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50 Tips to boss that exam strategy

By Charlie Hale on 7 August 2018NSWblogExam adviceTrials

You got your first taste of HSC exam conditions with the mid-year exams and now trials are around the corner. With so much studying to be done, it’s easy to get lost in the content and forget about the ever-important exam strategy. But if getting a firm grip of the content is the HSC key, then exam strategy is the hand that turns the key.

A good exam strategy is the foundation to any good execution. And in the unpredictable world of the exam room, an exam strategy is the steadfast friend you can rely on.

  1. The night before, organise your exam stationery and triple check you have all the pens, pencils and calculators you need.
  2. If you’re looking up the wikihow on ‘How to Cram’ then just remember, at this stage in the game, you’re better off focusing on making the most of what you already know.
  3. Instead of cramming your encyclopedia of notes the night before, watch one of our videos where you can see what questions you get for each syllabus dot point and the best way to answer them.
  4. Do NOT pull an all-nighter. In the wise words of Ted Mosby’s mum: nothing good ever happens after 2am.
  5. It’s much more helpful to get a good night’s sleep.
  6. The day of, wear a few, thin layers of clothing. Being too hot or cold is a distraction you really don’t have time for.
  7. Eat a big, protein-lead breakfast; brain food is a thing.
  8. Get there on time. Being late is setting you up for a total stress meltdown. If it takes leaving an hour early, then do it.
  9. Take a bottle of water into the exam room. Pausing to drink for a few seconds can help to reset your brain.
  10. Don’t take your notes to the door – use the last few minutes to calm your thoughts and concentrate on your breathing.
  11. Don’t engage in those last-minute cramming conversations. Find a friend who’s going to keep you calm and in the right frame of mind. You’ve done all the studying you can at this point.
  12. Go to the bathroom before the clock starts.
  13. Know how much time you have for each section, before you enter the exam room.
  14. Reading time should include: reading the paper in its entirety and sussing out the questions - see what you can do, can ‘sort-of’ do and what you have NO idea about.
  15. Spend a few minutes deciding which ones to answer. Think about what quotes and sources you have memorised – what question do they suit best? Think about if you’re able to come up with an overarching argument to hold your question together.
  16. Only once you have figured out your strategy should you start to answer questions in your head.
  17. Take a deep breath.
  18. Once writing time starts, read the question, twice.
  19. If you struggle with time management, tackle the longer questions at the end of the paper first. That way, if you do run out of time, hopefully you have only missed a couple of one markers at the beginning of the paper, instead of that monster of a question on the back page.
  20. Don’t let a question you think you know straight away cause you to make a silly mistake. Take a breath, steady your pace.
  21. If a question is particularly complicated, put your pen down and read it without the urge to start writing immediately.
  22. If a question stumps you, come back to it later – don’t waste time staring at it! Whilst you’re completing the questions you do know, your brain will be subconsciously ticking over the tricky ones.
  23. Take note of how many marks each question is worth, and write your answer accordingly. There’s no point writing a paragraph for a question worth 1 mark, and equally, no good writing a couple of sentences for a question worth 20 marks.
  24. Figure out how the question is asking you to respond. If it uses the word demonstrate, it means that you need to give and explain an example to prove the statement in the question. If you see “Analyse” being used, you need to pull out the different elements of the topic in the question, show how they connect to each other and what those connections tell us.
  25. NESA was kind enough to type out all the key words for us AND give a definition. Check them out here, it’s seriously worth the 10 seconds.
  26. Stick to your time plan, even if that means moving on before you’re ready. You may have time to come back and finish a section, but there’s no point wasting all your time on one third of the paper.
  27. Never leave a question blank. At the very least, take a wild guess. No answer = zero marks. A small chance of being right is better than no chance.
  28. For Maths questions that you’re stuck on, adopt a trial and error approach; start trying out different strategies to see if you can make any headway.
  29. In Maths papers, always show your working out. Even if you get the answer wrong, you may get marks for working.
  30. For essay questions, highlight the keywords in the question to help keep your answer focussed. Use those keywords in your answer to make a really strong connection to the question.
  31. Always plan your long responses. Even if you’ve memorised an answer, this is a good time to “memory dump” things you might forget later, like important quotations. You’d rather waste three seconds writing that stuff down now, rather than waste three minutes trying to remember important things when you’re really struggling for time!
  32. Your plan should include: 1. Figuring out the main idea for your answer and 2. figuring out what body paragraphs you need to write.
  33. Come up with a general argument/thesis for your long answers and use this to hold your ideas together to form a cohesive answer.
  34. If you’ve memorised an essay answer, be sure to adapt it! Leave out the bits that aren’t relevant and fill in the gaps with your understanding.
  35. Replace vague words from your memorised response with keywords from the question to help you adapt your answer. E.g. if the question talks about time and place – then maybe every time you say ‘context’, you’d much rather say ‘time and place.’
  36. If your memorised response doesn’t fit, don’t force it. You’re better off making major changes to your essay than regurgitating a beautifully written essay that doesn’t at all address the question.
  37. If you have a total mind-blank and can’t remember your memorised response, don’t freak out. Spend a few extra minutes at the planning stage, teasing out what you do know. Don’t fret about those “perfectly” formed sentences you’ve forgotten, focus on what you do know and build from there.
  38. If analysing source material, make a clear decision about what the material is telling you before you answer the question.
  39. For multiple choice questions, rule out the ones you know are obviously wrong to narrow your options.
  40. Use the facts from the multiple choice as evidence in other answers in your exams.
  41. If you come across a type of question you haven’t seen before, don’t panic, it happens. No matter how weird the question looks, find the keywords, find how the question wants you to respond and then use the topics and ideas in the syllabus to answer it. Just remember to answer it in a way that specifically references the question.
  42. Pause every so often. Breaks work. It’s science. Have a drink, crack your knuckles, take a few deep breaths. Do anything you can to take your mind off the exam for a few seconds and do it every half-hour.
  43. If the pressure starts getting to you, take a few minutes out and concentrate on deep breathing and re-focusing your attention on just finishing the paper. Five minutes spent recollecting your thoughts is better than half an hour of totally freaking out.
  44. Pinpoint the stressful thoughts (getting a certain mark, impressing/disappointing your parents, reaching a certain career), acknowledge them and tell yourself you will come back to them after finishing the exam.
  45. Your “pressure strategy” should look something like this: go through the exam and find the question that you are comfortable with. Finish that one question. Go back to the beginning of the exam, work your way through the questions and if anything is too hard, move on and come back later if you have time.
  46. If you don’t have time to finish an essay question, write your main points down in bullets. You will lose some marks for sentence structure etc., but your argument and reasoning will be on the page and that’s going to get you more marks than writing only half an essay in full sentences.
  47. Check your work.
  48. Check you haven’t missed the whole back page, check that two pages haven’t stuck together to hide a whole section, check the clarity in your essay responses and edit if necessary.
  49. Check it all again (if you have time).
  50. And, exhale.

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