🗓️ Step 1: Prepare your weekly to-do list
Your first step is to set out your calendar for the term, which will turn into your weekly to-do list. We are now in the Planning phase. This will help you keep track of what you need to do and when you need to do it.
To see how I set mine up, watch this video here.
What you should do is write down your subjects at the top and weeks on the left. Then you make comments on each week, noting down assessment dates (or anything important). You can get all this info by looking at your school’s term outline or overview.
This table will be your weekly to-do list.
Having this to-do list, knowing I’m making progress with it, and the satisfaction of checking off each box when I’ve completed it helped a lot in managing myself and being a little less stressed. I’ve found that it’s usually these small things that make a huge difference and if you’re interested in how to manage this stress and have the right mindset (which is just as important if not more than studying) feel free to check out this blog: https://excelacademics.com.au/blog/study-strategies-guide-for-atar/
🔍 Step 2: Identify your goals
The next step is to identify your goals in terms of the scores you want, and whether you want to be ahead of the school or going at the same pace. This will determine how much work you do outside of school and when you get stuff done.
Your goals will keep everything in perspective — especially when things don’t seem to go your way. They help you look at the bigger picture and they helped me a lot when I didn’t do well on exams because my goal didn’t involve me getting 100% on every single exam. There’s no doubt even the smartest people mess up from time to time, so don’t be too hard on yourself when you do, too. Focus on what actually matters to you.
📖 Step 3: Identify your topics
Now, you need to identify the topics you will be covering by looking at the unit outline or whatever information you have available. It helps to have friends who have already done the course. This will determine what tasks and resources you need to complete.
📚 Step 4: Identify Tasks and Resources
Next, make a list of the tasks and resources you need to complete. This will determine your workload. You will have three main resources: school work, your own extra work, and practice exams. Always complete all the school work and practice exams (as this is technically all you need to know to pass), and if you want to go the extra step, practice through questions in books, online worksheets, or tutors. You should be picking extra resources based on areas you want to improve understanding in or get faster at answering. This is why you don’t need to seek extra work in the beginning, but once you’ve gone through a fair amount of school work, start looking at challenging yourself. I’d recommend seeking extra work after Step 6.
If you don’t have access to school resources yet, find a book or something online that covers the general topic to familiarise yourself with the content and then cover the school stuff once you get access. If you look at my weekly to-do list above, you can see that I usually finish all school work first and then do extra work, but you can do them side-by-side if your school e.g. releases content on a weekly basis.
📝 Step 5: Assign Tasks and Resources to Weekly To-Do List
Once you have made the list, break them down into smaller tasks (chapters or pages) and then assign them to each week to complete. The amount you assign to each week should depend on when you want to have these tasks completed by.
Anyway you must make sure you practice each subject regularly, so you don’t forget any content by the time exams rock up. It also helps to estimate how long each task is going to take and then writing it down next to that task — this will help you assign tasks realistically and not burn yourself out or spend too much time on easy tasks. Be sure to account for any commitments and activities you have and if you’re actually okay with the amount of work you set yourself to complete.
Before I move on to the next step, it’s completely up to you for how far you want to plan ahead — just have a general idea of where you want to be in the next couple of weeks. All you need to do is update your weekly to-do list whenever you get more information or work from your school, or whenever you want to practice with extra resources.
📔 Step 6: Doing school-assigned work
Now, enough planning — let’s get down to actually studying. We have now progressed to the Understanding Phase. This is a no-brainer, but go to class, take notes and get school work done. Pay attention and ask questions because this, along with stack exchange whenever you’re in a pickle, is where the bulk of your learning will take place — your teachers also make your exams, so be sure to watch out for any hints they give out!
Your main intention for doing school-assigned work should be to LEARN — this is the part I used to mess up a lot in as I just did the questions applying the methods taught by teachers and tutors. But I never really understood WHY those strategies worked and so, when it came to harder questions, I couldn’t adapt to them. Your goal is to learn how and why the main concepts for each topic work and once you do, trust me, you will feel so much more confident. It’s going to be hard, but it’s going to be worth it.
Whenever you sit down to do a study session, pick from your weekly to-do list what you need to complete. In my experience, this weekly to-do list provides more flexibility and you can move things around a lot more easily when random things come up.
Don’t feel like you need to do every single question if you’re already confident — pick what is important for YOU. When you’re practicing, highlight questions you get wrong, and write down any useful tips and strategies you learn in a notebook. You will come back to this in your Review Phase.
In the end, understanding comes from: learning the concept, applying the concept, and learning from mistakes.
