Past papers should be an integral part of your preparation for your trials and HSC exams, however, it is important to know how to maximise their impact on the improvement of your results. It is important that you don’t just cram them in immediately before your exams as that will not be an effective strategy. Rather it is more important to consider exactly when and where in your study routine they’re going to produce the most benefit.
These are some rules that will help you extract optimal benefit from past papers:
Ensure you have revised all the content before doing past papers
Past papers are useful in several ways, but they’re not the best tools to comprehensively cover each syllabus point.
The danger in the approach of beginning with past papers is that you could easily do a few past papers without encountering questions on a particular outcome or type of problem, do very well in them, and gain a false sense of confidence in your proficiency in the subject without ever targeting your weaknesses.
Past papers are written to test a broad range of topic in every subject, however, there is certainly no single paper that is going to target everything you can be tested on. Thus it is imperative to thoroughly go through the syllabus material such as notes before attempting past papers, as past papers are a means to apply knowledge by answering questions rather than learning the knowledge.
Do your first two papers open book without timed exam conditions
Doing past papers ‘closed book’ and under time pressure is a vital tool in preparation, as discussed in the next point. But, for maximum benefit, it’s a good idea to do a couple of papers without these added factors first.
This is because you are still in the ‘knowledge absorption’ part of the learning process when you have the instant feedback of looking over the crib and your notes and reviewing your errors while you do the exam, rather than being in the ‘knowledge testing’ part of the learning process when you do papers under exam conditions.
It’s important to go through the first part of the learning and applying before the second to ensure your knowledge is already ingrained in your memory before you begin testing it.
Complete the remaining papers under strict exam conditions
After doing the first few papers without exam conditions, it is essential that you become conditioned to effectively completing exams under pressure. Make sure to get through at least a few past papers in this manner; preparing for exams involves not only solidifying and testing your knowledge, but also becoming used to the pacing you’ll have to achieve to deal with the time pressure.
Space your past papers
Do not cram two or three papers the day before your exam, as this will not only tire you but also prove to be an ineffective use of your time. Make sure you count the number of past papers you have and space them out in the weeks or even months before your exam, especially before your final HSC exams.