So you’re overwhelmed….
So you’ve got your HSC trials are in two weeks. You’ve got 6 exams in 5 days and you don’t know which way to turn. There is so much do do and you have a list as long as Everest, what should you look at doing first?
Or maybe you’ve got 4 exams in two days, and you know you’ll be fine for the first two, but there’s no time to study for that pesky biology exam that starts at 3pm on a Tuesday arvo.
Being a student is supposed to be all about time management, and the HSC is nicely spread out over a couple of weeks to allow that to happen. Unfortunately, trials, which are worth at least half of your out of school mark, are organised by individual schools and are generally more condensed and come straight after a busy time, with not much time to prepare.
In a perfect world, exam periods would only take place after a nice long study vacation, mid afternoon, and all of our exams would be evenly spaced 4 days apart. But in the real world, particularly when it comes to trials, exams aren’t like that. They sneak up on you, lulling you into a false sense of security before BAM, six exams in 10 days and your in school rank is decided.
What’s the best way to tackle your upcoming exams?
The first thing is, there are some big things to avoid. Do not, no matter how tempting it is, think that it is a good idea to start from scratch. Don’t go back and re-read all your texts. Don’t go back and do every maths problem again, from exercise 1.1 all the way to exercise 12.18. Honestly, if you haven’t managed to complete notes by this point, it probably isn’t worth it. Now before you decide I am from a competitor school trying to sabotage your marks - hear me out.
Exams are specific environments designed to test specific skills. It is not enough to have a beautiful set of notes, or have to done all the problems in the maths test book.
What you are being tested on is your ability to apply knowledge to a specific problem or question in a short time.
Do you need the knowledge? YES. But more useful, at this point, will be the ability to apply the knowledge. In exam conditions. That’s why maths tutoring programs are all about doing practice exams in the lead up to your trials. Thats why teachers throw practice questions at you. It’s because it’s not to your best interest to reread, relearn or rewrite notes.
The best strategy for tackling will be to do as much work as you can under exam conditions. Practice papers. Timed introductions. Shortened maths exams. Whatever will mimic that sense of pressure and get you familiar with answering new problems with the knowledge you already have.
When I was studying for my HSC, I spent two hours doing an English or History paper every morning and two hours doing a Maths or Biology paper every afternoon. I didn’t know all the answers to every questions. Particularly in Biology or History, because I hand’t spent hours staring at my notes, questions came up that I didn’t know the answer to. So after every paper, I went through, marked myself, and used my notes to cover the knowledge gaps. But I didn’t spend hours trying to let knowledge diffuse into my brain.
It’s actually harder to do practice papers
Studying is a much more passive process then responding to exam questions, writing notes is easy compared to struggling under time pressure to finish a maths problem, rereading texts, no matter how much of a drag, is easier than analysing them.
The reason people spend so much time studying, rewriting notes, redoing exercises, is because it’s a lot easier, and they convince themselves that it’s just as beneficial.
But it’s not.
The best thing you can do, in the lead up to your HSC trial exams, is give yourself as many opportunities to do practice exams as possible. Maybe this means going to the exams your tutoring programs run - Pinnacle for one runs a bunch each holidays - or a study camp. Maybe it means getting some friends together in a library, doing a two hour practice exam and then marking each other. Maybe you’re the kind of student who can self-regulate, and spend four hours a day in exam conditions. Whatever it takes, make sure you are practicing strategically for exam conditions, rather than lulling yourself into a false sense of security.