How to do a practice exam

The secret to great preparation

Study skills

Past exam papers are the most useful tool for getting ready for your exams. This is because they require you to write what you’ve learned in exactly the same way that you’ll need to on the big day.

NZQA posts past papers for every subject on this page of their website in PDF form. We recommend that you make sure you have finished all of the practice papers on there before your exam.

The first few times you do this, work through them at your own pace, with your textbooks open and whatever other resources you use (see this post for ideas) easily accessible. Every time a question stumps you, use your resources to figure out how to answer it. Then ask you tutor or a family member to check your answers (this is better than checking them yourself as another person will have fresh eyes).

Once you can get through a paper without relying much on your textbooks and resources, close your books and see how you do. After that, set the timer for how long you’ll have to do it in your exam, and finish it in that time. For this, you’ll need to know how much time you’ll have per paper in your exam. Check with your teacher if you don’t know already.

For those exams that include essays, this process is basically the same as with short-answer exams: open book, then closed, then timed. Practicing writing essay plans is a good exercise, but practicing full essays (especially timed) is really important. Do as many as you can.

Doing this properly is harder than you’d think

When you’re practicing exam questions on your own, it can be very tempting to take the easy road out. The easy road generally involves mixtures of these things:

  • Looking at the question and answering it in your head, figuring that you could probably do that in an exam, and then moving on.
  • Skipping questions that are hard, and figuring that you will study later for that one
  • Answering partially, or incorrectly, then checking your notes or textbook and thinking: ‘oh yeah, I did know that,’ but then doing nothing further.

The best of students fall into these traps when we’re studying. The most effective way of making sure you don’t do this is to get a tutor or friend to check your answers.