Lots of advice around studying says to “do more practice questions” and I found this an invaluable tactic for my exam preparation. But for all the comments about how valuable it is, it can be hard to know how to follow through on that – especially in a new system. This article isn’t going to tell you the One Guaranteed Study Method to get Full Marks (there is none). Instead, it will equip you with a range of strategies you can use to approach QCE practice questions and give you an idea what of to consider.
The best questions in terms of mimicking your assessments tend to be QCAA questions from the sample assessments. Unfortunately, there are only a limited amount of these so to get in more practice you’ll want to look at other sources of practice questions as well. For example, in my series of data test articles for QCE sciences I provided links to relevant VCAA (Victorian equivalent of QCAA) and NESA (New South Wales equivalent of QCAA) practise questions which are a great alternative.
Aside from these, there are practice questions available on the ATARnotes forums as well, including some specifically designed for QCE (e.g. these biology data test questions) and some designed for other curriculums (e.g. this chemistry sample exam). Finally, your most abundant source of practice questions is likely to be from textbooks and other commercial sources. Generally, textbook-style questions are seen as a good introduction and useful for checking you have the foundational understanding you need. On the other hand, exam-style questions are more useful for making sure you have deeper understanding which you can apply in assessments.
Aside from just answering practice questions, you want to make sure that you are getting full marks on your questions. Sometimes this requires more than just getting the answer right, as you often need to express your answer in a particular way to gain full marks. While this can be frustrating, if you’re aiming for top marks it pays to be picky about your wording and somewhat-ruthless with the way that you mark your answers. That way, you can improve any flawed expression before going into an assessment.
When marking practice questions, you might also find it useful to create a log of mistakes. People construct these in different ways, but I liked to list (for any question I got wrong): What the question was, what topic it was in, what I answered, why my answer wasn’t right, and what the correct answer was. I would read through my log of mistakes before assessments to remind me what I didn’t want to repeat and what I should be doing instead. This was also useful for end of year revision where I could see the topics I needed to spend a bit more time on and those I didn’t need to emphasise as much.
Getting in practice under exam conditions can be a great way of practicing for assessments and building your confidence in them, so I recommend before exams doing at least one practice completely under exam conditions. On the other hand, I find it easier to be motivated to practice if I don’t have to sit down in timed exam conditions and getting in practice under non-exam conditions is more beneficial than not getting in practice at all – so you definitely don’t need to add the pressure of exam conditions to all of your practice. In fact, some people even start practice exams by doing open-book exams with their notes next to, then – once they have more confidence – they take away the notes and see how they go. I personally prefer only using notes for practice questions if I’m really struggling (even at the start) but this is a line that you can choose to draw where it best suits you.
I liked to start off a study session by doing some multiple choice questions and checking the answers afterwards. Since multiple choice questions are literally just ticking a box (or shading a bubble) it was harder for me to procrastinate these which meant I was more likely to actually study. After doing multiple choice questions I felt more motivated to tackle short answer and extended response style questions. In regards to essay questions, I found that a lower-pressure, easier way of starting these was to practice making plans or outlines for an essay rather than writing the full thing out. This still benefitted me by giving me experience coming up with ideas and structures but was a lot faster and easier than dedicating time to a complete response.
The standard progression of practice questions is to start with textbook questions as you learn the content and gradually build to exam-style questions before finally moving to questions in sample/past assessments for major revision. I personally only did the textbook questions which the school required me to. This meant I could spend more time on exam-style questions. This meant I was often doing practice questions while we were still covering that topic at school. The reason I took this approach is that I felt that exam-style and past exam questions helped me the most. This can vary between people and based on how confident you are in your learning – so don’t stress if that approach doesn’t work for you.
My main recommendation here is that if you are planning on practice questions being a major part of your revision, don’t leave them until a few days before an assessment (if you can help it). It’s easier said than done, but if you can build a regular study routine with regular revision built into it that’s going to be a lot less stressful and more likely to lead to the results you want than panicking at the last minute.
There’s no magic numbers corresponding with particular scores but at the very least I recommend you complete QCAA’s sample assessments and either mark yourself (you can get feedback on how you’ve marked yourself here if you’d like) or have a teacher mark your work (if they are willing). You can also redo sample assessments and this may be useful to check that you have learnt from your previous attempt. Quality is more important than quantity, so rather than focusing on hitting x questions, I recommend you focus on learning from each question and building practice question routines that will help you.
I hope you’ve found this useful and if you have any questions or comments about studying strategies (whether about exam questions or not) please feel free to share those here :). Best of luck with your QCE!