Exam Study Tips and Memory Tips

Many children who are facing exams, especially final exams and, at senior secondary level, provincial exams, feel very anxious and don’t know how to study for them. I always provide email “reports” after each lesson for my tutoring students, explaining what I taught in the lesson and providing hints and tips for the student and parents to continue with at home. This is an example of such a “report” for an actual grade 10 student preparing for a Provincial Math exam, but it also includes hints for exams like English and other subjects.

Practising for Provincial Exams: A. had printed out sample math provincial exams and asked for advice on how to use them to study. Some suggestions I gave her:

Practising with the sample exam(s):
– Go through the printed-out exam, and do all the questions. Write the number of each question and the answer on a separate piece of paper.
– Then mark the answer sheet, using the provided correct answers.
– Go back and re-do the questions you got wrong the first time (again, on a separate piece of paper).
– Mark your 2nd effort.
– If you got it wrong the 2nd time, ask your math tutor or teacher for help.
– If you got it right the 2nd time, analyse what you did differently, and why you got it wrong the first time. For example: Did you read it incorrectly? Did you read it too fast? Did you get the answer right in your “figuring” but then mark the incorrect multiple choice answer? Did you remember how to do it the 2nd time, but didn’t remember the 1st time? Keep in mind, for the actual exam, what caused you problems with the practice exam, so you don’t make the same kinds of mistakes. (Watch for patterns–do you often just hurry too much? Slow down! Or whatever…)
– If the reason you got it wrong the 1st time, but right the 2nd time, was that you didn’t remember how to do it the first time, but then remembered the 2nd time, this means that you DO understand the process, but you need to practice it more so it is really memorized and automatic.

Now start studying:
– Now start studying. First focus on the questions you got wrong both times; get help, and practice, practice, practice. Then focus on the questions you got wrong only the first time and practice them too.
– When you feel you’ve got your “problems” figured out, take one of the practice “e-exams” (online practice exams–this is the format that will be used for the actual exam). If there are still areas you’re having problems with, focus on those areas again. Also use the e-exam practice to get used to the e-format, and the timing.
– If you finish well ahead of the given time and made quite a few mistakes, maybe you are in too much of a hurry. Slow down; read each question twice to be sure you understand it before answering it.
– If you aren’t sure of an answer, you can leave it blank, and go on to answer other questions; then, when you are done, go back to the questions you skipped. Often, doing the other questions will remind you of how to do the “skipped” questions. If you still have time left, go over all the questions again, to make sure you read each one correctly, and keyed in the correct answer (look out for “silly mistakes”! Type carefully!). On the other hand, if you had to “guess” at an answer, and still aren’t sure about it after re-reading it, it is usually best to leave your “first guess” as the answer.
– Especially for exams like English, where there are essay questions as well as multiple-choice questions, it is wise to skim through the test first, and note how much each section is worth; then make yourself a little “schedule.” If you are taking too long on one section, set it aside and do the other sections; then if you have time, go back and finish the “difficult” section. But this also applies to math and other subjects as well. Planning ahead only takes 10 minutes or so, and can make a big difference in your results.
– Also, when you are skimming through before you start the exam, look for sections for which you are sure you know the answers, and answer them first. Save the “tough” sections for if you still have time.
– Another hint for essay questions: make yourself a good outline before writing. Then stick to the outline as you write. If you run out of time, you can put a little note at the end, referring the person marking it to your outline. They will already know your writing style, organisational ability, and other writing skills, and they can quickly see, from the outline, your knowledge of the topic and where you are going with the essay.

Memory Tips:

The second thing we discussed is memory. A. feels she has a lot of trouble with memorising. I got out a couple of “Memory” booklets that I have written (available here – there are 3 booklets in the series: Memory and Learning Strategies 1: Overview and General Tips; Memory and Learning Strategies 2: Tips and Tricks; and Memory and Learning Strategies 3: In the Classroom ), and we used them to go through all different kinds of memory tricks and tips. I have given copies of the booklets to A. to use now, and to keep for future reference. As we went through the tips, we discussed them in terms of her personal learning and memory styles and experiences, and in terms of math particularly–though of

As we went through the tips, we discussed them in terms of her personal learning and her memory styles and experiences, and in terms of math particularly–though she can also use them for studying and memorising in any subject area. We talked about ways she can use her abilities in the fine arts and physical/sports, to help her memorise. I had her think about things in the past that she found easy to memorise, even if they weren’t “academic,” and then analyse why they were easy for her. Then I encouraged her to apply those same principles to her math and English and other exams.

The main thing is to DO WHAT HAS WORKED FOR YOU–if you’ve tried some of the methods in the past and they haven’t worked, go on to ones that have worked. And if you’re still having trouble, try some “new to you” methods.

What do you think? Do you have any tips, pointers, or questions about studying for exams, and for memory? Why not share them with us in the comments? Thanks!

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