Exam Technique and Revision Strategies

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Introduction

Students who get the highest grades are not always the strongest mathematicians. In many cases, student underperform in exams because they have failed to put in sufficient time to learn effective exam technique.

Practise Under Exam Conditions

Why?

If the only time you answer exam questions in timed conditions is when you are in an exam, you are more likely to have issues with the following:

The pressure never completely goes away, but with purposeful practice it gets easier to manage.

How?

Practise completing exam questions in exam conditions.

Exam Technique Strategies

Try to actively work on developing the following strategies when working on exam questions:

Communicate Clearly

Why?

Maths is not just about ‘getting the right answer’. You should aim to express your ideas clearly. Exam markers are only human and do not have an infinite amount of time to search through a disorganised solution to award marks.

Clear Presentation



Mathematical Language

Reducing Careless Mistakes

Why?

The most common reason students drop marks in exams is by making careless mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes, but the most consistent mathematicians have developed reliable strategies to identify and correct them.

These strategies are unlikely to develop on their own and you must actively work to improve the checking of your work in your day-to-day practice. If you only try to use these strategies in the exams/assessments you will be unlikely to remember to do the majority of them.

General Strategies

Re-read the Question

Often a question takes considerable time to answer. You may have forgotten the details by the time you have finished answering it.


Calculator Display Check

After using your calculator, check the calculation on the display for errors.


Using Diagrams

Use diagrams to help understand questions or to check working.


Calculator Fluency

Practise using your calculator to speed up calculations and to check answers.

Note: Your calculator is not a substitute for mathematical understanding. Almost any question can be made into a ‘non-calculator’ question using two words: ‘Show that…’.

Above all, practise using your calculator to develop fluency. If it doesn’t come naturally you won’t do it when under pressure in the exam (especially if you’re not fast enough).

Line by line checking.

Line-by-line checking means checking each term on your working from one line to the next for mistakes. It is very effective but can be time consuming. However, with practice you can improve your speed. Line-by-line checking may not be possible if you don’t already work at a fast-enough pace to complete the exam.


Reflect on Your Mistakes

Once you have answered the question check/correct your work using the mark scheme.

You may find your teacher regularly mentions the importance of ‘doing your corrections’. Often students make a token effort to copy the mark scheme just to ‘jump through the hoop’. These students are missing out on a significant chance to rapidly improve their progress.

Why?

If you don’t try to understand and correct your mistakes, you will continue making them over and over (including in the final exam). If you take the time to understand why the mistake was made, you can take steps to ensure you don’t repeat it.

How?

Firstly, always ensure you check your answers (first by yourself, then using the mark scheme or solutions). If you don’t know you’re making a mistake, you can’t take steps to correct it!

Next try to identify why you made the mistake.

For calculation errors, try to keep a log of which mistakes you frequently make so that you become more mindful of them.

For mistakes which occur through a lack of understanding, make sure to take the time to properly understand the mistake.

Make a note of any questions you got wrong first time around. These can then be used again when revising a topic.


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