#1 Advice On Killing it in your Exams - Practice under timed conditions

If no do NOTHING else, practice under timed conditions. This is what is going to develop your ability to score well on tests, get over stress and get the best possible study score.

Now let's look at some more detailed advice...

There are many ways to do well at tests and only by practising doing tests under test conditions you will find what works best for you. This a long article but worth the read. Once you’ve read the General Advice below, scan through the rest of the article to find the exact issue that you have – and I’ll show you the solution 🙂

General Advice:

Here’s your #1 piece of advice, start practising doing test with a timer and under test conditions. If you do nothing else in on this article, do this – it is the single most valuable piece of information I could tell you.

Also, be friends with your CAS. This will save you HEAPS of time and will make life much easier once you are comfortable with it – if you don’t like it, start using it more for everything. There are shortcuts for pretty much any problem you attempt to solve.

The next thing will scare you to begin with, but don’t fret, it’s actually good news.

The average mark on Year 12 VCE exams in the past as been around 45% to 55%. This means a student who barely passes ends up with a Study Score of 30 (which is usually marked up to around 35 Methods).

If you are not familiar with Victorian study scores, a person who scores around 35 in all their subjects would achieve an ATAR of just above 80 – in the top 20% of the state.

The point is that you are not going to get all the marks – so you need to have a different viewpoint, and this is how I like to think of it:

The exam is treasure hunt where you are trying to find as many marks as possible.


This is how you can approach a test:

Have the intention to go through the test multiple times – the game is to find as many marks as you can.

As soon as you hit a question you can’t answer – move on. You mind will subconsciously work on it, even if you are focusing on another question. If you get stuck move on. You may find that you go through the test 2 or 3 times, answering more and more questions as you go along. It’s much better to do all the questions you can do, rather than focus on the ones you can’t.


Step-by Step Approach

For a detailed step by step way to approach a test, check out below, but the main idea is to move on if you can’t answer something.

1) Go through the exam and answer all the questions you can answer easily

2) Use full working-out to maximise marks and avoid silly mistakes

3) Move on if you can’t answer the question immediately

4) Go through the test again and answer any other questions that you can answer easily

5) Don’t get stuck on any questions

6) Repeat 1 – 5 until you have answered every question that you can answer quickly

7) Once you have answered everything you can, go through the tougher questions

8) With the tougher questions, write out all the information you can get from the question, any formulas that might be applicable, draw diagrams as much as possible and then just try stuff

9) If you get stuck for more than a minute move on

10) Keep going through the paper until you’ve answered everything you can possibly answer

11) Check the answers to your questions once you’ve answered everything you can

Most students don’t even finish! This approach will enable you to complete the questions that will get you the maximum amount of marks and leave the questions that won’t.

Another reason that moving on for a question is so helpful is that we often can’t solve a certain problem when we are focussing on it. Ever lost your keys and then suddenly remembered when you weren’t thinking about it? By shifting your attention on other questions when you get stuck, you will sometimes find the answer miraculously pops into your head.


Fixing Particular issues

If you tend to run out of time:

Sometimes a student knows how to answer the questions but runs out of time in the test. Here are some of the reasons:

1) You get stuck on questions
People don’t like a mysteries and want them all to be solved – this is why it can be hard to move on from a question you haven’t answered. If you find it hard to move on once you get stuck, you need to practise moving on once you get stuck. If this is you, every time you hit a question that you can’t answer (even in your homework), you now must move on immediately. You’ll often find that the fact you have moved on means you are subconsciously working out the answer while you do other questions. This will save a lot of time.

2) You try to do too many things at once
If you are taking too long on questions it could be because you are being a perfectionist – you answer the question, but you are checking that you answer it correctly while you are answering the questions. This wastes a lot of time. A person is most effective when they do one thing at a time. To resolve this, stop checking that you are doing it correctly while answering the question – just answer the questions! You’ll get more consequential marks but answering all the questions than getting a few perfect. If you need to minimise the chance of you getting an error, just do all the working out. Once you have finishing going through the paper, you can then check all your answers and because you have full working out it will be easy to do.

3) You aren’t moving on quickly enough
Even if you don’t get stuck on questions, you might still be spending too much time “working out” a question. In your first time through, you should only answer the questions that you can answer immediately, if you can move on. Then move on to more and more difficult questions.

