Are practice exams really worth doing?

One of the most common study tips for exam revision is for learners to do practice exams. These practice exams could be past papers that your school has used, past papers from the Department of Education or even practice exam questions such as the ones found in the Ace it! study guides.

We have recommended doing practice exams for all of the different learning styles, as they are a great way to get an understanding of what you can expect in the exams. For visual learners, they are a good way to write out what you know in a format that will suit the exam. For auditory learners, they present an opportunity to practise channelling what you know into an exam-appropriate format and, for kinaesthetic learners, they are a great way to revise because you’re actually doing something rather than just revising content. This can make the information stick in your mind more clearly.

Aside from this, what are the benefits of doing practice exams as part of your exam revision?

Well, first of all, they are a great way to familiarise yourself with the exam format. Each exam you write will have a predictable format. You need to know what this looks like before you walk into the exam room so that you feel less stressed and anxious. Doing practice exams will help you to understand how the exam will look when it is put in front of you, and it gives you an opportunity to practise answering the questions in a way that will score you the maximum number of marks. Most practice exams come with a memo, which you can use to mark your efforts – this will show you when you’ve answered too little, too much, too broadly or not broadly enough.

Secondly, practice exams can help you to understand the question words. So many learners know the content but fail to understand exactly what the question is asking them to do (this often applies to auditory learners in particular). Examiners are given a very clear marking memo, so it’s essential that you are answering the question correctly – not only in terms of the content but also in terms of what the examiner wants to see. For example, if the question asks you to “List…” you should not write a descriptive paragraph. Working with practice exams and their memos can help you refine this skill.

Lastly, practice exams can help to show up any gaps in your exam revision. You may think that you have covered all of your bases only to find that you actually don’t know enough about a particular topic in order to be able to answer questions on it in the exam. It’s essential that you build in time on your study timetable to do practice exams. Try to avoid doing this the day before the actual exam though, because that will not give you enough time to self-correct and go back to a particular section.

As you can see, practice exams are an essential part of exam revision. That’s why every Ace it! study guide contains practice exam questions.

Setting up a study timetable

When it comes to time management, there are three types of people:

  1. The procrastinator:

This person underestimates how much time they’ll need to study and so believes that they have plenty of time left. They’re usually cramming late into the night before the exam, and sometimes even just before the exam.

  1. The overachiever

This person does nothing but study. There’s no time for fun or relaxation. By the time the exams roll around, this person is so frazzled that it’s a miracle they can hold a pen, never mind answer questions with it.

  1. The disorganised

This poor soul tries their best but is so disorganised that they’re always underprepared. They’ll spend hours revising a section, only to discover that it’s not even examinable!

Recognise any of these types? They all have one thing in common: None of them know how to set up a study timetable.

A good study timetable will ensure that you are organised, prepared and even relaxed by the time you write your exam. Learning how to manage your time effectively is an important study skill and life skill.

  1. Choose your format

You may want to use an online calendar (for example Google Calendar) to do your planning, or you may prefer a good old-fashioned diary. You could also download and print this study timetable. Add colour and stickers and put it somewhere you can see it daily (like the fridge).

  1. Get your exam timetable

Your exam timetable should include details of the exam, for example the paper that you will be writing (i.e. English Paper 1 or Life Sciences Paper 2), the time of the exam and the venue. Fill in this information on your study timetable (include all of the specifics).

  1. Write down what you need to know

For every exam that you will be writing, jot down the sections that you will need to study. Remember to do this for every exam and not necessarily every subject. You will write more than one exam for some subjects and it’s important to know what each exam will be testing.

  1. Work backwards and plan your study sessions

This part will take a bit of time. In two or three-hour blocks, work backwards from each exam and write down the sections that you will need to study. Try not to do more than two or three study sessions per day. Also try not to plan to study a section the day before the exam. Rather block off some time to do some revision for that exam the day before. This will help you feel calmer and more in control.

  1. Now add the fun stuff

Now try to schedule in some recreational and relaxation activities. Start with family outings, birthdays, church gatherings, etc. and then add at least 30 minutes of exercise per day. Try to do something fun once a week, like see a movie with friends. Don’t try to do too much, as this will only make you feel more stressed.

Once you’re happy with your study timetable, and you’ve checked that it isn’t too demanding (or too relaxed!), make it as colourful or attractive as you like, put it somewhere you can see it and look at it every morning. If it’s electronic, set reminders and alarms so that you don’t forget to look at your to-do list for the day. Things may change and need shifting around sometimes but you should be disciplined enough to stick to your plan as much as possible.

Draw a line through every successful day so that you can see how far you’ve come. Before you know it, the exams will be over and you’ll have aced them!