An epic approach to problem-based test questions

Problem-based questions don’t have to be something you dread on your next exam. The key to working through them is to follow a framework to break them down.

The EPIC approach does this and can be used for a variety of problem-based questions. Here’s how it works: 


Read the problem and identify the “knowns” and “unknowns. Determine what the question is asking you to figure out. Doing this on a separate page can help you isolate the information. 


Map out the steps you need to solve the problem and determine the unknown. Solving problems is rarely a one-step process, so there might be a few intermediate unknowns you need to identify along the way. Plan your steps so you can go from what you know to what you do not know yet. For calculation-based questions, list the formulas or constants that you think will help you solve the problem and work through them using the “knowns”. 


Work through the steps and plug the information you know into formulas. Show your work whenever and wherever you can throughout your test. This helps you get marks for the steps and helps you check your work.

Check your answer 

Retrace your steps to make sure your answer makes sense. If your final answer is numerical, do you have the correct sign and unit of measurement? Is it a sensible magnitude? Are there any contradictions to given assumptions? If anything feels off, check back through your steps to see where an error might have been made. If you have to, reread the question, your list of knowns and unknowns, and make sure your plan suits the question.  

Try the EPIC approach next time you’re presented with a problem in class. The more you practice, the quicker you’ll be using the approach for tests and exams!