Term three is here already, and NCEA exams are fast approaching. If you haven’t started preparing yet, don’t panic. Whether this is your first year of exams or your last, these top tips will make passing NCEA a breeze. By TEARAWAY Maverick KATE McILHONE.

3 Months Before the Exam

Find out if your school will be holding practice exams, and when they will be.
These exams are often held in September, so you need to start thinking about them soon. These exams are important, as if you are unable to sit the end of year exams, your grades may be derived from these. Prepare for your practice exams as best as you can and take them seriously. Your grades will be helpful in letting you know what you need to focus your study on

Assess your goals.

You may be aiming for a merit or excellence endorsement, or university entrance. Talk to your form teacher or an academic counsellor about how many credits you will need to reach these goals. Keep a tally of how many achieved, merit, and excellence credits you have in each subject, so you can keep in mind how much time you need to dedicate to each subject.


2 Months Before the Exam

Make a study schedule for the next couple of months.
Don’t plan in too much detail, as situations can change. Just use it to keep track of what you need to study and when by.

Start getting your notes in order.
There is no use in trying to study from a big pile of messy and disorganised notes. Clear out what you won’t need for your exams and start compiling your notes into a more concise format. You might want to write them out or type them up. Don’t spend too much time trying to make them pretty; it is the content that is important.

Make flash cards with definitions, quotes, dates, and concepts.
Carry these around with you and study them when you have a free moment. Check out, which allows you to make free flashcards that you can share with your friends.


1 Month Before the Exam

Ask your teacher if there will be any revision sessions or tutorials.
These sessions are a good time to bring up any concepts you don’t understand and have them explained to you in more detail. If a particular teacher’s style is confusing you, try going to another teacher’s session and see if he or she can explain it to you in a different way.
If your teachers aren’t holding revision sessions, you could email them your questions, or make an appointment after class. Your teachers are there to help you and they want you to pass.

As you approach exam time, it is important to keep healthy.
Try to get eight hours of sleep a night, drink plenty of water, up your fruit and veggie intake, and get 30 minutes of exercise a day. These small steps will reduce your stress levels and increase your focus.

Organise a small study group to go over notes with.
You could use your flashcards to test each other, or try teaching a concept to the group. If you can teach an idea to another person, you will be able to remember it in the exam.
Record yourself saying your notes and transfer the file to your mp3 player or phone. That way, you can study while you are on the bus or walking to school.

1 Week Before the Exam

This is the time to buckle down.
When your exams are finished, you will have all summer to relax, so keep focused on your goals and put in all your effort.

By this point you will hopefully know all the information you need, so take this week to practice applying your knowledge with past exams.

Sit down for an hour, in test conditions; that means no phone, no music, and no television. Try to complete the practice questions with just your knowledge. You could do this with a friend and mark each other’s answers.


The night before the exam

Get ready the night before.
The last thing you want is to be running around in a panic the morning of your exam. Lay out your clothes and pack your bag, so in the morning all you will need to do is eat and go.

Have one last read of your notes before you go to bed.

Feel like you are unprepared? Don’t panic. There comes a point where your brain cannot take in any more information. You are better to get a good night’s sleep. Besides, you are probably way more prepared than you think.

Go to bed early.

Last minute cramming does more harm than good – it may cause you to forget the information you do know. Your body needs sleep to commit information to memory. If you stay up all night studying before your exam, it is unlikely that you will remember anything and you will be too tired to do well. Try to get at least eight hours of sleep.

The Morning of the Exam

Have a good breakfast.
Your brain is like a car: It needs fuel, or it won’t go. Fuel up with a healthy brekkie of eggs, toast and fruit. Don’t have a huge meal, or you will feel sluggish. Skip the caffeine; it will just spark your nerves.

Double check the time and location of the exam for last minute changes.
Arrive at least 20 minutes early. If the exam says it starts at 8:30, you are expected to be there by at least 8:10 for roll call and exam instructions. If you are late, you may not be allowed into the exam.
If you take any notes along for last minute study, remember to leave them outside or hand them into a supervisor.
You could get into a lot of trouble if you are found with them in the exam.


We’ve Been There…

We asked the TEARAWAY Mavericks for their best study tips. Here’s what they said.

“You can download past papers from the NCEA website, and some schools sell parallel papers. It’s definitely worth doing these, especially in maths; these questions are often the same, just with different numbers”
– Erica McQueen  

“I memorised long quotes for English by writing them out, then read over them whilst walking. I found movement helped me remember. The ones I struggled with, I highlighted and repeated. You can also turn quotes into acronyms, with all the main words being the letters”
– Bri Lee

“Never give up. If a question looks too hard, it just means you need to look back at your notes. Never be afraid to ask your teachers for help”
– Thomas Stevenson

“I never meet with friends before the exam, or even after. I purposefully don’t get there too early, so I don’t freak myself out, and I don’t stay afterwards because I find the debrief so awful. Also, make a calm playlist to listen to before going in. Bon Iver, Xavier Rudd and The Paper Kites are my pre-exam rituals”
– Anna Henvest

“Whether you take notes in class on a laptop or in a book, study notes should be written by hand. Most people learn more when writing by hand because it involves more focus”
– Patrick Campbell 


Exam Checklist:

  • Exam slip
  • At least three pens
  • A highlighter
  • A clear water bottle
  • Your phone (switched off of course), money, and house key in a clear zip lock bag, to put under your seat
  • Calculator, coloured pencils, a ruler or any other equipment relevant to the subject


For more information about NCEA and tips for how to make the most of your study, check out:  |