Slow and steady but not sure if you can win the race? In this week’s post, English/EAL teacher Niki Cook offers some great tips for students concerned about running out of time on exam day.
As any student will tell you, one of the major stressors of an exam situation is the expectation to finish everything in time. For slow writers, this kind of pressure can feel particularly overwhelming. So, what should you do if you don’t feel you can write quickly enough to say everything you need to before ‘pencils down’?
While practising your handwriting can help improve legibility and endurance, at this stage the scope for vast improvements in your speed is small. Instead, it’s worth thinking about strategies you can use to save time in the English exam and reduce the impact of slow writing. This means thinking about how you manage your time, as well as how you can optimise your planning and preparation.
Know the material well
Although you don’t know what the actual topics will be in Sections A and B, there’s still a lot you can do to prepare. Your revision should include brainstorming for a wide range of topics by identifying examples you can use for the key themes and big ideas in your set texts. When it comes time to sit the exam, you can then draw on the bank of ideas you’ve already thought about and considered (rather than having to start from scratch), allowing you to minimise your planning time.
TIP: Remember that the expectations around essay length in the exam are different from those for the SACs. For example, while you might have been able to unpack four arguments in your Text Response SAC, it’s unlikely that you’ll have the time to replicate this in the exam. Be realistic about what you have time to include and select only the strongest and most sophisticated ideas to add to your ideas bank for exam day.
Set time goals
Knowing how long it takes you to complete the exam is crucial to allocating your time effectively. Start by plotting out how long it takes you to write each section of the exam, before breaking down how long you need for the individual parts of each section. When looking at Section A, for example, you might break down the sixty minutes allocated to the essay according to the following: five minutes for planning, six minutes for the introduction, thirty-nine minutes for the body (thirteen minutes per body paragraph), five minutes for your conclusion and five minutes for editing and proofreading your response.
TIP: If you are a quick reader, you can save time preparing for your Argument Analysis in Section C and use that extra time for Section A or B.
Practise against the clock
Once you’ve broken down each section according to the time required, incorporate these limits into your practice, and work to keep your responses within them. (Every practice essay and every paragraph needs to be completed within your time goals.) It is also important that you stick to these limits in the actual exam. When you reach the end of the first hour, move on to the next section, even if you haven’t finished. It is better to write three almost-complete essays than to write two full essays and only an introduction for the third section. You can always come back and finish off your essays if you have time remaining towards the end of the exam.
Make every word count
It’s essential that every word you write adds value to your essay, especially for slow writers. Practise editing your writing and ask a friend or teacher to highlight superfluous paragraphs in your essays. This will help you to ditch the waffle during the exam and include only the important sentences.
TIP: Practise using succinct stem sentences that can be adapted to fit multiple examples.
Develop an emergency strategy
What do you do if you find yourself nearing the end of the exam and you haven’t finished? It’s important to wrap up your essay and pull your ideas together into a logical conclusion. Practise this in the lead-up to the exam: develop a multi-purpose closing sentence that you can use at the end of a body paragraph. Then write a short conclusion to round off your essay.
Remember that while the exam is an opportunity to showcase your skills and understanding, you can’t include everything you know. Practise writing within the allocated time, be strict with yourself and go into the exam armed with a strategy to help you if you do run short of time.
Need to practise writing under exam conditions? Insight’s Practice Exams are full trial exam papers, written and reviewed by experts, assessors and leading teachers, designed to mimic the official VCAA end-of-year exams. Each Practice Exam comes with sample responses or worked solutions, as well as tips and guidelines to help you achieve your best in the exam.
Insight Practice Exams are produced by Insight Publications, an independent Australian educational publisher.
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