Week 7 – Problem Areas
Hey everyone! It’s Week 7, and the end is almost in sight! Keep up all of your hard work as we enter the final sprint of VCE. Make sure you’re maintaining a balance across your subjects, but also across your life as a whole. It has certainly been a crazy year so far, so please do pat yourself on the back for handling it like a champ.
This week’s topic is problem areas. By this stage of exam preparation, you’ll want to start working out which areas you’re most confident in and which areas require more attention. As time gets more and more scarce, studying effectively will be super important to maximise your potential. Spend your time wisely!
What we’ll be going through today are some of my personal tips to you on how to target these problem areas specifically and effectively.
Using a Topic Checklist
If you’re struggling with internalising the breadth of content that you need for VCE History, or if you’ve got some areas down pat but not so much other more obscure topics, this is my number one piece of advice for you. Use a topic checklist.
An effective topic checklist has three components: a list of all possible content topics taken straight from the Study Design; a rating system for you to evaluate your understanding of each topic; and extra space to note down specifically what you need to focus on. The topic checklist that I used in VCE looked something like the one on the right, using Russia Area of Study 1 as an example.
The left column contains all the topics from the Study Design, separated by the categories they fall under (ideologies, individuals, etc). The middle column contains ten bubbles to shade in, ranking understanding from one to ten. I found this particularly useful in providing a visual representation of my understanding – after ranking every topic I was very clearly able to see where I needed to spend more time and effort. The final column is where I wrote exactly what I needed to address in order to increase my understanding, whether it was specific statistics, conceptual understanding, quotes, or something else.
Using this topic checklist, I was able to prioritise in my revision and focus on those pesky problem areas. In addition to just content revision, this helped me figure out what practice responses to write, which leads me on to…
Practicing Responses, not Exams
I spent a lot of time writing out full practice exams under exam conditions when I did VCE History. It was my primary method of revision at this stage – I would sit a full exam under time conditions, make a time to see my teacher and receive feedback and a mark. Yet instead of taking onboard the feedback and applying it directly to my next response, I would fixate on the mark. I would keep completing practice exam after practice exam, thinking that by mere repetition I would increase my scores. It got to the point where my teacher had to refuse to give me a mark so that I would concentrate on the feedback. In the end, my practice exams had mixed results, which is why I would advise against following in my footsteps here.
What you really should be focusing on is the feedback for individual pieces. I wish that instead of writing full practice exams, I wrote individual pieces with a clear focus in mind on what to improve. By completing a full exam, you’ve got five completely different responses, on completely different subject content, and with completely different feedback for each. It is very difficult to absorb all of this different feedback and apply it to the next exam – we simply don’t have the capacity to improve everything all at once. And with our limited available time before exams, the last thing we want to do is be inefficient.
So instead, if I were to do VCE again I would emphasise improving individual responses before going on to do practice exams. Targeting problem areas in content, refining structure for individual response types, and improving historical reasoning and vocabulary are all much more achievable with individual responses than complete exams. This is also where I would recommend rewriting responses. There is a lot to be gained from applying feedback directly to an existing piece, especially when the feedback came from the piece in question. Rewriting responses, or even just annotating or modifying your responses, is a great way to put that feedback to work and think critically about how to improve your writing.
But also Exams
Now, that’s not to say that you shouldn’t complete practice exams. Quite the contrary, you definitely should – but for a different purpose altogether.
If practice responses are where you apply feedback, practice exams are where you apply exam conditions. The biggest benefit I got from doing so many practice exams was that I was always able to complete responses in the allocated time. By setting aside the two hours and fifteen minutes needed for a practice exam, you’re exercising a lot of essential skills that you can’t exercise normally.
You’re mastering your use of reading time, choosing which questions to focus on and how to plan speedily. You’re familiarising yourself with the exam format, making sure you know where to write each response and how to use the extra writing space. You’re abiding by the strict time conditions, figuring out how to manage your time and where you can afford to cut corners. And lastly, you’re improving your flexibility, or your ability to switch from one revolution to another, or one area of study to the next.
Exams are a necessary component of revision. However, they should not be the only component of your revision. Otherwise you’re limiting your skills practice to a select few.
Have a question?
In the final weeks before exams Diego will be hosting 2 Live Q&A sessions to help everyone get fully prepared for exams. If you have a question on how to best get prepared, have been stuck on an exam question or want to clarify an area of content send it through here, and Diego might answer it live!