Crammers Guide to Survival in HSC Exams

Crammers guide to survival

First we should say: do NOT cram if you have a choice. We do not recommend cramming as a sole solution to the HSC, as cramming definitely underperforms consistent study in the long run. However in life, unforeseen events happen and you may find yourself in a situation where you have only a few days, or even just 1 day, before a major exam.

Often if something happens and it is of no fault of your own, the school may be lenient and make arrangements to be fairer to you (e.g. they may arrange for you to sit a supplementary exam at a later date). However sometimes it is plainly our fault for being unprepared. For example, sometimes through pure negligence, a student can find out about a major exam only a few days before it is to be done. In these situations, school administration is less sympathetic and you are unlikely to receive any special treatment. Therefore we have put together this short guide to help you if you are ever in this situation.

First step: get an overview Spend your first hour or so getting an overview of the entire content section you need to study for. For example, if you have an upcoming exam dealing with the entire Acidic Environment module for HSC Chemistry, spend your initial hour reading through all your notes (from tutoring, school, your own notes etc) briefly and summarily, to get a big picture of what are the main assessable parts.

Once you h6ave a general idea of the content they can ask you about in the exam, you’ll have a good idea of what is important and deserves more attention. It is important to not skip this step, as it will save you valuable time. If you skip this step and jump right into studying from the very beginning of your content, you risk spending too much time on the sections near the beginning, which may not carry the bulk of the marks in the exam.

The main assessable parts In school exams, usually the exam covers only one or two particular topics (called topic exams) or only a portion of the course (for example, the half yearlies and trials). Hopefully you won’t need to cram for something as major as the trials.

These exams usually award the bulk of the marks to one or two central topics or sections, which you will need to identify in your overview before you start studying. If you are pressed for time, you should aim to study only the main parts in good detail so that you’ll at least get a reasonable mark. Cramming is the skill of first identifying what the major parts of the exam will be (this can come down to your skill in prediction) and preparing for these major parts in sufficient detail such that your mark will at least be moderately pleasing.

The other parts which do not form part of the main section of the exam should be reviewed at a lower priority. The reason is because if you are cramming, this means you don’t have enough time to study the entire content properly. Therefore while you may not be able to score full marks, you can prioritise the major points and study them in greater detail than the side-points.

All nighters All-nighters are not recommended because you will be extremely sleepy the day after. During the day after, while you might not feel too drowsy, your memory retention and recall will be terrible. You might not be able to remember most of the things you studied, even if it was the night before, because sleep allows your brain to organise its thoughts in a coherent way. If you don’t get enough sleep, your mind is in a chaotic and unorganised state and you won’t be able to recall information effectively and reliably.

Notwithstanding the effect on memory recall, pulling all-nighterscombined with high caffeine dosage is extremely unhealthy to your body. While energy drinks like V, Red Bull etc market themselves as energy drinks which keep you awake, doing exams heavily under the influence of caffeine is actually adverse to memory recall and concentration. If you find you have absolutely no time to study the content and you only have 1 night left before the exam, it is better to either:

• Study till around 1-2am, then sleep as many hours as you can and wake up at your usual time

• Sleep at your usual time, set an alarm at 5am and study for a few hours before school

Both options work, because some sleep is significantly better than no sleep.

You will be more awake, aware and be able to concentrate much better as a result of having some sleep

After the exam After the exam, you should still find time to review the content that you needed to cram. This content will become assumed knowledge for subsequent exams, as well as the final external HSC exams. Therefore you should not leave the content behind, because from your cramming, you may have missed many subtle points or some fundamental principles. It is a good idea to review the entire section you crammed, as if you’ve never seen it before, to ensure you have no gaps in your knowledge for future exams. If you have the time to do this, then it is highly recommended.

Developing Good Study Habits for Your HSC

Studying consistently is important if you want a good HSC result. It is important to build up good study habits early on from your Preliminary year and sustain them until you complete your HSC. Cramming should not be thought of as an alternative to consistent study, but rather as a last resort. Students should not leave things to the last minute when doing things such as assignments, assessments and exam preparation.

Of course, this all sounds typical and preachy, but it’s all true. Every student that gets 99+ follow a strict study regiment and have a healthy work ethic. As bright as you naturally are, if you are a student who relies on

cramming, never does homework and leaves things till the last minute, you will get around 95 at the most. While a 95 is by no means disappointing, consider the fact that had you taken the HSC more seriously than you did, you would have had a good shot at 99+.

So what’s a healthy amount of study?

We’ve seen some students who are so dedicated to the point of fanaticism. They write out weekly timetables which incorporates up to 6 hours of study each school night (sleeping at 1am nightly), and 12 hours per non-school day, leaving time for meals and sleep only. We do not recommend anyone do this, nor do we think there is any need to.

We’ve all heard the term “work smarter, not harder”, and this is very true when it comes to study technique. There’s no need to force yourself to study 6 hours everyday – that’s sweatshop labour! Instead we recommend a consistent 3-4 hours of study each school day as a healthy amount. This would allow ample time to do all school and tutoring homework, and time to read textbooks and texts as well. Anything significantly less than this is too little, and anything significantly more than this is unhealthy and unbalanced. Weekends should be spent relaxing or doing some light amounts of study. For example, our students come tutoring on the weekends!

