The Smartest Way of Working Through Past Exam Papers

exam /study tip # 15
The Smartest Way of Working Through Past Exam Papers
There is no doubt that the more examination papers you work through, the better your examination score.
Examination Score  Number of Exam Papers Addressed
In fact, it is the process of committing knowledge to memory and working through examination style questions which has the
biggest impact on examination marks (not writing or re-writing notes and summaries).
But how many papers do students need to work through in order to secure the higher examination scores?
Students should be aiming to complete between 15 and 20 exam papers per subject between now and the final HSC exams. At
least 8 of these exam papers should be completed before the trial exams
This may sound like a lot, but not if students work through examination papers from the beginning of the year and/or as each
topic is covered at school.
One of the best resources that students can invest in is “Checkpoints”, a publication that groups past HSC questions by topic.
These booklets usually contain the equivalent of 8 to 9 HSC examination papers worth of questions that can be addressed as
each topic is reviewed or completed at school, leaving only 7 to 12 papers to address in the stressful weeks leading up to the final
exams. Another great benefit of the Checkpoints series is the detailed and comprehensive worked solutions to every question
(even the multiple choice questions) at the back of the book - making this resource a very powerful exam preparation tool.
A Word of Advice:
Many students receive lower marks than otherwise possible as they could not complete examination papers in the given time.
Students should therefore sit two official HSC examination papers under examination conditions so that they can determine how
to pace themselves on the day of each exam.
To obtain an unbiased reflection regarding pace, we recommend that students avoid those questions they will be sitting under
examination conditions. Therefore, cross out the questions relating to the two papers you will be sitting under examination
conditions before working through "Checkpoints". Note that the year each question appeared in the HSC exams is documented
at the bottom of each question.
Note: As teachers usually work through the most recent HSC exam papers in class, we recommend that students put aside the
2008 and 2009 papers for pacing purposes.
"The gem cannot be polished without friction, nor man perfected
without trials." Chinese Proverb
Important Notes:
The Checkpoints booklets DO NOT include every question from the official BOS exam papers. Students should still print
out all of the available examination papers from the BOS site, put aside two whole examination papers per subject, then
work through the questions that did not appear in Checkpoints before the final exams.
When a HSC study undergoes marked content/structural changes, one of the biggest impediments for students involves
the lack of current and available resources from which to draw guidance and experience from. There are no/few past
examination papers that can be used to guide students and teachers as to the full range of questions and concepts that
may be presented in the examinations. In cases such as these, it is vital that students expose themselves to as many
quality and up-to-date resources as possible, such as Checkpoints and TSFX lectures.
Note: The authors of Checkpoints work through past HSC exam papers and include those questions that relate directly to
each new course in their publications. And if insufficient materials are available, they include unique questions (in the
same style as the official exams), to produce a respectable collection of exam style questions for students to benefit from.
Working Through Exam Papers - The Overall Game Plan
As previously suggested, aim to work through at least 8 papers per subject before the trial exams. Then, rather than forgetting
what you have learned, and having to re-learn materials before the final HSC exams, keep learned knowledge alive by working
through at least 1 exam paper per subject per week between the trial and final HSC exams. This approach will enable students to
extend on and refine examination skills, expose students to a greater collection of possible examination questions, reduce stress
and pressure in the weeks leading up to the exams, and very importantly, give you a huge advantage over your state-wide
Tackling Individual Exam Papers
Batch 1 – The Learning Phase (Open Book Process)
The first batch of exam papers should be addressed in an "open book" fashion i.e. students can refer to their notes, text books
and the solutions as they are working through the first 3 to 5 exam papers.
After reading a question - give it a go. If you are unable to answer a question (which is not uncommon in the early stages of exam
preparation), read through your notes or textbook and try to work out the answer. If you are short on time, work through each
question by referring to the worked solutions.
Note: At this stage, students are not expected to work through each entire exam paper or section in one sitting. Rather, work
through as many questions as possible in the time you have available. Importantly, DO NOT worry about how much time it takes
to complete a question – this is not important at this early stage.
Batch 2 – The Consolidation Phase (Closed Book Process)
The next batch of examination papers should be tackled in a "closed book" fashion. Once again, students do not need to work
through each entire exam paper in one sitting. If you only have 1 hour available, work through exactly one-third of a 3 hour
paper. If you have 1.5 hours available, work through exactly one-half of a 3 hour paper.
Do not be too concerned if you are initially unable to complete questions within the required time - but do identify how much
time you are spending on each question/section and identify why you were unable to complete these questions within the
"required time".
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Were you slowed down by the fact that you did not know your work well enough?
This means that you should go back to your notes/texts and polish up on the corresponding theory/technique and/or review the
learning techniques that you are using.
Did you know your work but just worked through the questions too slowly?
Then work faster next time!
Were you slowed down by "hand cramp" or difficulties in writing?
In this case, the muscles in your hand need strengthening! Use sticky tape to attach a battery to your pens/pencils, and use these
tweaked utensils to write with between now and the exams.
Slowly and systematically increase the speed at which you are working through questions so that you are meeting the "required
time" before your exams.
Batch 3 – The Pacing Phase (Closed Book Process)
Students should aim to work through 1 or 2 entire papers under exam conditions before the final exams.
After completing the first exam paper - analyse how much of the paper was completed and how much faster/slower you need to
work in order to complete the next exam within the "required time".
If possible, refine/perfect your pace by working through a second paper.
Most schools will purchase the trial examination papers you will be sitting at school from an organisation such as the Catholic
Secondary Schools Association (the Catholic Trials), NEAP or the NSW Independent Trials (the Independent Trial Papers).
Providing that the panel of exam writers employed by these organisations does not change in a particular year, you will find that
the papers produced by each organisation carry a similar writing style each year. Taking this point into consideration, it would be
beneficial for students to find out which organisation their school purchases their trial exam papers from, and sit at least one
exam paper from this same organisation under examination conditions the week before the trial exams.
Handy Hints:
Circle or highlight difficult questions, those questions you answered incorrectly, as well as those questions that address
fundamental concepts that should be reviewed before the exams. Re- visit these questions in the week(s) leading up to the
Put a cross or line through those questions that have been addressed and do not need to be reviewed so that you do not
waste time re-visiting questions that you do not need to.
More great advice will be issued to students at our
“Trial Exam Revision Lectures” that are being held during the Term 2 school holidays.
Happy studying!
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