Updated: May 16, 2021
1. Know the exam format
Many students make the mistake of not knowing exactly how many sections and questions there are in the paper. Some are not sure of the duration given to complete the paper. Be very clear with these details and plan your time beforehand, allocating sufficient time to every single question. Keep some buffer time to check and to use for the more difficult questions.
2. Prepare a spreadsheet
Every student has the same number of subjects and topics to tackle. Using Microsoft Excel or similar software, write down every single topic onto a spreadsheet. It is best to have one spreadsheet per subject and one “master spreadsheet” that serves as a revision timetable of sorts. List down what topics you will revise or which practice papers you will do on which day of the week. This way, you can be certain that you covered everything before the big test.
3. Get organised - do filing
It is a Herculean task to attempt to study when you cannot find half your worksheets and practice papers. To save yourself from drowning in a mountain of papers one week before your final exams, implement a filing system from Day 1. File every single worksheet, homework assignment and practice paper into the respective subject file. That way, finding the worksheet for a specific topic is a breeze. No more homework assignments getting chewed up by pets!
4. Use available resources
Ask your teachers for help. If necessary, arrange for consultation sessions to clarify any doubts that you have and clear up any misconceptions. This is also a good time to ask for specific areas of improvement. Any teacher will tell you from experience that they can pinpoint their students’ individual strengths and weaknesses after just 1 term of marking their work.
Free practice papers and question banks can be found at various websites online. Make full use of these resources by brushing up on your weaker topics and drilling practices for your stronger subjects.
5. Take breaks
Nobody can work for 12 hours straight and remain productive towards the end of it. It’s a recipe for disaster. Have you heard of the Pomodoro technique? It was inspired by the classic Italian tomato timer. Set a 25-minute timer and focus on one task. ONLY one task. When the timer rings, take a 5 minute break. Rinse and repeat.
Don’t try to skip the break. This will defeat the purpose of setting up the “protected time” to focus and get your work done.
6. Summaries / interactive practice
Write summary sheets. Use index cards for flashcards or blank A4 paper for mind maps. For flashcards, write down the question on one side and the answer on the other side. Repeat for all aspects of the topic.
For mind maps, write the topic down in the centre and branch off with the different categories. Use different colours if it helps you to internalise the information.
Use these tools to test yourself before the test. Bonus if you can get someone else (a family member or a friend) to quiz you as they can give you feedback on what you missed out or mixed up.
Mix it up. Try studying at least 2 different subjects everyday. This way, you keep your mind fresh. Sometimes, the contrasting subject will give you insight into something you did not notice before. Some students spend their June holidays studying one subject every week. The major problem with this strategy is that by the end of the break, they would have forgotten what they studied in the first week. Instead, try to rotate the subjects that you focus on so the concepts are always at your fingertips.
Try to weave these 7 habits into your studying sessions. Gradually build them in. Here’s a recap:
Know the exam format
Prepare a spreadsheet
Get organised - do filing
Use available resources
Summaries / interactive practice
Remember to pace yourself, seek feedback from teachers and make summaries. All the best!