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  • Allen

Exam Preparation Week 2

Updated: Sep 10, 2021

Hello again! This is the second of 10 blog posts reflecting on my VCE Biology journey. If you’ve just discovered these musings- welcome! If you’re here from our pilot episode- can a blog even have pilot episodes?- welcome back. Hop on board and strap yourselves in; today I want to talk about preparing for your final SAC.

The usual disclaimer applies: this is drawn from personal experience, and ultimately the only person who can honestly evaluate your progress is yourself. Think of this as advice from someone who’s come out the other side (and lived to tell the tale)- somewhere between ‘footy coach before a big game’ and ‘Obi-Wan teaching Luke Skywalker’. If nothing else, at least you’ll always have the high ground.

Gearing up

This is around the time that schools are wrapping up their Unit 4 content. Classwork is slowly transitioning to exam prep, and the last bits of new knowledge are filtering through. If you haven’t done your final school-based assessments now, chances are they’ll be queued up for the first weeks of Term 4.

I was feeling pretty demoralised at this stage, to be honest- my previous SAC marks were less than ideal (averaging around 60-70%) and I was pinning my hopes on the Evolution SAC to rescue my ranking.

During this time, I think the most important realisation that struck me was a simple statement of fact. SACs are independent events. Your performance in previous assessments, on different topics, at a different time of the year, should have no bearing on your mindset heading into the next one. Doing poorly in my previous SACs didn’t implicate my ability to study smarter, work harder, and altogether do better going forwards. I can’t understate how critical this mindset is; not just for Biology, or even the sciences (where SACs tend to test a discrete collection of skills), but for VCE in general. That’s not to say I didn’t look back and review my work. And certainly, this is much easier said than done. Under-performing for what felt like the whole year placed a tangible pressure on me to ‘redeem’ myself.

The solution to this came in the middle of one evening, where I looked at my notes and realised I couldn’t possibly memorise all the assigned textbook sections. Nothing seemed to stick. Could I explain convergent vs divergent evolution? What about a phylogenetic tree? Did I know the exact dates and markers in human evolutionary history?

The word salad in my notes were, in essence, a set of skills I needed to tick off. I found that consistently asking myself these questions (and moving onto the next concern when I could do the thing) gave me motivation to complete the list. My teacher explicitly marked off sections in the textbook from which SAC-relevant content would be drawn; I made sure I could do all the attached questions.

A breakdown like that helped immensely, especially since I’m the kind of person who gets unnecessarily worked up about marks and numbers. It was no longer a grade I was studying for; it was just a body of knowledge I had to gather before a certain date. Every learning outcome I read through, every extra question I did would decrease the set of things in the ‘need to know’ box.

Standing on the shoulders of giants

Despite my talk of independent events and all, I still think looking at your past SACs during this time is valuable. What did you get better at? What issues have persisted? It doesn’t make for easy reading at times, as I alluded to last week; you certainly don’t need to review your SACs every night before bedtime!

Chances are, at this stage you only have a couple of impediments stopping your mark from breaking the next barrier upwards. I was still a bit rubbish at extended-response questions (dropping key words left and right) and often didn’t explain my answers to sufficiency (hint: one-mark questions are rarely, if ever, a one-line response). Likewise, if there are aspects your teacher credited you highly for, make sure to know why that’s good- and train yourself such that it becomes automatic during the SAC itself.

Final thoughts

I don’t believe there’s anything I can add that your teachers haven’t told you before. I think the last SAC of the year presents a real opportunity to review how your study habits have built up, and whether they need tweaking, in a relatively low-risk environment. It’s far better to try something new at this point and mess up, than try to adapt before the exam when everything else is piling on.

At this time of the year, discussions around rankings and study scores also start bubbling over. I found that the best way to distract myself from the speculation- and it gets debilitating, trust me- was to simply focus on the process ahead. Perception really is everything. Past performance, no matter how good or bad, has no right to affect you absolutely smashing out your last piece of school assessment (possibly ever!)

The end of the course is in sight, and I wish you the best of luck in getting there.

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