The following are the best exam strategies I picked up from my time in Year 11 & 12, which ultimately helped me achieve a 99.85 ATAR — while also maintaining my mental health (for the most part!).
Sleep at least 8 hours the night before
No matter how much you cram the night before, not getting enough sleep will hinder your concentration and prevent you from doing well on the exam. You don’t want to be half-asleep when attempting trig problems, trust me.
Eat a good breakfast and stay hydrated
Eat a nice, light breakfast to amp up your energy but not too much to make you groggy. A high carb meal, such as oatmeal or bananas are good choices!
Arrive 10 mins early to your exam
This is to make sure you have everything you need for the exam (usually, this would be your student ID, normal calculator, graphics calculator, and pencil case) and prevent stress from thinking you might arrive late.
Try breathing exercises
It’s natural to get nervous before these exams, so I recommend meditation or breathing exercises prior to going into them. The longer you practice both, the more you’ll start seeing benefits such as increased concentration and improved mood. But if it’s five minutes before the exam starts and you’re getting super anxious, try box breathing to calm your nerves (https://www.webmd.com/balance/what-is-box-breathing)
Look over your summary sheet
Before going to the exam, take some time to scan your summary sheet and memorise anything in particular you need to look out for or remember.
Use reading time wisely
Using reading time correctly is extremely important in understanding the exam layout and how you should approach it. I usually perform a single scan, where I read each question and come up with a VERY rough method in my head (at least the first step) for how I would solve or approach it. For questions I don’t know how to solve (there is always one question like this, trust me), I don’t dwell on it but make sure I scan through the entire exam before I revisit and think about it more. For questions that don’t require calculations, I come back to it after my first scan and figure out the answer so I can write down what’s in my head as soon as writing time begins.
Complete a Rapid Round and a Slow Round
When writing time begins, I go through my first round of answering questions. I call this the rapid round, where I solve all easy questions and questions that I have already developed a method for in my head during reading time. Basically, I solve all the questions that don’t require much thinking and skip the hard or time-consuming ones. Once I go through all questions I know I can solve and collect as many marks as possible, I then focus on the hard questions. It is usually sufficient to not answer two or three hard questions and still get an excellent mark – the trick here is to make 100% sure that you are at least getting all the easy marks. After the rapid round, the slow round starts as I think more about the hard questions and try my best to solve them.
Apply your strategies
This is pretty self-explanatory, but apply strategies you picked up during your revision time when answering questions in the exam. If you have a certain way of solving things, try to follow it.
Keep an eye on the clock
Time runs out pretty fast during exams so check the clock once after your rapid round and again after your slow round. The teacher will usually let you know when you have 10 minutes left, too.
Show all working out
This is a no-brainer, but when answering questions, show ALL working out! This includes writing down any formulae you use and briefly explaining each step in your method. Show your thinking process in a clear and thorough manner as teachers can be very strict with marking; for example, writing the correct answer will only get you one mark – it is the working out that makes up the rest of the marks. Even when you have no clue about how to answer the question, show some working out and if the marker is generous, you’ll receive partial marks.
If you’re feeling tired during an exam, drink water! Just don’t drink too much or you’ll waste your exam time going to the toilet (which you should have gone to beforehand).
When you are stuck on a problem, it often helps to draw diagrams and visualise as it makes what steps you need to take clearer. It also helps to translate the question by writing down what information you are given and what you are required to find, using symbols and brief phrases. This may indicate to you the missing parts/variables you need to solve for or how all the information connects, aiding your method.
For maths, it is often helpful to convert all information into mathematical language and symbols. Write down any formulae you think might be useful or relate to any part of the word problem – this might help you get some ideas for your method!
Check your answers
Check your working out and watch out for any silly mistakes. This is usually done by re-doing questions and following each step of your working out to see if it makes sense. Refer to the formula sheet to ensure you are using the correct formulae/numbers and always identify what the question is actually asking you to do (pay attention to keywords!). Make sure to also check the front of the test as this may outline certain things your answers have to follow. For example, for maths exams, it may tell you to round every answer to two decimal places – I know this from personal experience because I once lost two marks for not rounding correctly 🙁
Now that you know the general idea of how to perform well during exams, you should check out our 99+ ATAR study guide blog to really solidify your scores: https://excelacademics.com.au/blog/99-atar-comprehensive-study-guide-for-students/
This blog was written by our Chemistry tutor, Sreeya. You can find her profile here.