📓Step 7: Do self-assigned work
The high scores you want come from: increasing this understanding, developing strategies, and increasing speed through practice. This is where you should seek extra practice, which usually comprises the bulk of my Practice Phase. When doing extra practice from your weekly to-do list, you should still have a specific intention behind every session, which is usually to improve in one of the three aforementioned high scores areas for a specific topic and you should also know how you will go about doing it. For example, I did hard questions (but not too hard) to target my understanding and easy questions to target my speed. This was a game-changer because I used to mindlessly do thousands of questions without seeing results (which made me pretty sad) — when I realised the relevance (that is, will it actually be on the test) and purpose behind doing the questions mattered more than the quantity, that’s when I started improving and being less stressed! In the end, you want to do enough questions to boost your confidence but be able to revisit all the questions you get wrong in the Review Phase… so don’t overdo it and focus on what will make up the bulk of the exam.
Personally, I like to assign extra practice to the remaining weeks after I’ve completed school work, leaving two weeks for review and practice exams. I also like to save harder stuff and practice exams for the end to avoid prematurely attempting them and getting sad because I think I’m dumb — if that sounds like you, you’re not dumb, you just haven’t practiced enough.
The resources I used for extra practice, that is, on TOP of school work, are as following:
- Zumdahl Chemistry 9th Edition (book)
- Cambridge 3U Year 11 and Year 12 Mathematics (book)
- Master Organic Chemistry (website)
- The Organic Chemistry Tutor (youtube channel)
This link will also take you to the notes I personally made and used for each topic, which you can preview: https://excelacademics.com.au/free-resources/
🔬Step 8: Reviewing
Now, we have finally arrived at the Review Phase, which for me, is the first of the last two weeks before exams. This is where you should go reattempt questions you got wrong during the Practice Phase and consolidate all concepts. Don’t attempt new questions unless you really want or need to! The Review Phase is all about consolidating the Understanding Phase, which means proving any formulae you used and being able to explain all concepts to a five year old. You should not only know HOW things work, but WHY things work. I usually plan the days near my exams on a daily basis — I used to get really nervous close to exams and knowing I was on top of things made me a lot less stressed. You can check out my daily plan if you scroll down on my weekly to-do list document linked above.
If you really want to go the extra step, you should also compile all the tips and tricks you wrote in your notebook into a summary sheet. This helped me a lot right before exams as I used to get pretty paranoid that I somehow would forget all my content — and the summary sheet made sure I didn’t forget anything important and knew how to solve all questions. Now, let me run you through how to make one yourself:
- List all topics covered
- Go through each topic one by one, listing relevant concepts, formulae and when to use them, as well as question-types and how to approach them
- List any general tips and tricks for each topic, too
The format of your summary sheet and when you make it depends on what subjects you’re doing. If you’re making a summary sheet for a content-heavy subject such as chemistry or biology, you want to make it earlier in the term and focus on memorisation. However, if you’re making a summary sheet for maths, it’s fine to make it later in the term as practice is more important – the summary sheet would serve to remind you of methods, formulae, and tricks you used to solve questions.
⏳ Step 9: Practice Exams
Now it’s time to attempt the practice exams.
I usually set the last week before exams as a practice-exam-only period. Now that you’ve reviewed all content and questions, you have to get used to applying them under test conditions. In this week, you should go over all the practice exams available to you and lay off a bit on the workload. It’s important to rest a bit before exams to make sure you bring your A-game. When practicing past exams or mocks, use the formula sheet you would get during the actual exam (ask your teacher for this) and mimic actual test conditions (no distractions, timed and quiet environment). Once you’ve completed the exam, make sure to review it and analyse any errors, updating your summary sheet if you’ve learned anything new or picked up new strategies.
If you want to be extra prepared then after the practice exams, you can make a shorter summary sheet, consisting of:
- Things you keep getting wrong
- Things you should watch out for when attempting certain questions
- Anything you keep forgetting
- VERY important information e.g. strategies you always apply
This sheet is different to your full summary sheet as it is more concise, targets your weak areas and serves as reminders for certain things to do / watch out for during the actual exam.
Now, congratulations, you are almost exam ready! To know exactly what to do before, during, and after an exam, check out this blog over here: https://excelacademics.com.au/blog/exam-strategies-guide-for-atar/
Remember, there are only four phases: Planning, Understanding, Practicing, and Reviewing. That’s all you need to form a solid foundation. You can scale the method I’ve given you to your own timelines e.g. you can make the whole process two weeks long if you really wanted.
Before you go, I want to remind you that studying effectively for exams is just as good if not way better than just “being smart”. I wish you guys the best of luck for your exams and hope this helped you with your preparation!
Have faith in your hard work and take care 🙂
This blog was written by our Chemistry tutor, Sreeya. You can find her profile here.