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Planning for exams: 5 common mistakes students make

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Do you need some expert advice to help in the planning of your
exam revision? Experience is one of the best teachers, but the rules don't say you have to experience something to learn from it!

Learning from other students' mistakes is still extremely valuable. Understanding others' failures during exam planning guarantees you avoid repeating their errors and don't follow in their footsteps.

To help you get top marks, we'll explain the 5 most common mistakes students make during exam preparations so you can steer clear of these mistakes altogether! Read this blog to learn how to improve where others often fail.

Common exam planning mistake 1: Skipping a study schedule

We've seen it time and time again; students fall into the trap of heading straight to their textbooks and class notes after receiving exam calendars instead of creating a study plan to help them review the material they actually need to spend more time committing to memory.

Without a well-planned study schedule to help you stay focused, you risk wasting time concentrating on the information for subjects you already know by heart.

Focusing on the wrong subjects, for example, decreases how productive your study schedule can actually be because your attention is in the wrong place altogether. Plus, you limit the time you have to revise the information that isn't as easy to review or harder to absorb.

The best way to create an effective study plan for final exams

How do you create an effective study plan to help you review essential information that needs more attention and extra time? The answer is a retrospective revision timetable!

Retrospective revision timetables explained

A retrospective revision study plan differs from a conventional study schedule because you begin with a list of course subjects you need to review, not exam dates.

The study plan then uses spaced-out repetitive learning to help you understand each topic. A retrospective revision study plan for exams helps you tackle information for subjects multiple times so the information sinks in.

Learn more about retrospective revision timetables in our blog here, or read this How-To guide on making a retrospective revision study plan to track your progress here.

Common exam planning mistake 2: Avoiding subjects

Have you noticed yourself avoiding a specific textbook? Maybe you've mastered dodging a particular topic? Avoiding subjects is an extremely common exam-planning mistake we see!

A love-hate relationship with a certain amount of your course subjects is normal, but avoiding them until the week before you write an exam just increases your stress levels.

Spending hours on something you dislike may feel like a motivation killer. But, the reality is you still have to do those exams. So, the only answer is to prepare and get through those subjects!

How to study subjects you don't like

One of the best things you can do when you dislike a syllabus is to take a break for a moment and figure out WHY you feel the way you do.

Try to pinpoint which part of the course makes you want to run. If it's History, for example, is it the endless number of dates, or are the names and locations causing you to lose your mind?

Once you identify what's causing your frustration, you can create a study plan and concentrate on those pain points to find solutions.

3 tips for studying subjects you hate

Here are some examples of study plan solutions our tutors love:

  1. Break it down - Break the information into 'bite-sized' chunks to make it less overwhelming. Then review each section until you've mastered it.
  2. Make it interesting - The rules don't say you must stick to a textbook! The internet is an excellent study resource; you can find videos and podcasts to explain topics you dislike in interesting ways. Just double-check the sources you choose are accurate.
  3. Make things visual - Our brains absorb visuals much faster than words. Using the power of word association and doodles to simplify facts or creating concept maps to explain key points, for example, makes remembering subject information much easier.

For expert advice on studying a subject you loathe, read our guide on studying subjects you hate here.

Common exam planning mistake 3: Revision isn't a habit

Starting revision over and over again can be a real headache, right? Thankfully, you can skip the entire struggle of finding the motivation to prepare before writing exams. How? Make it a habit during the week!

Students often make the mistake of stopping revision after they write a test or exam. But putting your class notes and textbooks down makes it so even harder to pick them up again and re-read everything to prepare for a test or exam.

The best study habit to ensure success

Like UFC fighter Donald Cerrone said, "You don't have to get ready if you stay ready!" and that's precisely what happens when you decide to make studying a habit.

Instead of spending hours trying to find the motivation to pick up your study material (AGAIN!) for final exams, make revision a habit and keep tackling the information for your subjects every week; this way, preparing for exams becomes easier.

3 tips to improve your study habits when planning for exams

Use these tips from our tutoring team to improve your study habits and make revision sessions more productive:

  1. Set goals - Identify and decide what you want to achieve every week and make memorizing your course materials more manageable. You can also review what you've accomplished in each subject, which helps motivate you to pick up those books.
  2. Reward yourself - Set rewards for each study goal and give yourself something to work towards. Taking a break from your studies is essential to avoid burnout. So rest and free time are fantastic rewards for hard work during study time and are incredible motivators!
  3. Create a study space - Your environment affects your ability to focus! No one wants to spend time in a study space they don't like. To improve your productivity, you should create a dedicated space you actually want to spend time and helps you stay focused.

Want more tips to help you work on your study habits? We have plenty of student resources and examples on improving study habits on our study skills blog page over here.

Common exam planning mistake 4: Forgetting to include practice exams in a study plan

Frequently, students skip self-testing and exam practice with past papers from final exams because they feel writing answers to old exam questions increases their workload during an already stressful time.

Some even think past papers don't offer much value when preparing to write upcoming tests or final exams.

Why you should include practice exams in your study schedule

Boy, are they wrong! Old papers help students familiarize themselves with how the IB formats papers and the type of answers they want in each course subject. Including past papers in your study plan is a wonderful way to learn how the IB phrases exam and test questions.

Past papers also act as study guides and identify parts of a course syllabus you need to spend extra time on before you write your real exam or test. Every incorrect answer helps identify knowledge gaps and creates a personalized study guide showing what to review or re-read.

The benefits of self-testing during exam preparation

Here are two main benefits of using past papers as study material to prepare for exams:

  1. Active recall - Past papers are an example of a study method that promotes active recall, which increases efficiency during study time, lets you put your knowledge into practice, and helps you focus on the best ways to answer questions.
  2. Time management - In an exam or test, you'll have a certain amount of hours to complete a paper. Practicing with past papers helps you prepare for how much time you should spend on an exam answer..

Learn even more about the benefits of past paper practice and how they function as a study guide here, and discover how to understand exam questions in this blog.

Common exam planning mistake 5: Not asking for help

Many students view asking for help during exam planning and studies as a failure or feel too embarrassed to ask for assistance. While others think studying in a group or with friends is too distracting while they prepare for an exam.

Not asking for help or avoiding friends is actually a huge mistake because it stops you from finding answers to challenges you encounter in your courses. And can prevent you from succeeding when you write your exam.

How friends can boost your study plan and grades

Getting an outside perspective and connecting with a friend or someone from your class can help improve your test marks and master subjects much faster.

When studying with friends, for example, you don't focus on how much time you've spent looking at a course textbook; instead, you focus on helping one another identify and understand the subject you need to review in time for the exam.

3 Reasons to get a study buddy

Here are 3 reasons revision with people in your class is beneficial:

  1. Creates competition - Friendly competition while studying helps you learn much faster and incentivizes learning.
  2. Improves productivity - Sharing class notes, study guides and subject information helps fill knowledge gaps and enhances your understanding of topics in your courses.
  3. Add an element of fun - Studying with a fellow class member creates an engaging environment where you share information and help each other study for your exam. Plus, talking through ideas helps break the monotony of test and exam preparation and makes it fun.

Learn more about the benefits of using a study buddy to prepare for a test or exam here.

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