This is the post where I divulge how I achieved an ATAR of over 99. I was in a government school at the time and didn’t have any home tutoring. So how did I do it?
Examinations, like sports, require tenacious practice until you’re good at them. To excel in an examination, you need not only strong subject knowledge (e.g. Chemistry), but also great examination skills, which include the following:
- Using exam-specific language
- Working to a strict time limit
- Working in silence in a big hall
- Coping with the stress that examinations bring
Follow these 8 rules to practice examination skills effectively and you’ll maximise your performance on examination day.
1. Revision is a full-time job (38 hours per week)
To get enough spaced repetition for all the subjects you’re studying, you’ll need to study full time: that’s about 38 hours per week.
This is about the same amount of time as you usually spend in school (7×50-minute lessons plus 2 hours of homework per night). You can fit 38 hours of revision comfortably into just 6 days of the week, leaving your Sundays completely free to relax and catch up on sleep. Start full-time revision several months before your big exams.
2. Revise in 3.5-hour blocks
This will train you to sit and focus for an entire examination. In 3.5 hours, you’ll have enough time to finish an examination paper and then mark it immediately afterwards.
3. Revise during regular, scheduled revision sessions at the same times every day
Research has shown that people recall more information when they’re in a similar physiological state to when they learned it: at the same time of day, and with similar hunger and stress levels.
Revise for 2 of these 3 sessions, 6 days a week:
- Morning study session: 9:00am to 12:30pm
- Afternoon study session: 1:30pm to 5pm
- Evening study session: 6pm to 9:30pm
Try to revise for morning examinations in the morning, and afternoon examinations in the afternoon where possible.
4. Create a revision timetable and stick to it
Get a giant wall calendar (minimum size is A3) from Officeworks and split each day into thirds. Each third represents one of the three study sessions mentioned above.
Get coloured stickers from Officeworks and use them to label your examinations. Use a different colour for each subject. Working back from those examinations, put more stickers on the chart to denote which subjects you’ll study in each study session.
Rules when filling your timetable:
- Revise for 11 sessions each week (about 38 hours)
- Revise for no more than two sessions in a day.
- Take one day off each week.
- Use your free time to relax or get some exercise.
5. Revise in exam-like conditions!
Disconnect from all social media until after your examinations have finished. Just leave one tweet/status update saying “Preparing for exams now full-time until November XXth. Wish me luck!” and delete all the social media apps from your phone. People will understand!
- Revise in a comfortable, clean, quiet, uncluttered room. (Some students in China rent hotel rooms at this time of year to help them revise more effectively!) Is your study place as clean and quiet as a hotel room?
- Revise sitting upright at a desk without a computer present. Don’t cross your legs. Use a desk that’s high enough, and sit 10cm from the edge of the desk. Remove all non-study-related objects from your desk and put them behind you.
- Don’t listen to music while revising. Not only will music distract you (no matter how much you insist otherwise!), but it’s also forbidden in the examination hall.
- Eat and drink only things that are allowed in the examination while you’re revising. For the vast majority of people, that’s water only!
- Only two pieces of technology are allowed: your scientific calculator and an analogue clock. (Why? That’s all you’ll get in the examination hall!)
6. Practice examination sessions (50% of study sessions)
In half of your revision sessions for each subject, do a past paper examination and mark the paper immediately after you’ve finished it. Circle any questions you didn’t get full marks on: you’ll use these as the basis for your next note-taking session for that subject (step 7).
7. Note-taking sessions (the other 50% of study sessions)
Use your textbook, your teacher and your Chemistry notes to correct any questions you answered incorrectly in your previous practice examination. Make detailed theory notes from the textbook on concepts you don’t fully understand and arrange them neatly on your wall. Make these notes colourful and large enough to be legible from a distance of 2 metres.
Not only will this help you to get 100% in those topics next time, but a bedroom wall covered with succinct study notes also look really impressive to anyone else who sees them!
If you start revising early enough, you’ll have time to make great theory notes from the entire textbook. Your bedroom wall should be plastered in study notes for all your subjects.
8. On examination day
- Don’t revise on the morning before examinations. This will only make you feel rushed and more stressed in the morning. Use your time more wisely by making sure you get to school on time and instead.
- Don’t listen to music on examination days until after your examination is over! Songs stay in your head for a long time after you’ve heard them, and they’ll distract you slightly from the material you’re being tested on.
- Bring water in a transparent bottle into the examination hall.
- Wear layers of clothing that you can add/remove easily. The temperature in examination halls can be unpredictable.
- Always let invigilators know about errors in the examination paper. However, only tell them about the errors that might affect your score!
Sticking to these 8 tips earned me excellent grades in school, and I believe that you can maximise your potential as well by following the same advice.
Agree/disagree with any of these? Leave your comments below.