Deep breaths and spare pens: How to prepare for VCE exams

VCE exams begin for some students on October 3. While it’s a daunting time for many, there are strategies that can help students prepare and make it to easier to get through each exam. This is the first in our series of stories designed to help Victorian students do their best.

VCE exams are fast approaching, but teachers say it’s not too late to get more prepared.

We’ve gathered advice from the Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority, high school teachers and some of the state’s high-scoring students for this series. This article offers some simple strategies on preparing for exams.

How to prepare for VCE exams.Credit:

In the lead-up to the exam

  • Don’t try to cram. Draw up a realistic timetable that takes all your subjects into account. Try studying in 20-minute chunks, allow time for exercise and relaxation and make sure you get enough sleep.
  • Put together notes on each of the key knowledge and skills set out in the course design.
  • Read previous exams and do at least three or four to revise. 2021 All-Round VCE High Achiever Olivia Voulgaris says she did about 50. If you’d like more, speak to your teachers, friends or tutors.
  • Work in a study group, check each other’s answers and discuss ideas.
  • Read assessors’ reports. Voulgaris says it helps give clues as to what assessors look for.
  • Some high-achieving students recommend waiting to do practice exams in test conditions until you feel comfortable with the content; others say to do them open-book style to help you identify which areas you find difficult. Find out what works best for you.
  • Try the ‘traffic light’ method: highlight things you know in green, yellow for “unsure” and red for “no idea” so you know where to focus your study.
  • Humanities teacher Dave Browning recommends using flashcards, getting your friends or parents to quiz you or trying Quizlet to memorise quotes, dates, or key study topics.
  • Make sure you are physiologically ready for the exam and eat healthily to avoid sugar highs and lows.

Key dates:

October 3 – 30: Languages examination oral component, Auslan interpretative sign examination, performance examinations including music and dance

October 12: Language exams begin

October 26: English exam and other written exams begin

November 16: Last exam is taken

Prepare for different kinds of questions

  • Here is a list of glossary terms to help you understand words in assessments.
  • Ensure you read the examination specifications on the VCAA website. It will guide you as to what you will be marked on.
  • Prepare for your individual exam, multiple choice, short answer questions, extended responses or questions with stimulus material. Are you prepared for what you might get?

What to bring to the exam

  • Make sure you have two or three spare pens.
  • If you are allowed a calculator, make sure you bring the right one and know how to use it properly.
  • Check you are allowed a bound reference book/sheet for your maths exam. The VCAA has more information on the bound reference book here.
  • If you are allowed, bring a dictionary and ensure it is not annotated, highlighted and doesn’t have tabs.
  • If it is an external exam, you will need your student identification.
  • A ruler, pencils (at least 2B), highlighters and a sharpener.
  • A bottle of water in a clear bottle that is no more than 1.5 litres.

What not to bring

  • If you bring your mobile phone or any other unauthorised electronic communication devices such as watches that can store, receive or send information, they could be confiscated and held for up to three months.

During the exam

  • Take a deep breath and use your reading time effectively. Some students plan during this time, others use it to answer multiple choice questions in their heads.
  • Some teachers advise to read the question three times: once during reading time, again when attempting it and lastly when you are checking your answer.
  • If you are stuck on a question, mark it, move on to the next and come back to it at the end.
  • Keep track of the time during the exam. Calculate how long you have to answer each question and try and do as many as possible.
  • Don’t leave the room early. If you have extra time, double-check your answers.
  • Don’t cheat. It doesn’t work and you’ll get caught.

Keeping COVID-19 safe

VCAA is reviewing provisions for students who need to isolate or quarantine due to COVID-19. They will provide more advice.

Tips from Ashwood High School VCE 2021 student Nyapal Giek

How did you manage your stress?

Go for walks, socialise and make sure you’re not trapped in your room. Nyapal also recommends staying in contact with friends, and reaching out to teachers for study help.

Preparing for the exam

For content-heavy subjects with a lot of definitions, flashcards and quizzes are really good for revision. Make sure you take consistent breaks and don’t study for long hours. Try to study with friends and quiz each other.

I think a good thing to do is to have a dedicated space for studying, preferably away from your bedroom. When in your bedroom your mind is still not in study mode.

What about when taking the exam?

Try not to psych yourself out. Take deep breaths, breathe. When you are actually taking the exam, use your reading time well and identify your big-mark questions and questions you do know the answer to. When you start with questions you know the answer to, it can give you a confidence boost, so when you come back, you are more eager to try those harder questions.

Keep it in perspective

It’s not the be-all or end-all. There are other pathways. If you are trying your best, that’s all you can do. Try not to be really hard on yourself.

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