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.

Tips for visual learners

This is the first post in a three-part series, where we explore study techniques for the three main learning styles. If you aren’t sure what your unique learning style is, click here to find out.

So you’ve done the quiz (or read the previous blog post about different learning styles) and you’ve figured out that you have a visual learning style.

To recap: People with a visual learning style learn best when they can see what they are trying to learn. If your notes are colourful and you like to doodle in the margins, then you’re probably a visual learner.

Here are some study techniques that you could try. These techniques help visual learners to make sense of content and concepts by forming ‘pictures’ that your mind can then file away, ready to be whipped out when you need it most: in a test or exam.

Take notes in class

This might sound obvious but it’s an old school way to make sure that you remember what you’ve learnt in class. Too many people try to simply listen to what the teacher is saying, and then find that they can’t remember anything as soon as the class is over!

As a visual learner, you may also find your thoughts drifting if you try to listen without taking any notes… Taking notes is a skill: Don’t think that trying to write down every word that the teacher is saying is going to help you either. You’ll lose track and end up missing something if you try to do that.

There are five main note-taking techniques that you can use during a class:

  1. The Cornell Method: Divide your page into two columns. In the right-hand column, write down the concepts being taught. In the left-hand column, write down questions or cues relating to the content. This forces you to engage with the subject matter.
  2. Outlining method: Use bullet points or indenting to show the main themes, and then the sub-themes under each main theme.
  3. Flow method: This is a freestyle method where you simply take notes in whatever format feels best to you at the time. You can use arrows, stars and pictures in this method to connect ideas and concepts.

Here are two excellent YouTube videos about note-taking skills. The first explains the three main methods, and how to use them, and the second shows you how to make your notes colourful and exciting to look at and use (perfect for visual learners!):

TIP: If your teacher doesn’t approve of note-taking during class (we all have a teacher who says “You don’t need to write, it’s all in the hand out”), try speaking to him or her about it after class one day. Show your teacher the kind of notes that you would like to take, and explain that you think that you’ll be able to grasp the content much better if you’re allowed to write notes during the class. If your teacher is still unsure, then try to write as many notes as possible in the time between classes or straight after school.

Mind maps

There’s nothing new about mind maps. It’s a study technique that’s been around for ages, and you’ve probably seen them before. Perhaps a teacher or adult has even tried to teach you how they create mind maps. Whether you’re a mind map expert or a mind map novice, this much is true: Mind maps are a visual learner’s best friends.

The trick with mind maps is to only include the most important information (so don’t try to include everything in your History textbook). Mind maps should be as colourful (or not) as you want them to be. Use highlighters, different colour pens, wax crayons, pencil crayons and sticky notes to really make them stand out. You can also use pictures to really solidify concepts or ideas in your mind – either draw them yourself, or cut-and-paste pictures and articles from newspapers, magazines and the Internet.

If you’re worried about running out of space, try to get hold of A3 sheets of paper. You can even use sticky-tape to make a bigger sheet of paper from four A4 sheets.

(We have a full post on creating mind maps coming up on the blog so look out for that.)

Look for pictures, demos or videos in the library and online

Are you excited when you turn a page of your textbook in the middle of a complicated section and see an annotated diagram because, finally, you’ll be able to understand what all those explanations are about? It’s pretty obvious that if you’re a visual learner you’ll need to actually see something before you fully understand it.

Unfortunately, you may not always have a picture, photograph or video in your textbook or learning materials to explain everything. And, even if there are pictures, they may not be clear enough for you to really get it.

This is where the Internet and your school’s library will come in handy. You’ll be able to find illustrations and photographs, and even videos in some cases, for almost anything.

So when your textbook describes a Blue Crane as a tall, ground-dwelling bird that is about 120 cm tall with a wingspan of about 200 cm, look it up! You’ll get a much better idea of what a Blue Crane is when you actually see a picture of it. Better yet, search for a video on YouTube, where you can see the Blue Crane walk and hear its call.

Just be careful while you’re online – be smart and stay safe. And only trust reputable websites because not everything on the Internet is true.

(We have a full post on study techniques using technology coming up on the blog so look out for that.)

How to use your Ace it! study guide

Hopefully this post has given you some good ideas about study techniques to use when you’re a visual learner. Don’t forget that the Ace it! study guides have all the content you need to know for your exams.

Here’s how a visual learner can use the Ace it! study guides to their best advantage:

  • Use highlighters to highlight key concepts.
  • Take notes in the margins.
  • Use sticky notes to mark off sections, or to write notes for yourself.
  • Ace it! study guides are logically organised and broken into sections. Translate each section into mind maps or charts to revise what you need to know.

If you’re an auditory learner, then look out for our next blog post.