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What your mid-year exam results do and don’t mean

By Simon Hennessy on 29 August 2019NSWblogUKblogExam advice

The mid-year exams – they’re a funny one. Your teachers will tell you they are super important, your older siblings will insist they mean absolutely nothing. The truth, as always, lies somewhere in between.

Once you’ve got your exam results, the question that arises – no matter whether you’re pleased or disappointed – is the same: what do these results actually mean? Luckily, we’ve pinpointed a few ways to get some real value out of your results, and just as importantly, some classic mistakes to avoid.

Do: Find out where work needs to be done

The number one benefit to come out of mid-year exams is pinpointing where your weakest points are. You might have an idea of what subjects and topics you need to improve, but nothing makes this more plain than the black and white numbers on an exam results page.

Remember, your study timetable doesn’t need to treat all your subjects with equal love and affection. If your Maths exam result shows a good deal more room for improvement than English, it’s time to find some more room for Maths.

Basically, think of your mid-year exam results as a set of timetable recommendations. Follow them and you’ll give your chances of improving your lower-performing subjects a real boost.

Don’t: Assume your top subjects will stay there

BUT, and it’s a big but, this does not mean ignoring your best subjects.

If you nailed Geography, good for you. I’m happy for you. But if you think that means you’re done with Geo until the end-of-year exams roll around, you’re in for a surprise.

Remember – whatever you’ve been doing for your top subjects has brought you to this mark, so it stands to reason to keep doing it. Trading off some of your time to a subject in greater need is okay, but make sure you protect your proudest mark by staying on top of it.

Do: Go back through the exam

There is a strong temptation to take one look at your returned paper, then toss that demonic script in the bin forever. But there is value to be found from a trip back through a paper beyond just pinpointing the topics that need work. Revisiting the paper will also revisit the exam experience and help you refine your technique.

I’d always have one Maths question I panicked over during the exam. Going back through would help figure not just how I got the sums wrong, but how my approach was off – and therefore how I could improve it for next time.

Remember, trial exams are as much about preparing for the exam experience as the exam material; going back through the paper reinforces the lessons to be learned from the experience.

Don’t: Believe that mid-years are ‘way harder’

We’ve all heard it so many times that it’s hard not to believe it. The urban myth that mid-year exams are made way harder than their more important end-of-year cousins is as old as exams themselves.

And here’s the thing. It might be true. But it also might not be. So there’s honestly no point in thinking about it.

Treat your mid-year exams, and results, as if they were just the same standard as your end-of-year exams and you’ll ensure your preparation is up to the right standard. The alternative – assuming the mid-years were excessively hard, then finding out the opposite is true at the end of the year, is the kind of situation you really want to avoid.

You also have to remember that people thing their mid-year exams are ‘harder’ because there’s less time to prepare for them, not necessarily because the content of the exam is actually any harder.

Do: Talk to your teacher about your exam

Having an open dialogue with your teacher about your progress in the subject is handy all year round, but going through a full exam arms you with a new set of questions to achieve some valuable insight from them.

This might mean asking your teacher on what it is you did wrong in terms of approaching the section of the Chemistry paper you thought you were going to nail. It could be getting advice on how you can make all the same points in your English essay, but in ten minutes less.

The point is that your teacher is your best resource, so once you have an exam experience and a set of exam results to provide you with ammo, you should be picking your teacher’s brains to help figure out the best way to build on your result.

Don’t: Give up

It might sound like a title to a crappy Disney song, but there’s no point in hiding from it: mid-year exam results can be super demoralising. And when you get a result that is way, way lower than you thought you deserved, the temptation to throw in the towel is real.

But if you can use that result as something to learn from, in the long run, it will be a positive. Remember, the mid-years are for gaining experience and learning where you need to improve. A disappointing result right now just means a lot of room for improvement. You may even end up being glad for the wake-up call, so long as you make sure to keep your head up.


Mid-year exams, ultimately, are just another stop along the road. But they are a valuable one. Taking the value from them, and leaving behind the damaging bits, means that regardless of your results, you’ll have made the most of them.

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