Chapter from: https://www.amazon.com/Secrets-Successful-International-Baccalaureate-Student/dp/0993418783
Preparing for the final exams can be a daunting task. Once the examination timetable is published your first exam date will remain cemented in your mind. Although there are hundreds of ways to revise for the examinations, many are largely ineffective and far too time consuming. In this chapter I will give you some general guidelines for how to best revise for your final exams.
Having me preach to you about the importance of time management is perhaps hypocrisy at its best. For me it was not until I got into university that I really started to understand how effective time management can be. If you are one of the few who has mastered the skill at an early age then consider yourself lucky. This is an invaluable ability that you will use regularly throughout your life.
One of the great rewards of undertaking the IB challenge is that you will have the opportunity to learn amazing time-management skills. The key to good time management is not just writing up a good schedule, but also imposing consequences when you fail to adhere to that schedule. For example if you promised to revise biology for 45 minutes a day every weekday and then you only manage to do 15 minutes on one of days, you must make sure you catch up on the remaining half an hour the day after.
When Do I Start?
I had a teacher who once told the class (with 4 months remaining until final exams), “I hope your revision is going well... and if there are still some of you that haven’t started revising, well you are already behind.” Hearing those words I got uncomfortably nervous and stressed. Not only had I not begun revising, I didn’t even know where to start. Several weeks passed as I procrastinated even more and eventually “mock exams” came around. I didn’t study much, except for glancing over a few past papers from the previous year. Luckily, it turned out that some of the “mock exams” were in fact last year’s actual examinations. Nonetheless, I didn’t have a good feeling about the whole thing and my grades reflected this – got a 36 overall with a 4 in HL Mathematics. This was a real wake up call as my university offer was given on the condition that I get a minimum of 40 points overall and a 7 in HL Mathematics and Economics. I feared the worst.
With less than a month to revise and no quick solution in sight, I was probably justified in my distress. Some of my friends had been “revising” since the beginning of winter break. I was too busy partying and procrastinating. With less than a month to go until exams I knew that this month would make or break me. I quickly made a demanding exam schedule and started it the following day. For a whole month I practically lived in a cave, having deactivated Facebook and deleted Skype. I read, breathed and lived revision. The only thing that kept me going was a voice in the back of my head telling me “you did nothing for two years, the least you can do is work mercilessly for one month, and then it will be all over.”
The whole point of that little story is not to suggest that you should only leave a month for revision. It was simply to demonstrate to you what you will have to go through if you do leave revision so late. I was never one to miss a party – there was no way I could give up weekends, and sports, and all my hobbies just so that I could start revision many months in advance. I left revision too late, but, I paid the price. Whatever choice you make, you need to realise that you will have to bear the consequences when your actual exam preparation comes around.
There is no ideal time to start revising. That being said, you should never leave less than a month, and you would probably be wasting your time starting revision any sooner than 3 months before exams. Some of you may seem confused as to why I am suggesting that you don’t study too much, but that’s not what I am saying. There have been studies done that show how students can reach the “peak” of their revision too early, and have a “meltdown” before actual exams. This usually happens to students that start revising nearly a year in advance. By revising too much in advance you may run the risk of failing to recall the earliest information and start to panic.
Perhaps the golden rule to IB exam revision can be worked out logically. If you still have assignments to finish that will be graded by the IB, it’s probably safe to say that you should not even think about starting revising. Your Internal Assessment is far more important than early revision so make sure you get that out the way first. Once all your work has been sent off you can drop everything else and just focus on revising for your exams. Always remember your priorities: first get all the IA out of the way, and then you can centre all your attention on revision.
The IB is too demanding for you to be starting revision early. With all the tests, assignments, sports meetings, CAS reports and homework that you will have on your hands, you will not be able to begin preparing too much in advance. Don’t forget however that all the tests and coursework that you are doing is a form of revision. It’s not the best, but at least you are doing something to reinforce your knowledge of the subject. So don’t think you are doomed if you haven’t been revising out of a textbook with a month to go before exams. You have been revising “indirectly”. At least that’s what I told myself to be able to sleep at night.
Most schools will administer “mock” examinations several weeks or months prior to the actual exams. This is not really a test of your knowledge and how well you will perform on the actual exam. It’s more to get you familiar with examination conduct and protocol. You will need to get used to arriving punctually, having the right materials, and following exam rules and regulations.
Nonetheless, I suggest you make full use of your mock exams and treat them almost as if they were the real deal. You will be able to see what you would achieve if you had sat the real exam and not done any revision. Thus, it is kind of a test of how focused you were in class throughout the year. For most of you this experience will be a wake-up call.
Once your mock exam results come out don’t just glance at the grade and move forward. Find out where you went wrong and where you could have done better. Although these exams are graded by your teachers, it doesn’t mean the marking will be much different when done by examiners elsewhere. Look for places where you lost marks due to silly mistakes and try to work on these mistakes before your real examination.
One final note on mock examinations. It is no hidden secret that most schools use last year’s real paper as the current year’s mock paper. Don’t think that you are a genius for figuring this out. This has been a tradition in most schools, however some now started to come up with new material. Nonetheless, if your mock exam paper happens to be a past paper that you have already worked on yourself then don’t feel guilty or feel like you didn’t deserve the grade you got. If you did well that just shows that your work with past papers has been worthwhile. You were able to apply the material again, meaning you probably learnt something along the way. If you still did poorly despite having seen the paper and the markscheme beforehand then you have reason to worry.