The so-called ‘selective’ universities always try to see the whole ‘picture’ of a candidate; however, there is a specific thing a student will not be successful without – academic readiness. And, although we know that ‘one size doesn’t fit all’ and exam results don’t always demonstrate knowledge and skills of an individual, in reality admission committees use those as a convenient tool for initial selection. Using mathematical language, it is simply a necessary condition, even if it is not sufficient.

What centralized exams’ results show

My primary focus as a member of Riga Business School (RBS) admission committee is academic achievements in secondary school: international exams in English, which we require just like other selective universities, and centralized exams’ results. Comparing the latter before and during Covid-19, it appears that in all subjects they are even a little better [1]. The question is whether they are good enough. Results in English (average 66.6%) and mathematics (average 36.1%) do not inspire joy. Speaking about English, the results are interpreted more easily using the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR). Good global universities require at least B2 level (on international exams), while in 2021, only half of the students received B2 and C1 in the centralized exam [2]. It seems peculiar to me that the pupils who sat exams in 2021, are the generation that participated in the international study in 2018, which assessed reading, math and natural science skills of 15 year olds. Then their math results were higher than the OECD average! [3] Either something has been lost in the secondary school or the problem lies elsewhere.

The magic formula

My experience developing and teaching various exam preparation courses led me to the following formula: exam result = f (knowledge + strategy).

How to achieve a good exam result? I believe it includes two components: knowledge of the subject and correct exam strategy. Of course, if there is no knowledge, strategy alone won’t help you. Mastering knowledge requires time and effort, and, for example, to start thinking about it in 12th grade is a bit late. However, if everything is ok with the subject, using the right exam-taking strategy will help to achieve your best possible result. I have to admit there is a certain contradiction to what we say to students when we teach a subject: studies is a process where you have to dig deep, discuss, analyse details. Whereas exam candidate has only one goal: to earn as many points as possible, not to enjoy the process. For example, in the reading part of the English language exam you don’t need to read an entire text to answer the questions but you need to know how to act to answer quickly and correctly.

Our experience preparing students for international exams (IELTS, TOEFL, GMAT) demonstrate, that using these strategies, a candidate both feels confident during the exam and achieves better  result. For this very reason and to reduce the impact of Covid-19 on examinations, in 2020 RBS decided to help pupils of Latvian secondary schools and offered them strategic courses for centralized exams in English and math. These courses were developed and taught by our excellent faculty, who are working both with the Bachelor’s program and ‘Pre-University’ students. These teachers have combined expertise in preparing students for international and Latvian centralized exams, and the next course will start in a bit more than two months. I am extremely happy that the results of the trainees we know of are significantly higher than the Latvian average, and students are grateful for the courses. We are also very happy that these courses are available to students from outside Riga for our classrooms are equipped to teach remotely in an efficient and convenient way. RBS can ensure that as we gradually upgrade our programs to operate in the tech era.

The three degrees of freedom

Speaking about what to study, I would like to wish young people to find or understand what they truly like, what would give them satisfaction. This does not necessarily have to need a university degree! There is a range of professions that do not require it. But still, unlike previous generations, the youth of today will have to learn all their lives and they will work in professions that do not exist yet. Quoting Y.N. Harari, people have to be able to ‘re-invent themselves’. And, to do it successfully, one has to have a good foundation. I consider three areas or three subjects as such which I, similar to thermodynamics, call ‘the three degrees of freedom’: English language, mathematics and computer science. Any foreign language is important not only as the means of communication but also to enrich one’s worldview and develop the so-called soft skills. However, the English language is the lingua franca of the global science, business, and communication, and is a must for any young person. Mathematics develops logical and rational thinking, and I think the basics of statistics would also be very useful for secondary school pupils. Finally, nowadays the knowledge of IT systems is like basic literacy: the ability to understand that a problem could have an IT solution as well as to create or find this solution will be necessary in any profession, whether you are an engineer, a doctor, or an artist.


Tatiana Ginzburg

Riga Business School English Language Center and “Pre-University” Program Director


[1]Comparison of centralized exam results by years 2019-2021https://www.visc.gov.lv/lv/valsts-parbaudes-darbi-20202021-mg-statistika


[2] English language 2021. Allocation of English language skills levels.https://www.visc.gov.lv/lv/valsts-parbaudes-darbi-20202021-mg-statistika


[3] https://data.oecd.org/pisa/mathematics-performance-pisa.htm#indicator-chart