Okay team, we’re fully into exam season now, and as recent Australian Bachelor Nick ‘the Honey Badger’ Cummins would say, we’re all as busy as a one armed bricklayer in Baghdad.



Whether you’re a new year 11, freshly scarred from your MCAT experience a couple months back, or a veteran year 13 about to do your third rodeo, exams are always a bit of a mission.


Right now, we’ve past the stage of doing little bits of productive study on the odd day to make consistent and incremental progress towards your monthly goals. As Patrick Gower said, right now, it’s boss time.


IT'S BOSS TIMETag a mate who needs some extra motivation

Posted by StudyTime NZ on Wednesday, November 8, 2017


So put your blueberries down, make your third coffee, wipe away the tears – Chad – and take note of our top 10 things to remember before exams begin.



1. If, then…


One pre-exam strategy that can go a long way is ‘If, then. . .’ planning. We’ve all been in the situation where we open the exam booklet and the essay question you were after isn’t there, the topic is the one that you prepared the least for, or the unfamiliar text poem makes no sense.


‘If, then. . .’ is a pre-prepared strategy where you plan what you’ll do if a certain hypothetical eventuates.


For example, if you don’t like any of the essay questions, then you may want to take unfamiliar text out first, and then pick the question that allows for most personal interpretation. If the biology question is on something to do with photosynthesis, then list out everything you know even if you think it’s unimportant.



It doesn’t have to stop there – it can be as simple but effective as ‘If I get a mind blank when I turn the page, then I’ll look up at the ceiling and take a few deep breaths’.


Prior planning prevents poor performance.



2. Make sure you’ve got what you need. 



You don’t want to be that one person who forgets their student ID or NZQA card, or is asking for a pen outside the hall, or is worse – dehydrated.


Make sure you’ve got your ziplock bag full of everything you need for the exam (check the NZQA website if you’re unsure), your clear drink bottle, your calculator, your pen, back-up pen, and back-up-back-up pen sussed the night before.



3. Grades aren’t indicative of intelligence


Your grades do not reflect how ‘smart’ or ‘not-smart’ you are. More often than not, they’re indicative of the effectiveness of our strategy, not IQ. What this means is that our grades are something that we can control and work on.


Take some time to think about whether your study strategy is working for you.


Remember, you want to be studying smart, not hard. If you think you’ve been doing an awful lot of reading and re-writing notes, or you’ve been through twelve highlighters already, maybe stop and check whether you’re doing yourself justice.



Instead, make sure you’re studying in a way that’s challenging yourself. Instead of skimming the practice questions and thinking, “Yeah, I’ve got that down’, give them a go. Reading and re-reading is easy, but flash cards are more difficult. Also, there’s a strong relationship between the amount of past papers students sit and how well they do in the real thing.


Now is the time to try some more uncomfortable study methods; because if it makes you more comfortable in the exam, it’ll be worth it.



4. Grades aren’t the be-all and end-all


Good grades will make you feel proud for a long time (exhibit: your parents talking about what they got in biology back in the day); however, a disappointing grade won’t end your world.


Exams are as much of a learning process as the studying is, so don’t worry if you can’t bang out E’s every time – even the best athletes in the world have bad days. Exam anxiety is definitely a common issue that can affect our performance and mindset, but you can reassure yourself that the worst case scenario still isn’t that bad.



What you get in Level 2 gene expression doesn’t have to stay with you for the rest of your life. Give it your best go, and if it’s truly your best go, you’ll be good. More than that, you’ll get some lessons for the next exams, which may mean more.



5. It’s okay to try 


High school culture has always viewed academic success and being ‘cool’ as very – and sometimes exclusively – independent. There seems to be a societal expectation that we crap on exams and our own academic achievement like they’re death and taxes; when in reality, they can be more like KiwiSaver: put work in now, get a yacht when you retire.



Think of some of the most successful and highly-regarded people on the planet. Chances are, their hard work is what distinguishes them and has put them where they are today. If that’s what makes them cool, then hard work is cool.



6. The NZQA website kind of gives you the answers


At the end of every year, the markers all get together in the marking castle wearing their robes and repeating the exam room instructions over and over in monotonous ritualistic tones. They also write that year’s assessment report for every external, and release it along with the assessment schedules.



The assessment schedules are literally the marking guide the marker will have next to them when they’re marking your exam script. It tells the marker what is needed for A, M, and E, and so it also tells you what you need to give them in order to get A, M, or E.


The assessment report is a list of things that the markers found separated everyone up according to grade boundaries. They tell us what the students who got E did, what the students who got M did, and what were common mistakes.


These gems are undervalued, and not many people look at them when they’re studying. It pays off to check them, even quickly, before heading into your exam!



7. Study =/= hours spent at the library



If you’re doing unfamiliar text, firstly, sucks to be you; secondly, you’ll know all about connotations. Well, “study” has some pretty bad connotations – when we hear it, we think of mindless hours spent reading notes and thinking about how much school sucks.


Study can be done in short, effective, engaging bursts. You don’t need to sit down and read for hours at a time. Instead, try the Pomodoro Method: 25 minutes on, 5 minute break.


“Study can be done in short, effective, engaging bursts.”


Combined with this is goals: your study should be goal-driven, not time-driven. Instead of thinking about how many hours you’ve spent studying that day or how many hours you need to do, think about what goals you want to accomplish. The smaller the better! It can be as simply as, “suss the definitions of organelles”.


Next, try and fit study into your day outside of a time-based schedule. You can watch a video on the bus, read a Walkthrough Guide at Starbucks, answer one practice question before taking a short break, or call your mate up at night to go over the exam.


This will all add up – basically, study doesn’t have to be long and painful.



8. Team work makes the dream work



Great study is active, not passive. Passive study is where you’re just going through the motions without really challenging yourself, like re-reading and highlighting. Active study is where you’re challenging your brain by testing its ability, in order to achieve goals.


Two great ways of active study are teaching and testing. This is where your mates come in – “studying” passively with friends is a sure-fire way to get to talking about lunch or that 10/10 sitting a few tables down. Testing each other, however, works.


Also, take the role of teacher for a bit to explain how and why concepts work. This will reinforce it in your long-term memory, and serve as a way to practice doing it in the exam.



9. Prep like an athlete


The best athletes in the world take care of themselves before something important, and they also realise that being uncomfortable for a little bit can reap rewards.



Make sure you’re sussing your sleep, eating well, drinking lots of water (so you don’t feel tired and lazy, or die), and if you’re particularly stressed, have a go at mindfulness.


Setting goals for the next day is a great way of reducing stress and giving yourself structure. Make sure you also schedule time to chill, too.



10. Give it a go and have fun with it


One thing that links you to students in Brazil, Ireland, and Harvard is that we all go through exams. You’re doing it, I did it, Obama did it.



It’s a human experience that challenges us to use our knowledge, as well as testing us in a high-pressure environment against ourselves and others. Viewing it as a goal to improve is a hell of a lot better than viewing it as a painful chore.


Try and be better than you were last year, try and make all the hours spent in Mrs. Roger’s calc class worth it, and give yourself something to be proud of in January.


Also, one day you’ll be sitting your last ever exam and reminiscing about this time – so give it a good crack and pump yourself up for a few hours spent at a wobbly desk.




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StudyTime was born from Inspiration Education, a tutoring company based in NZ.

After some time under our belt, we realised how many kids were facing the exact same struggles at school, through no fault of their own.

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