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Excerpt from 'Inspiration Education - A Step-By-Step Guide to Acing Your NCEA Exams':
We get it. Exams can be tricky.
We know what it feels like to feel prepared for an exam, then have that illusion shattered the minute we open the first page of the exam paper. We’ve all been there.
Maybe your goal is to just make it through an exam without panicking. Maybe you’re just aiming to pass. Maybe you’re going for top grades and just missing out.
Here are some great strategies for getting ahead in exams…Some of the strategies you may be doing already; that’s awesome – spend more time doing these and this guide should help you refine these. Some of the strategies you may have never even thought about before, let alone tried. These may need a bit of practice to get the hang of. That’s OK too, and a normal part of learning new strategies.
Figure out what you know and what you need to know
To differentiate between what concepts you already know, and what concepts you still need to learn, follow these steps:
- Download a checklist from the NCEA website that covers the points you need to know for the subject you are studying (checklists can also be found from StudyTime, NoBrainTooSmall or from your teacher).
- For each point on the checklist, test yourself by writing a brief overview of the concept or answering a few quiz-style questions about the topic.
- Rate your knowledge of each concept on the checklist on a scale of 1-5: 1 not knowing anything and 5 being super confident.
- Complete the subject audit form here and include your concept ratings.
- When studying, spend most of your time focusing on the concepts that you rated the lowest so you have a well-rounded knowledge of all the concepts you need to know.
Work in sprints
Follow these steps to become an expert studier (or marathon runner!) in no time:
- Set a timer for 15 minutes.
- Put in some solid study until the timer goes off, making sure you’re spending every minute working with no distractions.
- Have a ten-minute break to check your phone, walk around, stretch, get outside etc.
- Rinse and repeat.
- Increase the amount of time you’re studying for as you begin to feel more comfortable studying for extended lengths of time.
Link concepts together for better understanding
There are multiple ways of ‘linking’ information:
- Think about how the concepts you’re learning relates to previous information you’ve already learnt. For example, when learning about DNA, you could think about where you’ve heard the word DNA before – on the news, on YouTube or TV, or maybe in a video game.
- Think about how the concept you’re learning relates to your own life. For example, when learning about Alleles you might think about how you have blue eyes, while your sister has blue or brown eyes.
- Create metaphors or analogies for certain processes or concepts. For example, you could think of DNA as carrying instructions through the order of bases like a book carries words through the order of letters.
Avoid ‘illusions of learning’ by practicing retrieval
Try these retrieval strategies to avoid illusions of learning:
- Teach the information to a friend without your notes open.
- Cover up a page in your textbook after reading it and see if you can explain it to yourself.
- Practice the material like you are tutoring a friend.
- Get a blank paper and write down everything you know without your notes.
- Check your notes and see what concepts might not have fully stuck.
- Rinse and repeat.
- Practice past exam papers.
Do past exam papers in exam conditions and reflect on past exams
Follow these steps for effective exam preparation:
- Download a practice exam from the NCEA website (or the StudyTime website)
- Find a quiet place at home and get a family member or friend to be the “examiner”.
- Turn off your phone and put your notes away.
- Do the exam timed.
- Mark your answers using the marking schedule and reflect on the mistakes you made.
- For each answer write the model solution and make note of what you still need to work on.
Have a look over your past exam papers and ask yourself the following:
- What went wrong with my answers?
- Did I write the answers in the way that the examiners wanted?
- Did I understand the concepts in enough depth?
- Did I manage my time well on the day?
- What went wrong with my exam preparation?
- Did I do enough past exams?
- Did I have a plan of how to study?
- Did I study in the most effective way?
- Did I continuously self-assess my own knowledge as I was studying?
- Where was I successful and why?