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High School Exam Preparation – Top Tips from a 95 ATAR Student

Ashlee who achieved an ATAR of 95+ shared her top tips for high school exam preparation.

The final HSC exams are the biggies, the end of the marathon. It’s important to know how to prep for them. You do get a few tries sitting exams during the year; trials and maybe some exam-type assessment tasks. Whilst they do kinda suck, they’re a good opportunity to practice and test out different strategies to maximize your mark and most importantly lower your stress levels. Here are some tips on how to create an effective plan for exams.

Tip 1 – Knowing what you’re actually doing.

Whether it be an assessment task or the final exam, set out to know exactly WHAT will be in the test before you start studying. You don’t have to go overboard- just know what some broad outlines at least. Highlighting through criteria, annotating the syllabus, or writing checklists. And don’t be afraid to clarify with your teacher.

Personally, I’m a huge fan of lists. So for both assessment tasks and exams, I would usually write myself a big checklist on what to do. I felt super accomplished when I crossed things off, which in turn motivated me. Syllabus dotpoints were my outline for these lists, and it could be as specific as splitting up a single point, or as broad as an entire topic. Just any sort of organized approach in dealing with the exam. This is an important step, because it defines how you’ll carry out the rest of your study.

Tip 2 – Have a game plan.

After organizing what content you need to go over, it should be clear what you’re going to do FOR that content. This is usually defined by what subject it is and how you personally learn. For example, for maths, you might decide that you need 10 minutes of memorizing formulas and 50 minutes of practice. By doing this, you can also identify what subjects or areas may need more attention. You will naturally have subjects which are more difficult or easier than others, and you can decide how to subsequently schedule these.

Next, create some sort of study schedule. This is important to coordinate with the topics of the exam/your checklist, and plan it so that everything gets done or revised at least one day before the exam. That way, you have a day or two to go over things that maybe need clarification or for extra practice.

You don’t need a conventional study timetable, either; saying that you’ll do English from 5-6pm everyday may not work for you. I would sometimes get too caught up on the time of these study sessions and it would actually hinder my study; I’m sure you too have thought, “I’ll start studying at 4.” and round comes 4:15, and well, we’ll just have to wait for 5:00 now because it’s a nice round number. So instead I planned my study through numbers of ‘sessions’ where one session represented 50-60 minutes of work and a specific task to complete. I would plant to complete a certain amount a week. They really helped with my productivity.

Tip 3 – Practice papers!

These are super important. But you don’t really need to go overboard. During the year, I really focused on doing regular practice papers just to improve my answering technique and get the hang of it. The subjects I did the most papers included English, English Extension 1, Biology and PDHPE.

When you just start doing practice papers, I recommend having sample answers if possible, so that you can compare your answers to those. Individual marking this way is helpful because you get a feel for how to answer certain types of questions. (Side tip: Print out the BOSTES list of verbs for reference and eventually learn the main ones applicable to your subjects. It’s really helpful and being specific this way can improve marks.)
I am not a believer in doing a ridiculous amount of practice papers purely for the sake of doing practice papers and being able to say, “I did 10 Biology papers this week.” They’re only as effective as you make them to be. Once you know how to answer questions generally, you can do well. For example, with PDHPE, the general outline is: a definition of important terms, answering the question with specific syllabus links, and examples. I was able to pick this up after a few papers. After realizing this, doing papers become kind of redundant if I already knew the content and could get the marks.

But this doesn’t mean abandoning past papers. When you know the content and the answering techniques, I suggest moving to planning answers. Look at questions and bulletpoint or briefly write an answer, then double check it with sample answers. 5 minute essay plans for English were also a go-to leading up to the exams. Take a question, dissect it, and plan what you’d say in each paragraph for each text.

Tip 4 – Exam day rituals

It’s also helpful to have a plan or idea of how the exam day will go, including the night before and the morning/afternoon of. Before sleeping, be completely ready for the next day and plan to get to the exam at least 15 minutes before it starts. Make sure you get a good sleep of at least 8 hours (ideally 10). Get a good breakfast and listen to some classical music prior to the exam.

On the morning of the exam, it’s a little late to study. Nevertheless if you’re an opportunist, those hours before the exam can be the chance to cram a few quotes. I would just suggest being careful with this, because it can just stress you out and be harmful rather than help you.

Have a positive outlook too! It’s really important to set a good mindset of how this exam will go. Even if you only studied 30 minutes before the exam, get some confidence up and just do your best. If you convince yourself you’ll smash the exam, chances are your marks will improve. Getting hyped up and cheering on others even sarcastically makes you feel better and is a great way to let out some of that nervous energy.

Just breathe and good luck!

For any questions or tutoring inquiries, contact ash.negrone@gmail.com

Author: Ashlee Negrone

Ash studies Pre-Medicine at the University of Technology Sydney. She gradutated in 2016 with an ATAR of 95.3 with the subjects Biology, Adv English, PDHPE, English Ext 1, Design and Technology and Studies of Religion 2U.
Contact ash.negrone@gmail.com for tutoring inquiries.

Ashlee Negrone

Ash studies Pre-Medicine at the University of Technology Sydney. She gradutated in 2016 with an ATAR of 95.3 with the subjects Biology, Adv English, PDHPE, English Ext 1, Design and Technology and Studies of Religion 2U. Contact ash.negrone@gmail.com for tutoring inquiries.

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