Preparing for exams can feel a bit like playing the lottery – like the ultimate result is very much out of your control. This feeling of a lack of control and lack of certainty can have a major negative impact on your motivation levels (what’s the point in studying when I’m never going to be able to learn everything?) and studying efficiency (studying whatever and whenever because there seems to be no way to approach things in an orderly fashion).
This feeling of being stuck in a gigantic corn maze that has no exit is understandable. Exams are the culmination of months or possibly a year’s worth of work, and you have the un-fun task of showing the examiner you know your stuff in only a few hours!
But – preparing for exams is actually less of an unsolvable corn maze than you may realise. The deck is not stacked completely against you. Sure, exams are designed to test you, but they’re not supposed to surprise you unawares.
Smart studiers understand, to the greatest extent possible without having psychic powers, what an exam is going to test them on. Here are the two major ‘lighthouses’ that you need to be aware of during the school year, so that you can see the way through the corn maze of exam study.
1. Topics of focus throughout the school year
School and the people who set exams aren’t so cruel that they make you study organic chemistry for a month and not test you on it. There should be very few, if any, main topics of every subject, that won’t appear in the exam. If a certain topic has been a clear focus of your classes during the school year, there is a really good chance it’s going feature in the exam.
This may seem like an obvious point, but it’s a really important one to keep in mind. Understanding what the main topics of the school year are is instantly going to give your exam study structure. These are the topics you need to focus on.
Take it one step further, and within every main topic there will be the main sub-topics of that main topic. Confused? Well, if organic chemistry is one of the main topics of chemistry (with thermodynamics, redox, and acids and bases being three others), then stereochemistry and alkenes and alkynes are two subtopics of organic chemistry.
All of a sudden you can see that your study plan is falling into place, and that there is a way out of the corn maze, and that the exam isn’t going to test you on completely random subjects.
2. Past exams and practice questions
Completely underrated study tools, past exams and practice questions can take your study to the next level. Short of having psychic powers, past exams and practice questions are the best way to understand what your exam is going to be like.
The questions and format of an exam are never 100% original. Exam questions are recycled and the main topics of your subjects make frequent appearances. In other words, you don’t need to be as afraid of your exam as you might be. It shouldn’t be a completely unknown quantity.
Of course you’re never going to know what the exact questions will come up in the exam, but you should be able to make a very educated guess about the types of questions that are going to be there.
Completing past exams and practice questions serves a second incredibly important function during exam study – they help you figure out how you have to apply the content you’ve been studying. Exam questions never just ask, ‘tell us everything you know about X’. They ask you a question in a way that forces you to apply what you’ve learnt to a particular scenario or in a particular way.
A math or physics question might ask you, ‘If a car is driving at 40 miles an hour in a north-easterly direction for 25 minutes where on the map will the car stop?’ The skill of knowing how to answer this question properly requires the application of knowing that the formula for figuring out an unknown distance is distance = velocity multiplied by time.
Students can miss out on the grades they’re capable of if they have studied hard but not practised applying what they have learnt. For this reason it’s imperative to integrate doing past exams and practice questions into your exam study. Let these amazing resources help you through the maze and find your way out relatively unscathed.