Students who do well in exams are not (usually) more intelligent than their C and D-grade scoring peers, it’s just that they know how to handle exams. Read on to find out how you can achieve that A* you’ve been dreaming of.

During revision

Did you know that most stunning difference between poor performers and A* students is how many past papers they complete?  Top students complete more past papers than everyone else. How? They complete their revision notes early on, so they have more time for past papers.

Also, remember that revision is about understanding, not memorisation. Those who regurgitate facts will have average scores– those who process what they have learned are the toppers. Exams are not a memory test!

During a mock exam/In the exam hall

1.Look through the paper

Read the front cover of your exam paper with care. Go through all the instructions and make sure you understand them. Know how many tasks you have to answer. All? Or can you choose which ones? Then look over all the questions. Which topics are coming up? Find out which question is easiest and start from there.

2.You choose the order

It is up to you what order you answer the questions in. Usually the order of the paper is intended to help you, but if you are not confident with a section, you can always skip it and come back later.

3. If you don’t know an answer, no panic

Once you have completed the easier questions, come back to those you don’t know. Try tackling them from a different angle (ie. rephrase the questions in simpler words, but keep their meaning identical). Still not sure? Come up with any realistic response that may help you gain marks. Because if you leave a question blank, that’s 0 marks for sure.

Startup Stock Photos
From Startup Stock Photos

The sacred mark scheme

Marking your practise papers is one of the fundamentals of test practise. The sample answers cue you as to how you should approach the questions and what specifically examiners are looking for.

As you mark your paper, you will automatically engage in the following steps, that will hint at what type of wording requires which type of response.

  • Reread the question and your answer.

eg. Question (from CIE IGCSE M/J 2013, Paper 11)

Explain why the governments of MEDCs, such as the UK, are concerned about the
ageing population. (5 marks)

Sample answer: Governments of MEDC’s are concerned about the ageing population, as this is a burden on tax payers, which have to provide for the pensions of the elderly. Also, the government has to invest more money into specialised facilities such as care homes, leaving it with less finances for the youth facilities. Furthermore, there would be less people to defend the country.

  • Read the mark scheme.

eg. Ideas such as:
strain on working population/economy/government;
economically active/government have to support/take care of/look after more people;
higher taxation;
have to pay for pensions;
more money to be spent on health care/more health care needed;
need to establish/spend money on care homes/specified service for the elderly;
fewer workers available/older people do not contribute to economy/older people do not
work;
reduced supply of workers leads to increase in wages;
people have to retire later;
more immigration;
less people to defend country;
facilities for young people close/money taken away from schools;
longer waiting list in hospitals;
lack of innovation; etc.

  • Evaluate your answer.

eg. This response would score 4-5 marks.

Then all you have to do is practise, practise, practise. You should answer a minimum of 5 past papers per subject to boost your performance.

Attribution: Header Image from Jack Hynes, Flickr
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