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Exam Advice

Exams are a fact of life and there is nothing you can do to avoid them. The following are some of the things you can do to make them easier on you:

  1. Prepare summary notes as you go
  2. For those students, particularly in VCE mathematics, who are allowed to take in notes to an exam, preparing them early is the biggest key to exam success. As you finish an exercise in a textbook or finish a topic, you should immediately summarise what you have learned. This will make it easier to do your pre-exam revision.

  3. Use your summary notes to do revision exercises
  4. A key test of whether or not your summary notes are complete is in attempting revision exercises. If you are unable to complete a question using your summary notes it means that they are incomplete. You should therefore go back and update your summary notes to cover the missing material.

  5. Practice past papers using your summary notes
  6. Again, testing that you can complete past papers using nothing more than your summary notes is a good test to see if you have truly covered everything you need. Past papers will also give you an idea of how questions are asked and what topics are focused on. If possible, try to do the past papers in exam like conditions.

  7. If available, read the past exam assessment reports
  8. Past exam assessment reports will help you to identify the areas that the examiners are likely to focus on in the upcoming exam. Areas in which past students demonstrated weaknesses are more likely to be focused on than areas in which great strength was shown.

  9. Avoid cramming or night-before studying
  10. Cramming may provide short-term benefits in some areas, but it typically results in a superficial understanding of a topic. Most exams will require you to demonstrate much more than superficial knowledge to obtain a passing grade. The best way to prepare for such exams is through early and regular study rather than cramming.

  11. Avoid others’ negativity about the exam
  12. A lot of students behave like headless chickens prior to exams, running around exclaiming that they are "So going to fail this exam!". Try to avoid these students immediately prior to the exam as their anxiety and stress will only feed your own. If you have prepared adequately for the exam, you should feel reasonably calm about it and therefore do well.

  13. Plan your exam time
  14. Many students express the fact that they ran out of time in the exam. During the reading time, you should be planning how you are going to answer the paper. Work out how many minutes per mark there are on the paper and set time limits accordingly. There is no point getting a perfect answer to a 3 mark question if you miss out on answering questions worth 20 marks due to poor time management.

  15. Start with a "hard" question
  16. It may seem silly, but when you start the exam, start with attempting what you believe is a hard question. Once you get stuck, leave it and move on to an easy question and keep going. Most likely you will find that by the time you eventually come back to this hard question, you have sub-consciously figured out how to continue.

  17. Write down what you know for every question
  18. Amazingly, some students spend a lot of time trying to answer a difficult question and leave some questions with blank answers. When you start the exam, you should write down all you know for every question, like a brain-dump, putting in the formulae or key concepts required. Even if that is all you do, it may be enough to get some consequential marks. Equally, this strategy can also help you to get unstuck on more difficult questions.

  19. Grab the edge of the desk, close your eyes and breathe
  20. Again, it may sound silly, but every now and again during an exam you will find your stress and anxiety rising. This is due to the fight-or-fight defensive response mechanisms that we all experience in stressful situations. A good way to counter this is to simply grab hold of the edge of the desk, close your eyes and take a few deep breaths. This will help to lower your anxiety/stress and allow your brain to focus again on the questions.


Ovens, Matthew. "Exam Advice" Retrieved from YourStatsGuru.

Last updated: 18 January 2018

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