How to study for an exam


IN the article last week, I stated the importance of studying and preparing for your exams.
In this edition, let me give you some tips on what you can do in your study to prepare for the exams.
In case you’re wondering, I have written a good number of exams in my life, and I must say I have done quite well in most of them. The exams include papers in mathematics, physics, education and French. So what I am sharing with you comes from a wide area of studies, not just one.
I have also coached students, particularly in science and maths, over the years, who have passed their exams and gone on to study in our top learning institutions in the country.

Spend one hour on each subject
Before I go any further, let me emphasise the need to do “deep study”. Deep study includes spending a whole hour doing work in a subject before going onto another.
You must do something like this. If you study maths A, physics, chemistry and English, in your exam preparation time, mark Monday night for maths A revision work, Tuesday for physics, Wednesday for chemistry and Thursday for English, and so on.
Note that those are study times and not homework time. You may do have study time from 8-9 pm and then complete homework from 9pm – 10.30 or later. Or, you can do it the other way around. Use whichever is convenient for you.
I did not do deep study in school until Grade 12 when I had this wonderful maths teacher who urged us to spend one hour every day on maths work if we wanted to do better on the subject. I followed her advice and have been using the same method in whatever subject I studied ever since. That is particularly important when I am preparing for exams. I spend at least one hour a night on each subject. At times it can take more than one hour on a subject.

What do you do in preparing for an exam?
The best way to study is to work with pen and paper. Do not just skim notes. Skim notes and write the main points under different topics in your “study notebook” – a blank exercise book that use to jot down the main points under different topics that you have studied.
Now, let me list some ways you can use to prepare for your exams.
Firstly, you can review all your past test papers and assignments. That points to another thing: you must keep all your test papers and marked papers safe in a folder to review in preparation for your exams. Be systematic in reviewing papers. For Grade 12 students, start with Grade 11 units like 11.1, 11,2 and complete reviewing all marked papers in those before going on to Grade 12 units. (Grade 8 and Grade 10 students can also do the same with their Grade 7 and 9 units respectively before going on to Grade 8 and Grade 10 topics.)
Secondly, summarise notes to revise from. Go through your notebooks and textbooks and try to summarise notes or write down the main points in topics covered in a separate notebook (which you may call your “study notebook”).
Thirdly, study old exam papers. You will be sitting for the 2017 paper. Check with your teachers for copies of 2015, 2014 or 2013 papers. (It is likely that you have sat for the 2016 paper in your mock exam, so check for those for the years before that. Doing those papers enable you to see the kind of questions set by the examiners, some of which may be so differently structured to those that you are used to – those set by your subject teachers in school. Remember, the exam papers are written by examiners who do not structure their questions the same way your teachers do.
Fourthly, you can study in groups, as with your friends. Like, you may decide to spend Thursday night to review concepts learnt in biology with two of your course mates. One can write up questions and quiz others on a number of topics. The next time, another can write the quiz questions.
But just be careful that group study does not turn into a storytelling time where you chat about things other than biology, or that a member of the group does not do their part and stalls the progress of the group, as in not reviewing their work and asking questions every now and then on basics that everybody should know.
Fifthly, compile a list of terms and definitions and processes. In Grade 12 science exams, students are often asked to define a term and so you, as a science student, must go through the main terms and define them in your “study notebook”. In physics we have terms like electric current, conventional current, power, vector quantities, scalar quantities, fission and fusion reactions, n-type and p-type diodes, and so on. In biology, we have terms like photosynthesis, respiration, chromosome types, ecosystem and so on. In maths we may have terms like range, median, mode and arithmetic mean in statistics (or in the unit on managing data) as well as similar and congruent triangles as common terms in geometry.
Sixthly, draw diagrams to visualise concepts learnt. In maths, it is good to draw figures (two- or three-dimensional) on paper in topics like trigonometry and geometry. Drawing diagrams on paper will better impress concepts in your mind – you will remember them better. In biology and physical geography, the basics in the water and carbon cycles would be better remembered if you use a diagram. A diagram has the advantage of capturing a lot of concepts too and makes it easier for you to remember a lot of things.

Seek help from classmates and teachers
If you have problems in understanding a topic in a subject, your peers can help you out. Ask them for help.
There are classmates of yours who are better in the subject than you. Get help from them.
Often problems you have, may be due to you not reviewing your notes regularly.
If your friends cannot help you, get help from a teacher. Sometimes a one-minute question and explanation session can prevent you spending hours trying to understand something. Most teachers will help you if you show that you are committed and eager to learn.

Next week: How do I write an exam paper?


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