Mock Exam Special

Mocks matter - here's how you can be ready for them.

Why care about mocks?

Mock exams are a funny thing. People usually react to them in one of two ways – either they freak out completely, or they couldn’t care less.

As you can imagine, neither of these two reactions is ideal. Neither leads to you performing your best.

Exams come down to two crucial things, really:

  1. Do you know your stuff?
  2. Can you get it all out onto the exam paper in a way that gets the marker on your side?

Mocks matter (I’m talking to the couldn’t-care-less camp here) because they let you test out those two bullet points together, see what’s working and what isn’t.

They do this by letting you experience exam conditions, which can be pretty different to your casual studying session with music in the background and unlimited time available.

Both typical reactions to exams – panic and not caring – are best fixed by a plan. So let’s get to it. We’re gonna deal with that first bullet point today, and cover the second one in a follow-up post closer to mock exams.

What should you be doing between now and mock exams?

Studying, basically.

(I’m sorry, I couldn’t resist)

In all seriousness, effective studying is about planning your time out well, and using effective study techniques that mean you learn more in less time. We get it – no one wants to be glued to their desk all day.

Do a subject audit – where do you stand?

First, we need an overview of where you stand for all subjects that you have an exam in. This helps us plan out our study effectively, so we’re targeting the right areas.

It’s pretty tempting to just study for those subjects you’re already good at. That’s normal – everyone likes to feel good about themselves, and going over stuff we already know can feel reassuring.

But… it’s not very useful. (You kinda knew that already, right?)

Studying stuff we’re not good at is hard and uncomfortable, but it’s also the best way to get ahead.

It’s like going to the gym – if it’s super easy, it’s probably not doing much for you. If you’re really good at English, but not keeping up so well with Maths, then just going over English again and again is like working out a single muscle group. Basically, don’t be the person who misses legs day.

How do you do a subject audit?

Make a quick list of all the subjects you have an exam in. Next to each one, rate your confidence in that subject out of ten.

This gives you an overview of which subjects you should be focusing on more, and which ones are pretty sorted.

Ask yourself elaborative questions.

Once we know what subjects need the most focus, it’s time to actually get studying. Let’s start by expanding our knowledge of each subject with elaborative questions.

Elaborative questions are basically questions that ask you to explain something in more detail. They’re questions like “What does that character show us?”, “What’s the difference between velocity and acceleration?” or “When would we use simultaneous equations?”

What’s the point of elaborative questions? (That’s an elaborative question right there!)

If you think about your brain like a map, elaborative questions join up the different paths and give us landmarks to navigate. In other words, they connect different parts of a subject, and make it easier to remember key parts that help us work the rest out.

So grab your textbook or notes and come up with questions that someone might ask you if they didn’t know the subject as well as you do. And then answer them in your own words!

Less is more – summarise each topic!

Now that we’ve expanded with elaborative questions, we want to condense it down to what really matters.

Grabbing a piece of A4 paper and summarising a topic on just that sheet is a really useful study technique.


Because it makes you decide what matters and what doesn’t. It also forces you to organise the information (tables and diagrams are good here).

Both of these things are really good for memory – you’re much more likely to remember what went on that A4 than remember those 30 pages of notes.

Test, test and test again.

Testing yourself is really important. It can be offputting – who wants to discover what they don’t know?

But you need to practice getting stuff out of your brain, not just putting it in. Most of the time at school is spent learning information, while exams are about getting that information out again. Testing is how we practice that.

Testing is also much more effective than just reading over notes or copying them out. If you want to spend less time studying and more time doing fun stuff, then testing is how you can make that happen.

You can test yourself by using flashcards, by explaining concepts to your parents, writing practice essays… there are lots of options.

Hit up old exam papers.

NCEA has a certain structure and a certain way of wording things, and it’s worth getting to know that by doing past exams. (The NZQA website can be a pain to navigate, so we organised all the past exam papers for you)

Now, this needs to be done like a real exam. No having the answers next to you!

It’s far too easy to fall into the trap of looking at the answers and thinking that they look pretty okay – you *totally* would have said that! This is really misleading, because even though you probably recognise most of the stuff, coming up with it by yourself is harder.

If you’ve ever been in an exam and recognised a question but couldn’t quite answer it, you know what I mean. Do it properly now, and you’ll thank yourself later.

Whether you’re freaking out about mock exams or feeling waaaay too chill about them, make a plan and use study techniques that really work. This means you’ll be prepared and in the zone, while still having time to do fun stuff. Which is what we all want, right?

Mocks matter, because they let you experience real exam conditions. But prepping for them doesn’t have be painful – use our handy hints to make sure you’ve got this (minus the stress).