The preparation stage
Know your learning style. I have covered this in more detail in a previous post. Some people consolidate their knowledge through writing, some by listening, some by explaining, others by drawing diagrams or concept maps. Figure out which ways help information stick into your head. This is step 1 – don’t skip over it!
Organise your time. Pre-plan your study times, allocate study sessions appropriately to all of your subjects, and try to stick to them as much as possible. Give some thought as to what time of the day your brain takes in information the best, and work with it, not against it. If you are a morning person, DON’T stay up past midnight studying! Don’t forget to schedule in down-time - especially exercise - which will kill off stress hormones (such as cortisol), and produce happy hormones (endorphins).
Do questions! Do as many exam-style questions as you can get your hands on, over and over. Seek out the ones that really give you lots of trouble and try to understand what’s going on. The best way to learn is to make mistakes and understand where you went wrong.
Identify problem areas, and go back to revise. Doing questions and getting things wrong before the exam is a blessing because you still have time to fill in knowledge blanks. Work out topics and question types that are difficult, and spend more time understanding them fully. Take time to go and see your teacher, refer to classmates, or get a tutor for this step if it’s causing you serious grief.
Study by yourself and in groups. Studying by yourself is great because you can study YOUR problem areas. A group environment encourages everyone to be able to put what they understand into words. You can help each other understand tricky concepts, and discuss answers to questions that you all found difficult. If you understand a concept well, the best way to consolidate your knowledge is to teach it to someone else! Sometimes the process of trying to explain something to someone enables the proverbial light bulb to go off in your head, and all of a sudden everything is clear.
Do practice exams under exam conditions. Nothing gets you prepared for exam time management than actually doing practice exams. I highly recommend to my students doing VCAA exams last, which will give you a good idea of how a proper VCE exam feels when you are close to doing your own.
Practice relaxation techniques. If you are prone to stress and anxiety in exams then I highly recommend practicing meditation or relaxation techniques long before exam time. The goal of starting early is so that you can be practiced enough to be able to “switch on” your calm when you really need it. In an exam you want to be able to concentrate on the task at hand in a calm and positive manner, and meditation is an excellent vehicle to get you there - my choice is zen meditation. If you are new to meditation, check out this article. But any modality (prayer, practicing gratitude, breathing) that relaxes you is absolutely fine as long as it doesn’t interrupt the exam environment.
Think about how you might structure your time in each exam. In early practice, take the time to answer questions and understand them fully, but in your final preparations and in the exam, if a multiple choice question is taking you 5 minutes, its well and truly time to move on. Don’t get to the end of your time and realize there were questions you could have answered easily but didn’t have time to do them.
Take breaks when studying long hours. Get up, stretch, get food and drink, and most importantly, keep your body moving! Get a dose of oxygen and you will return to study clear-headed and energized.
About the Author
Amelia has been a Chemistry Educator since 2002, and is passionate about making learning simple. She believes that ANYONE can learn ANYTHING they want if they have the drive and interest and are willing to do the hard yards.