4) You aren’t practising doing tests enough
This is the most important. If you find that you can answer the questions but run out of time, then you need practise – but don’t practise doing questions, practise doing tests under test conditions. Only this way will you be able to find the correct speed for you to go through the paper and avoid running out of time. Do everything timed. Even your homework. Let’s start working on getting your speed up and working out what you and spending too much time on.


Making silly mistakes

Here are some of the key reasons that student make silly mistakes:

1) Not enough working out
Often you will make silly mistakes when you are trying to do too many steps in your head and not enough on paper. This opens the door to incorrect calculations and when you go back to the question later it’s much harder to follow. Do all the steps on paper so you don’t need to do anything in your head.

2) Doing too much at once
You may find that you are trying to figure out what formula to use, do the calculator and correct your answers all the same time – with so much going on in your skull, there is no wonder that you will occasionally write down something incorrectly. Figure out what formula you are going to use, do all the calculations on the paper and don’t try to check it at the same time. Do one thing at a time, and you’ll do a better job with less mistakes.

3) Stress
Here is a big factor to making mistakes and all sorts of things so I will cover this one on it’s own.



First off, the rest of your life does not depend on this year. That is a lie. You will always have options and chances are your future career will not even need a degree. It if does, there are alternate pathways into university. No one will ever ask you about you ATAR in the future, it’s just not what people do. Do the best you can and work hard, that is the key to success in almost anything.

It’s also useful to know that stress is the biological response to a situation that is dangerous and is the body’s way of heightening a person’s awareness, strength and energy. Sometimes just understanding that will help you use it to your advantage – that what professional singers, performers and athletes do. Recognise the stress, take 3 deep breaths and interpret it as excitement designed to help you perform better.

Finally, stress usually occurs in situations you are not accustomed to but by doing something over and over again, you’ll find that you tend to get used to it and feel better about it.

This is why it is helpful to try to simulate the stressful environment, the test, as closely as possible. Set a time once or twice a week when you will give yourself a test. Preferably do it in the room you are going to do you test in. Put on a timer and do it under test conditions – your teacher may even be willing to come into the room at lunch time so you get really used to it. The more often you do this, the less scary the real thing will be.


How to answer application questions:

The first point to check is understanding. Most students believe that they understand the content better than they actual do – this is because the questions in textbook are relatively simple and only teach you how to any questions by memory.

Application questions test your knowledge and how well you know all the tools and what each concept means. When a student has a thoroughly understanding of the concepts, they are already half-way there.

Next you need to do application questions – This is the only real way to get any good at them.

Go over applications question that are similar to the test you are about to do. This is why real past Exam papers are the best for the exam and getting classroom tests for your teacher are the best way to practise for tests. You cannot learn how to do application questions without doing lots of application questions!

Also, although understanding the concepts is necessary, application questions are a different beast. A lot of these questions are designed so that you can't solve them immediately, so don't expect that you will be able to!

If you find that you understand how to solve the question when you look at the worked solutions, you probably gave up too easily. If this is you, rather than looking at the solution immediately, try another approach to the question. If this doesn't work, try ANOTHER approach. If this doesn't work or you are spending too much time on it, try doing another question. You probably don’t like not having something solved, so you look immediately for the answer. Fight against this urge. It requires practise. Learning this will save you a lot of time (in the test and in your study). While you are working on another question, you may find that your subconscious comes up with another approach without you even focusing on it (as I mentioned before). 

Having said all this, here is a 7 step methods to approaching exam questions:

1. Read the question thoroughly. Very important step that most students miss.

2. Find out which topic it is on by looking at key words (Such as "gradient" or "rate of change" for Calculus)

3. Write down all the number information and what it means

4. Look at available formulas for this topic

5. Draw diagrams

6. Just try stuff. This is the most important step as many questions cannot be solved immediately until you try several ways of tackling it! Even the best students need to do this.

7. Move to another question if you have difficulty

This applies to doing it as homework or in a test. Move onto other questions and then come back to it once you’ve done everything else or if an idea on how to answer it suddenly appears in your head.

Does this help? Are there are issues that you are bumping into? Send me an email at alex@mathsmethods.com.au and I’ll do what I can to help 😀

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