As GCSE and A Levels draw near for thousands of students across the UK, this week we’re taking a look at two of the most important strategies for students to remember: exam technique and time management.
Here’s the thing: you can revise for hours on end, cover every topic and make spider diagrams until they’re coming out your ears, but if you’re not ready to communicate that knowledge in an exam setting, then all that revision is time wasted.
How can you prepare for exams?
One of the best things you can do (and for whatever reason, no one at school ever tells you this) is actually look at examiner reports for your paper, and see what the common mistakes are. Finding out where examiners like to see extra depth, and which topics tend to be under-revised or misunderstood, can help you tailor revision towards improving exam technique while making the exam seem less daunting.
For essay subjects, it’s key to understand the difference between certain question-types, and what they are asking you to do. ‘Analyse’, ‘Explain’ and ‘Discuss’ questions are all asking you to do something slightly different, and it’s important to be aware of what each one requires. Likewise, thinking about and planning your answer is super important. DON’T just see a keyword and write everything you know – a shorter, more focused answer is a hundred times better than a longer, rambling one that doesn’t necessarily show you’ve thought about the question.
But there’s one truly obvious and generally foolproof way to prepare exams, and that is to practice. And practice and practice and practice. The more questions and past papers you can do and the more accustomed you are to the topics and types of question that regularly come up, the more ready you’ll be to sit down for the real thing. No one will be expecting you to get 100% in every subject, but the more familiar you are with the style of question each paper requires, the better you’ll be able to tackle them, and the less stressed you’ll feel about the whole thing.
But simply practicing does not guarantee improvement. When you do a practice paper, and then go over it, look at where your weaknesses are, identify the areas you need to work on, and then buff up before trying another paper. There’s no better motivation to continue working hard than watching your marks gradually improve as you go!
And what about timing?
Having all the right knowledge for a paper is important, but if you’re not used to shaping it to a specific question and reproducing it under timed conditions, it’s not much use.
It seems obvious, but if you have a two hour paper with four questions, each worth 25 marks, spending half an hour on each question should be a no-brainer. An extra two or three minutes on one isn’t a catastrophe, if it means really nailing the question, but it would be very foolish to spend an hour writing the first answer. Maybe it’ll be excellent. Maybe it’ll be a genre-defining answer for that topic, changing how people think about it for years to come. Maybe you’ll get a perfect 25 marks. However, this would leave you with only two thirds of the time required for every other question (20 minutes instead of 30), and ultimately damage your chances of doing well in the whole exam.
Likewise, if the questions worth most marks are at the end of the paper, don’t dwell on the one and two markers at the beginning. Come back to them if you need to, but make sure you have time to tackle the ones that carry the most marks, or you’ll regret it at the end.
So remember to keep an eye on the clock!
The importance of time management also, of course, applies to your revision. Give yourself enough time to cover everything you need to know. Cramming the night before is not the best way to revise, so use the time wisely NOW. That way, you can feel confident, prepared and relaxed when it comes to the real thing.
We’ve said it before and will say it again: don’t panic. It won’t benefit you, or improve your answers, or make you feel better about your exams. Recalling everything you know in an exam setting is hard, some would argue impossible. Writing an exam essay in 45 minutes isn’t the same as having a couple of hours to write it as homework, or being able to check all your answers over once you’ve done them. Don’t stress out if the question you really wanted didn’t come up – take a deep breath, and do a different one. Don’t beat yourself up if you walk out the exam and remember that amazing point you didn’t write, or realise it was that equation you’d forgotten.
Practice, prepare, and give yourself enough time from now to get ready for exams.
If you need a bit of extra help with any GCSE or A Level subject, don’t hesitate to call the Temple of Minerva on 0208 819 3276, or contact us on email@example.com, to access one of our expert tutors.
By David Bard
David is a Minerva Pro Tutor who specialises in humanities subjects at A Level and is a trained expert in the 7 + and 11 + exams. Outside of tutoring, David writes blogs about everything that’s trending in education.