You know that feeling when you’ve studied as much as you possibly can but still make silly mistakes?
What about the feeling when your teacher/stopwatch says there’s only 5 minutes left and you’re only about 70% through the paper?
We’ve all been there and experienced both of these situations. Unfortunately, the unmerciful nature of year 12 where every assessment counts, means that we have little wiggle room to blame our bad rank or mark on silly mistakes or simply not attempting 30% of the paper.
Fortunately, if you are a victim of either of the situations or even both, the solution is a common one.
You’ve heard the usual “past papers are king blah blah blah” repeated by your teachers and past students. Sure past papers are great for providing questions similar to the one’s that will come up in the exam. However, how many times have you used a past paper to actually simulate exam conditions?
Probably not many, if at all. You probably attempt a past paper using the widely denoted ‘rule of three’ where your first attempt is open book, second attempt is semi open and third is completely closed book.
Unfortunately, this technique whilst widely used, is probably doing you more harm than good.
Think of your brain like a muscle. You need to make it work in order for it to grow, or in this case learn more information and adapt to a variety of situations.
However, when you implement the rule of three, you’re essentially making the task easier for your brain by taking the first attempt open book and the second attempt semi open. This means that your brain isn’t fully used as all you’re doing is flicking through your notes and writing down answers without actually testing your memory capacity.
Fortunately for you, the last attempt which is closed book allows you to test your memory, but by then you’re probably over studying that subject and you’re on to the next one and so the last attempt gets neglected.
So the rule of three isn’t that effective when studying, so what should you do instead?
What I recommend you to do is attempt a past paper in Timed Exam conditions and Closed Book. By doing this as your first step you really find out what you don’t know. By the end you’ll have large blanks where questions were left out and then pages scrunched up in the corner. But when you review the test you’ll be able to tell what you know 100% and what you don’t know. From here, you know exactly what you need to study and so you can go study that. Furthermore, you’ve worked your brain like a muscle. You’ve put it under the same stress as if it was in an exam and now your brain has experienced it before, you won’t get so freaked out/nervous/stressed in the exam.
Now, once you’ve completed the test once, and you’ve marked and revised the parts you didn’t know attempt the test again. Once again close book and timed. Except this time, you adjust the time based on how much you got right last time.
So it works something like this:
- For a 3 hour exam, you have 1.8 minutes per mark. Then based on how many marks you got the first time round, you multiply it by 1.8. eg if I got 30/100 then 30 *1.8 = 54 minutes.
- Once you have this number, halve it and then subtract it from the total time available. So continuing with the same example, 3 hours minus 27 minutes (half of 54) means that I have 2 hours and 33 minutes to complete the test the second time.
Why do all this?
Well, the second time you attempt the test, you already know the answers to the stuff you go right last time, and so it should be a given that you get them right again. Moreover, you would be able to write these answers much quicker than if you had to write answers for a question you didn’t know. Thus, by adjusting the time limit, you place yourself under more stress in that you’ll have to complete the exam quicker, whilst answering the same 100 marks worth of questions. By training and using your brain in situations like this, you can adapt it to work hard, faster and more efficiently in exam conditions, meaning that you’re not going to make silly mistakes and more, and nor are you going to miss questions due to a lack of time.
So this method works well for most exams, but what about English/[insert essay writing subject here]?
It’s always English that’s the odd one out. For English and any other essay writing subject, you can’t really do a test again and fix up your mistakes or shorten the time limit based on the mistakes. So instead allocate 10-15% less time for each writing section. So in an English exam you have 40 mins per essay and 10-15% of that is 4-6 minutes. That means you should allocate 34-36 minutes per section. By doing this, you are forced to write in a concise manner (learn about that here) as well as write a lot quicker. This will help you in the exam to manage stress as well spend extra time planning out responses to incredibly hard questions that you may encounter.