Planning for success in the WACE exams

Wed, February 21, 2018

At last Friday's Assembly, the top achievers in the 2017 WACE exams were invited back to St Mark's to celebrate their success. In addition, Old Scholars Jackson Porter and Cameron Keyser, who both achieved an ATAR above 99, shared some study tips with students.

What to study

In regard to choosing subjects in Senior School the most important thing is to choose subjects you like and are interested in. You’ll enjoy these more and it won’t be such a drag to study for them. Speaking from personal experience, if you choose a subject because of a reason other than liking it, then you will end up hating it and not put the required effort into it.

Another tip suggested by Jackson and Cameron is to make a list of all you need to do each day.  When you get home, do the non-essential things first (such as writing notes) before completing homework that is due the next day. It forces you to be more productive.

How to study

Jackson and Cameron said it was important to experiment and find a method of study that works for you. If it works, stick to it. Here are a few approaches that have worked for them:

  • Abbreviations and note taking: Firstly, handwriting notes for content-heavy subjects like Human Biology is excellent, however they found this often means copying too much text straight from a textbook or a PowerPoint slide. They found that it is best to formulate your notes using key words, phrases and trigger words rather than copying word for word. Trying to write out and learn too much information wastes time and will lead to higher stress. Use palm cards to learn content and once you have read over them a few times and thought about what you have read,  move onto practice questions. 
  • Practice Questions: For most subjects, try to do as many practice questions as you can. This is particularly helpful for Maths and Science subjects. Do lots of them! Practice questions are available your textbooks, worksheets, revision books and practice exams.
  • Music and study: Jackson and Cameron both found that study and music do not mix. They found it felt like your brain was in two places. If you do prefer music, stuff with no lyrics is best, because you won’t find yourself singing along. Alternatively, if there is too much noise, use earplugs.
  • Make the most of your time and stay on top of things: Take notes in class and then when you are home, compile them and finish fleshing out notes you learned that day. Spending half an hour a night doing this means that over four nights you’ve done two hours of note taking for that subject. This means that by the weekend you’re less stressed and you can spend your time either learning your notes or doing practice questions. It also means you stay on top of things and are making sure that all the stuff you’ve learned in one week is fully understood a notes before you move onto the next week's work.
  • Breaks: It is important to have breaks between study, especially in Year 11 and Year 12 to have breaks between study. Jackson said that he would always try to stick to completing 50 minutes of study and then taking a 10 minute physical break. This is particularly helpful during the exam period, where you are spending full days studying. Jackson also noted that many in their year, including Cameron, had the rule to not to study on Friday nights, but instead take the time to relax.
  • Setting your own study timetable: Jackson said that he made a table that set out which subjects he would work on each day. Plan your time well before the exam period, and follow what you have set up. It helps you stay on track, be organised and reduces stress, as you know what is coming up.
  • Phones and distractions: It is vital to delegate a study area that is distraction-free, for example, a room where there is not TV and limited background noise. They recommend leaving your phone in another room to avoid the temptation to check it.
  • Stay balanced:  Try to maintain some of your out of school commitments. As strange as it sounds, both Cameron and Jackson said their best results came when they were busy.  If you give yourself too much time to study, you may start thinking you have more time that you really do, and could end up procrastinating.

To sum up, choose subjects you like, find a study method that works, reduce the size of your notes, be organised, remove distractions and stay busy.

Thank you Cameron and Jackson!