21 August 2019
Start preparing for an exam three months before the date of the test. Photo: Reuters
Start preparing for an exam three months before the date of the test. Photo: Reuters

A four-point plan on how to approach exam preparation

Let me begin with a disclaimer: there is no sure-fire way to guarantee success in an exam. However, things like stress, panic and fear brought on by poor preparation can most certainly have a negative effect on performance.

Those who have English tuition sessions with me will know I like to break down a complex text into smaller, more defined, more manageable areas of inquiry. With exams in May or June, March is the month to start preparing. So here is my four-point plan on how to approach exam preparation.


That’s right – the thing that parents and teachers go on about endlessly is, unsurprisingly, number one on this list.

The fact is that revision helps: it brings information from the entire course to the front of one’s mind, reducing the chances of any unpleasant surprises occurring.

The best method is to divide the subject topic by topic; run these alongside a calendar showing your topic focus for the week; include matching past paper questions at the end for reinforcement; and allow for time to complete coursework or outstanding written tasks.

Ask questions in class

One thing that revision is great for is revealing hitherto forgotten gaps in understanding that you decided to ignore at the time, always intending to come back to them but never actually doing so. Now’s the time to ask questions. Remember, though, that teachers are likely to be receiving many emails concerning questions and clarifications. Make it so that more questions can be answered sooner by pooling your questions with those of other students, finding those that are similar, and deciding which are more important to be answered. Whatever you do, just fill in those gaps!

Form study groups

You have probably heard that too many cooks spoil the broth. However, particularly with English and history, where the way you explain is as important as what you are saying, believe instead in the “wisdom of crowds”.

Working with three or four of your peers, book library or other available space and spend an hour talking about how you would answer a particular past paper question. Check the quotations that you are using by seeing if others agree, and then make plans that can be used to answer a selection of relevant past papers.

Past Papers

Which leads us here. Helpful in various ways, past papers force you to move from knowledge consolidation to application. Completing two or three past papers in their entirety will give you a greater respect for the importance of timekeeping and planning. This is time-consuming, however, so try using the first few attempts to identify problems in expression or application which can be focused on specifically. Following that, target specific questions that you are dropping marks on and refine your answers against the mark scheme requirements.

And there you have it! Begin this preparation process three months before the date of your test, and you should be as prepared as possible.

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The writer is a British educator and the co-founder of Hertford Academy.

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