Exam strategy

At the moment, I’m busy most evenings tutoring, as we reach the peak of exam revision season. I’m often asked what the best way is to prepare for exams.

 

Most of the tutoring I’m doing is for maths, so I’m thinking in terms of those specifically, but most of this advice applies to any subject.

Past Papers

The best way to revise is to find a source of past papers to work through. Exam boards make past papers available on their websites, along with the mark schemes, although the latest past paper is usually reserved for schools to use as a formal mock exam. So download a past paper and work through it, marking your own work, and gradually weaning yourself away from using your books to look up techniques.

 

Alternatively, especially for the new-style maths questions, you can buy a pack of practice exam papers.

Exam Question Triage

Practise going through the paper quickly, categorising each question in one of three ways:

  • Easy answer, no problems at all
  • I think I could probably get this with a bit of thought
  • No way do I have any idea what they want with this one.

Answer all the questions in the first category (unless your revision is tight for time, in which case you can skip these altogether).

 

Then start working through the second category, seeing how far you can get on your own and then looking up the rest of the technique. If necessary, check the answer and any guidance/intermediate mark information given, and work backwards.

 

Don’t worry about the third category until you’re more comfortable with category 2. You might well find that as you master 2, you put more questions in that category instead of 3 anyway.

On the Day

By the time you get to exam day, you should be practised in dividing the questions in this way. Make sure you answer all the category 1 questions quickly and accurately. Then go for the marks in category 2. If you still have time, try to put something down for category 3 questions. If you can show that you understand what maths is involved, and get some way towards an answer, then you might pick up a valuable mark or two.

 

Whatever you do, don’t waste time on a question while there are easier marks to be picked up elsewhere.

 

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