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Well, let’s not beat about the bush here: WACE ATAR exams are getting closer, and this article is looking at ten tips for performing well on those exams (and any test before then!). 💪

1. Don’t make it harder than it is to get marks.

Exams are hard enough without making them even harder for yourself. Examiners mark a whole lot of exams, and they don’t want to have to trawl through your responses to find where they can award you marks. So, don’t make them.

What you want to do is to make it easy for them to give you marks. Set out your responses in a clear and concise manner. Use paragraphs if appropriate. Whenever I defined something, I liked to underline it to show what it was I was defining. Minor things like this might be the difference between being awarded a borderline mark or not, and that’s just an unnecessary risk to take.

2. Don’t get drawn into the exam chat.

There will, inevitably, be exam discussion before and after the exam (hopefully not during!). There’s really only so much good that can come from discussions like these.

It’s natural to ask around and see how people went, but the longer it goes, the longer you have to think about what you wrote, and become increasingly disheartened about things. There are countless examples of students working themselves into a frenzy about their exam performance, before getting their marks back and finding that they actually performed very well.

It might be hard, but do your best to put past exams to the back of your mind. If nothing else, you really don’t want to be thinking about the mistakes you think you made in your English exam, when you’re halfway through a Maths exam.

3. Good preparation is key.

Obviously, good preparation in terms of content puts you in a really strong position to perform well on your exams. But you should also prepare for general logistics in order to reduce exam-day stress. Make sure you have a number of pens/pencils and so on. Check if you need your student ID or student number. Clarify where you need to be, and when. Waking up on exam day and realising you’re not on top of these things? Not a great feeling.

exam performance

4. Before the exam, take some deep breaths.

Exam anxiety is real, and can be powerful. Basic techniques like breathing exercises can help in some circumstances. We recommend just taking a moment to yourself at the start of the exam – perhaps just before reading time begins – to ground yourself, get your mind on the job, and move into an “exam zone” sort of mindset.

5. Mind blank? Move on.

You might not be able to keep focus entirely for hours on end, and that’s fine. If you find yourself starting blankly at Question 4.b for a few minutes and getting absolutely nothing done, skip it. Come back to it later if you have time. There’s no point struggling on that one particular question when you could be getting easier marks elsewhere; remember, there’s no obligation to complete exams in the order in which they’re presented.

6. Try not to get carried away.

If a question is worth two marks, you don’t need to write a huge thesis, covering every single thing you know about the topic at hand. Assessors just don’t want to read that. All they want is a concise response worth two marks – nothing more, nothing less.

Going overboard with your responses can be detrimental not only to the question at hand, but also to your broader exam performance. If you spend ages on Question 1, you’ll obviously have less time for the rest – and that might lead to a very rushed back half of the exam. Timing like this is very important to get right.

exam performance

7. Legible handwriting.

This seems basic, right? But if your writing is illegible, your mark is zero. That’s just how it happens.

You need to be able to write quickly in exams, because there are usually a lot of questions to get through. But should speed always come at the cost of legibility? Nope. This is something you should practise when you can. Only ever typing notes before going into a handwritten exam might see you struggling on the day!

8. Make sure you have water on you.

Hydration is important. And having a bottle of water (remember: transparent, and no label!) can help with mind blanks, too. Simply take a sip, take a few breaths, and move on.

9. Cramming? Do it smart, or don’t do it.

It’s debatable whether cramming is productive or counter-productive. Either way, it’s a personal choice, and one only you can make as to whether or not it will be fruitful for you.

If you do feel as though cramming is necessary, make sure you cram efficiently – you can see some tips here.

10. Have confidence in yourself.

Because you are capable of doing well. Almost everything you’ve learnt throughout the year – this is your chance to shine, and show the examiners you know what you’re talking about. And if you don’t know what you’re talking about, this is your chance to shine, and show the examiners how well you can wing exams!

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