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Exam Preparation Week 5

Updated: Sep 10, 2021

Welcome back to the Connect Psychology 3&4 Blog!

Last week we covered answering VCAA questions in general, but today we’ll be discussing how to approach each section, how to time and order your approach.

Having completed a lot of Psychology Exams myself, and also marking a lot of students’ Trial Exam papers, I’ve noted some common mistakes made in each section. I hope some of these tips will help you all to improve your approaches!

1. Multiple choice

Worth: 50 marks

Where students do well:

✓Answering all the questions

✓ Receiving high marks overall; VCAA includes quite a few that are nice and easy, as long as you read them properly

Where students struggle:

✗ Not reading the question or options properly

✗ Failing annotate/highlight key difference between answers

✗ Timing: students sometimes rush the multis or spend too long on each question (I

tended to spend too much time on the multis)

When in doubt:

  • Use a process of elimination

  • Generally, the correct answer has another answer that looks very similar: I would pick between one of these when I was totally unsure

Other tips:

  • Don’t forget to fill out your sheet: do it as you go (or else it’s -50 marks)

  • Don’t leave any questions blank: you have a 25% of getting it right so just guess!

  • Use phrasing and content from the multiple choice (only from the correct answer!) to help you in other sections of the exam

2. Short answer

Worth: 60 marks

Where students do well:

✓ Explaining concepts and examples

✓ Providing step by step processes (e.g. observational learning)

✓ Listing key elements of models (e.g. UCS/NS, alarm/resistance/exhaustion etc.)

Where students struggle:

✗ Diving straight into an explanation, but forgetting to define the concept first

✗ Forgetting to state key terminology (e.g. describing a memory bias without explicitly

naming it)

✗ Not giving specific examples (i.e. just giving a general examples, rather than referring

to specific details in the scenario)

✗ Mixing up similar phrases (e.g. conditioned stimulus and conditioned response)

✗ Contradicting themselves (meaning you can’t receive the mark at all)

When in doubt:

  • Use a “define-explain-relate” structure

  • Relate specifically to the scenario, even if you don’t think there’s marks for it - Use a set structure (e.g. ‘before, during, after’ for classical conditioning)

Tips based on the marks:

  • 1-2 marks = just list terminology or define key terms if appropriate - 3+ marks = Should ALWAYS try to define key terms in question

  • 5+ marks = plan it out!

3. Extended response

Worth: 10 marks

Where students do well:

✓ Including key terminology

✓ Relating to scenario/example given

✓Trying to mention all the information in prompt

Where students struggle:

✗ Forgetting the discuss one of the dot-points in the question (meaning you can’t get

more than 5 /10)

✗ Missing key content that relates to the scenario

✗ Not expanding or giving depth to their answers

✗ Isolating their responses just to the prompts: not providing extra, unique information

to show off

When in doubt:

  • Make sure you cover all the points (even if you’re not 100% sure, as not mentioning one could cost you 5 marks)

  • PLAN OUT your response!

  • Write down as much as you can think of; NEVER leave it blank or only write 2 sentences.

  • Use content from the Multiple Choice and Short Answer to help you


  • The 10 marker is marked holistically (i.e. on the depth of answer), hence you need to work on creating an IMPRESSIVE answer

  • Awarded marks based on:

  • The extent to which responses are clearly expressed and well organised - Prioritising the most relevant concepts, theories and evidence

  • Providing clear and relevant examples

  • Making insightful links between relevant areas of knowledge.

  • Writing more does NOT necessarily lead to students achieving more marks - it is possible to achieve full marks by writing within the space provided for the response

Other tips:

  • Think CRITICALLY (i.e. define, reason, evaluate, analyse etc.); i.e. don’t just give definitions; think deeper and provide insightful points

  • Organisation: use subheadings and paragraphs to organise ideas

PART 2- Managing Time and Order

1. Timed practice exams are key

My biggest regret in VCE Psychology: not doing enough timed practice exams.

