How to prep for mocks like a champion
True, mocks are still a month away. But the fact that game day is five weeks away doesn’t mean that time spent preparing now is wasted or OTT.
It means that right now, you have a golden opportunity to make your mocks an easy win.
Heavyweight champion of the world, Anthony Joshua, revealed that he starts training camp three months ahead of his fight. This means that before he beat our very own David Parker, he was executing a strategy to make game day easier for twelve weeks leading up to it. This is how he became the best – not by putting in 110% in a desperate effort to cram everything into that week, but by deliberately practicing smart for a longer period of time.
Same amount of work, less work per day.
This is how you’re going to make mocks something that you’ll feel proud of. Mocks are the ideal challenge for your end of year exams: they let you go into your externals having already been in the environment, they allow you to identify your weak areas, and they give you the chance to see how much you know (not, like, “know”, but know).
The reason why we don’t perform as well in exams as we think we should has less to do with IQ and more to do with study strategy. Your study should work for you; it should give you what you put in. So, here’s how you prep like a champion.
1. Find a plan that works for YOU
So we’ve established that the best results are made when we start early. When we increase the time we have, we get more stuff done for less effort. Study smart, not hard.
A TEDx Talk called “What do top students do differently?” explained the results of tracking student performance in 1200 schools across Australia, the UK, South Africa, and the USA. One of the biggest takeaways was the difference in how students scheduled their time.
The students with the highest probability of throwing away their schedule were the ones who created unnecessarily hectic timetables focused on studying specific subjects (68%, in fact). Of the students polled, 50% threw away the timetable that week.
In the words of Douglas: “The reason is because they just went gung-ho. They threw study all of the place.”
Couldn’t have said it better, Douglas. A study schedule that is boring, time-heavy and chore-like is going to suck more than it needs to.
The top performing students, however, did something different. They created a flexible schedule that worked around their life, setting themselves adequate time to rest, sleep, and do enjoyable things.
This meant that they stuck to it, and actually spent the time they dedicated to study more efficiently – because one hour of focus is better than two hours of unfocused study. What’s more, they stuck to it. This leads us to the next step.
It’s better to be consistently good than sporadically great.
If you dedicate every hour of free time to study, your life will not only suck, but you’ll probably get less done than if you followed a less intense plan, over a longer period of time.
In fact, you could spend an hour a week for seven weeks and do the same amount of total work as if you studied for an hour every day for a week – without as much risk of burning out.
Study doesn’t have to fill you with dread. It doesn’t have to consist of long hours spent hunched over a sub-par textbook that’s not a StudyTime walkthrough guide (sorry, had to), doing in three hours what you could have done in one.
Above is a graph from the journal Memory, showing the amount of time students both intend to work versus how much they actually worked leading up to exam day. It pretty clearly shows that we have a tendency to overestimate our own motivation and willpower. This means more disappointment and shame when our [overhyped] expectations and standards aren’t met – on top of a high chance of burnout.
Like we’ve said before, humans are pretty bad at making objective predictions – especially when our egos are involved.
More than that, when we give ourselves impractically daunting workloads, it can often result in us doing less work than we would have if we just paced ourselves.
Start small. Perhaps, you’ll set yourself the challenge of doing half an hour of revision after school, everyday, for one week. If you’re an expert studier already, your sessions might be a bit longer. If you’re new to this, make a goal that you know you can easily achieve.
While half an hour might seem like nothing – the effort adds up. Once you’re done with you session – the key is to leave it at that – don’t beat yourself up if you didn’t get heaps done on that particular day.
The habit is what counts, and you can build up the duration of your sessions as you get better.
Just make sure you do it again tomorrow.
For the most successful people, whether they’re athletes or students, the things they do to set themselves up for success are habitual, rather than a chore.
3. Study smart, not hard
Study should never be hard. With the right techniques and methods, you will be able to find you’re getting more and better work done without as much brain-draining effort.
The best athletes in the world go into bootcamp with a game plan, and every minute they spend training is focused on achieving small goals. Why should study be any different?
Get your environment ready. Set a 25-minute timer and take 5 minute breaks after. Work out what skills you need to learn from the marking schedules and assessment reports. Set goals, write a checklist, tick tasks off systematically.
Do past papers, test your ability to recall content without notes. Visualise the information in weird ways in your head, connect it with what you’ve already learnt, explain it to your wall like you were teaching someone.
And above all else, don’t just highlight and re-write. That’s the study equivalent of watching a boxing match and thinking, “I can do that”.
4. Identify your weak areas
“An exam is not a test of memory. An exam does not test how much you remember, it tests you on how you use what you remember.”
That’s another quote from Douglas in that TEDx talk from before. And he’s absolutely right. This is why practice exams, and mocks, are so important: they show us where we need to improve.
Athletes go into boot camps that specifically target their weak points, to make sure they can’t be used against them.
Similarly, with exams, there’s no point passively going through what you’re good at already. Chances are, the exam will hit you with that one thing you didn’t work on and your confidence will be shaken.
It can be really valuable to look at what you need to know (the NZQA subject resources will tell you this) and write out what areas you need to improve on most.
Then, prioritise these. You’ll enter the exam room feeling like you’ve got it, rather than like you’re going to get KO’d. (or NA’d?)
5. Embrace the suck
We know. No one actually likes studying – not even us. But you can’t get around it: it’s part of the process to getting where you want to be (chances are you don’t know where that is, but trust us, smart work will get you there).
This is where that overarching idea comes in that separates the good from the great: self-discipline. Study doesn’t have to be fun, but it can be doable and rewarding. And if you do it right, you’ll find that it works into your routine better than you’d think.
No one is knee deep into a squat or 3km down on the treadmill and thinking “I’m having a blast!” It’s just something we do to train ourselves to be better, because we’re thinking about the end result. Study is the same thing: a means to self-improvement.
The only difference is, the result of some E credits isn’t as enticing. But that’s just because we don’t know where they will take us. More than that, it’s because we don’t know how good it feels to be realising our potential.
Sometimes, the final piece of the puzzle is just to sit down for an hour (or half, or 15 minutes) and just do it. Tell yourself that you’re about to become better at those stupid parabolas that keep making you zone out in class, and dedicate the next x amount of minutes to becoming better than you were when you sat down.
Trust us, you’ll feel like a champion.
Mocks don’t know what’s coming.