The key to “working smarter” for your HSC is consistency. If you can sustain a constant level of study by sticking to a habit of studying 3 hours a day after school each day, you will have ample time to review everything at least once over, and have a very comprehensive knowledge base for your entire HSC

Make yourself a schedule

This is totally optional. If you’re the organised type and like writing down daily plans, a good organisational technique is to write down a rough plan of how you’d like to study for each school and non-school day. For example:

  • 4-6pm: School homework + tutoring homework
  • 6-8pm: Dinner / rest
  • 8-9pm: Review textbook chapters, read English texts, read ahead etc
  • 9-11: Free time
  • 11: sleep

That shows a 3-hour a day plan for school days. You can develop something similar to this to suit yourself. Maybe you feel you can handle slightly more than 3 hours a day, but you would like at least 1 free day to yourself per week. How ever you want to structure your time usage is up to you, but the golden rule is consistency.

Habits during study

Some students prefer to read and write notes while they study, while others prefer to simply read. Some students read off their own notes written in school, while other students read off textbooks for their subject. Whatever your study method is, it is most likely fine.

However, you should always keep a small notepad on your table, and whenever you come across something you don’t understand, write your question down. You should do this because there are many times when you will come across a small gap in your understanding only during the time you’re studying. If you don’t write your question down, when you see next the teacher at school or tutoring, you would forget what to ask, or forget to ask altogether. As a result, you still have that gap in your knowledge.

What separates a strong student from a weaker one is the subtleties in their level of knowledge. It’s fair to say that it is relatively easy for any student to grasp the fundamentals of the content for all their courses. However, exam questions often differentiate between a full mark response and a 3/4 mark response in terms of these subtleties. Often full marks are given only to answers that show insight and true depth of one’s knowledge of the subject area. You can only demonstrate this if throughout your HSC, you have asked every question you need to ask, and have a solid knowledge without any gaps that you are aware of.

Also, students are sometimes afraid to ask their teachers questions. This is understandable, as we all care what others think of us. Instead of telling you the obvious thing, which is to simply be brave and ask, we advise you to get your teacher’s attention after class and go through your list of questions. Any good teacher will be all too happy to help a student who is genuinely interested.

Just remember, always write your questions down as soon as you find something you don’t fully understand (no matter how subtle or small the point appears to be). Ask the questions you need to ask, and you will have no gaps in your knowledge.

Consistent sleeping time each night

Scientists know that during sleep, our brain restructures all of your thoughts, ideas and knowledge you have gained for that day into an efficient format ready for recall. For those who know how computers work, it’s analogous to defragmenting a hard drive. Sleep is important to allow the brain to reorganise the new things you’ve learnt in a more efficient way. Therefore sleep can be thought of as the last stage to the learning process, that is when the brain commits something newly learnt to long-term memory and understanding.

Keeping a consistent sleep pattern is extremely important for memory retention and learning. If you don’t get your good night’s sleep, your brain can’t learn properly. This is another reason why all-nighters never work. If you’re in an unavoidable situation where you need to sit an exam the very next day and you have a large amount of content to get through, don’t ‘pull an all-nighter’. Instead, study the main points and get some rest. You will tend to do better than if you get no sleep at all for the entire night.

Consistent sleep also means you will never be tired during the day. The #1 reason why we are drowsy in the morning is because our bodies are sleep-starved, probably because we slept in too much during the weekends, or stayed up late playing computer games or chatting on msn. You will tend to feel terrible and won’t be able to function properly during the day after. If you break your sleeping pattern once in a while, this is acceptable, but don’t make this into a long-term habit. Remember: sleeping well is highly important to studying effectively during your HSC.

Self discipline

Consistency is extremely hard to keep up. For example, say you promise yourself you will study 3 hours a day, but then once in a while you need to attend a party or event, or there’s something on TV that must be watched, or you just feel tired and can’t be bothered. That’s ok too, if you’re tired, give yourself a break. Don’t totally neglect your friends over studying either, take a break with them when a break is due.

However it is highly important to strike a balance. You should resume your consistency as soon as possible after the lapse in study. We all get lazy and tired once in a while. The trick with consistency is not actually to be consistent 100% of the time, but rather, to have the ability to pick yourself right up after an instance where you have breached your study regime. Ignore the past, move on and continue trying your best to be consistent.

Keeping yourself motivated

The most precious resource to your HSC is not time – we have plenty of time each day, most of which we spend doing things other than study. Why is this the case? If we had unlimited energy, we would study while on the train, study while eating dinner, study instead of watching some TV or spending time on the computer before sleep, and study in the morning before school starts. If you count all that time up, in 24 hours, you might be able to study for around 8 hours each school-day! Not to mention all day each non-school day.

But we don’t do this. The reason is because the most precious resource to your HSC is your motivation. We as human beings simply can not be made to work nonstop without any break whatsoever, even for our own good. The whole point of making a schedule and trying your best to be consistent with study is so that you can find a sustainable level of study that you can handle in the long term. Therefore it is important to stay motivated throughout your HSC so you don’t break the good habit of consistent study.

There are many ways to stay motivated. One we recommend is to keep reminding yourself what you are working for. Often students get demotivated because the benefits of a good HSC result are not immediately tangible to them. Students tend to lose sight of their goals, which is to get into the course they desire at university. Whenever you find that you are falling a bit behind in your study regime, remind yourself what you are doing this for. Try to evoke the same feeling you had when you made that initial determination to yourself that you will try your best in the HSC.

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