When I was doing Practice Psych Exams, I tended to take my time writing answers, look at my notes and take frequent breaks. While this allowed me to do Practice Exams thoroughly, it didn’t allow me to test myself under pressure.

While I thought I would be fine in the real exam, this was NOT the case (it was a slight disaster). Because I had not practised my order or timing, I was completely lost and frazzled in the exam. As a result, I kept flipping between sections, didn’t use my reading time effectively and barely finished the paper.

And so, my tip to you all is: try to mimic exam conditions as much as possible! The more timed practice exams you can do, the better.

2. Managing your time in the exam

Managing and being strict on your time can be very difficult during the exam.

Despite the exam being two and a half hours, it absolutely flies. When I was doing my exam, I BARELY finished.

Therefore, finding effective time-management strategies is key. Such as:

Knowing how long you need for each section: by doing timed practice exams, you’ll be able to determine how long you need for each section.

the clock in the exam room, so bring your own watch to

ensure you can keep track of time.

Be strict on your timing: it’s extremely difficult, but you have to tough on yourself and move through the sections as you planned to.

Don’t know? Move on!: I definitely dwelled on questions too much. Make sure you do all the questions you feel confident with first (so you know

you’ve gained some marks).

3. Timing of each section

As I always say, it’s incredibly important to figure out what works best for you. Every student is different in terms of their strengths, writing speed and timing of each section.

Therefore, by doing timed practice exams, you’ll be able to figure out how long each sections takes you.

Some rough guidelines (from my experience):

• Multiple choice: 40-50 minutes (average around 1 minute per multi)

• Short answer : 70-80 minutes

• 10 marker: 30 minutes (needed in order to produce an impressive, holistic response)

4. Order of each section

The order in which to complete each section can be highly variable between students. It completely depends on you and the order that you find most effective.

If you’re struggling, these are some effective orders depending on the type of student you are:

  • The very nervous student (this was me)

- Start with: Multiple Choice. It’s a great way to warm-up when you’re extremely nervous

- Finish with: Extended Response. By leaving the 10 marker until the end, you can warm up and gain information from the multiple choice and short answer.

  • The time-poor student

- Start with: Extended Response - this way you can ensure that you do it properly and spend a good amount time on it.

- Finish with: Multiple Choice - you have a 25% chance of getting it right by guessing, so maybe leave this until the end.

  • The tired student

- In the middle: Multiple Choice - this can be a nice break in between lots of

writing and serve as a bit of a mental break.

Again, these are NOT the only orders that you need to or can use. It’s important you figure out what works best for you, by doing timed practice exams!

It’s also important to be flexible and change your order if necessary: your order may change depending on how you feel in the exam and the difficulty of each section in 2020 Exam.

5. The importance of reading time

Reading time is often overlooked by students.

Many students just look around the room and wait until writing time before they actually look at their paper. For VCE Psychology, I believe that the 15 minutes of reading time are extraordinarily valuable. Although you can’t physically write anything, you can already read questions, plan your answers and decide what you want to start with.

Some tips of how to use your reading time most effectively:

  • Use it for the section you are going to start with: this will save you A LOT of time when you start writing (e.g. some students read all the multis in reading time, and can answer the first 30 in around 10-15 minutes).

  • Don’t skim questions: take a moment to actually read them and plan out your response.

  • Identify difficult questions that you will leave until the end.

  • Already take a look at the 10 marker (even if you won’t start with it): when you’re completing the rest of the exam, you can pick up info from the multis and short answer that you might include in your extended response.

Hopefully these tips help you all when doing your practice exams!

Again, try to do as many timed practice exams as you can: these mimic the exam settings and will prepare you for the pressure of the actual exam.

It was by far my greatest regret that I didn’t practise my exam timing enough; it left me feeling extremely stressed, unprepared and deflated during the Psychology Exam. I really don’t want that to happen to any of you!

Best of luck with your exam practise, and I’ll see you all in the next one!

Have a question?

In the final weeks before exams Ashleigh 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 Ashleigh might answer it live!

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