The IGCSE exams are round the corner. As the date draws closer, many students will be searching for revision strategies to help them prepare for the final papers.

While there are several types of revision strategies, there is one that we can confidently stand behind. And that is the timed practice. The timed practice is a study technique that we firmly believe in. It even forms one of the three E’s in our hallmark teaching pedagogy.

In this post, we will be sharing the benefits of timed practices and how students sitting can use them to prepare for their IGCSE and IB exams.

What are timed practices?

Timed practices are practices students have to finish within a stipulated time. This is a common technique used during revision and can be changed according to the study goals.

For example, as an exam revision tool, timed tests would be the most common. Here, students will practise doing past year papers while keeping to its duration. For instance, if a student is practising Business Studies, they may choose to do a few past year papers. When attempting them, they should set a timer for 1.5 hours. This is in line with the allocated duration for the IGCSE Business Studies paper.

Doing timed tests can help students get used to the exam conditions. Having tutored many IGCSE students, we have learnt that many factors can affect a student’s exam performance. One of them being time constraints.

When called to finish a task within a set duration, some students may feel stressed or pressured. This impact is magnified if students are unfamiliar working under such conditions. When faced with these emotions, some may find it difficult to perform during the exams.

One way to overcome this is to grow accustomed to working within a time limit. The more students practise in this setting, the more familiar they become. With familiarity, students tend to be more comfortable and able to perform better.

Goals of a timed practice

There are two main goals for the timed tests.

The first, as stated earlier, is to help students get comfortable working within a time limit. As students are more familiar with the exam conditions, they tend to feel less stressed. This improves their ability to stay composed and collected during the exam.

The second aim of timed practices is to gauge the mastery of specific exam skills. These skills may refer to general exam-taking skills or subject-specific ones. Examples of general exam skills include time management and question strategy. A subject-specific skill can be evaluating the credibility of a source in history.

By using these skills in a timed test, students can see if they are able to perform said skill in a stressful setting.

Before starting the timed test.

Before students can sit down to do the timed test, some preparation must go into it.

Practise, practise, practise

The purpose of timed tests is to help students ease into the pressures of the exams. Though it forms part of the revision schedule, it is not a place to gauge content mastery.

We would recommend students to be familiar with the content before they attempt it. It would be good for students to go through their notes, from start to finish, at least once.

Another aspect students should prepare for is the questions. This includes the types of questions and the techniques required to answer them.

Identify the papers to attempt for the timed practice

In general, most students should have no issues finding past year papers to do. Besides teachers, there are also online sites students can access. Generally, we would tell students to use papers from the same syllabus as theirs.

But, the availability of papers from a syllabus can vary. This comes down to several factors. One of which being when the syllabus received an update. A newly revised syllabus will have fewer papers than one that has not received an update.

So, if students are in the first cohort to sit for a revised syllabus, there may not be much for them to choose from. During these years, the examining bodies will usually release sample papers. These sample papers are designed to be like the actual exam. Doing them can give students an insight on how they would fare for the real thing.

Besides the syllabus, IGCSE students should also note the examination board. In Singapore, there are two IGCSE examination boards: Cambridge and Pearson Edexcel. Most international schools offer a mix of Cambridge and Edexcel subjects to their students. So, when selecting a paper to do, students have to check that they have chosen a paper from the right examining body.

Getting started: Doing the timed test.

Now that the preparation is done, it is time to get started. Here are some tips students can use when they are doing the timed tests.

Recreate the exam setting.

After revising and selecting which papers to do, it is now time to do the timed tests.

To become more familiar, students should recreate the setting for the papers. This includes reducing interruptions and distractions while they are doing the paper. Students may have to inform their family or housemates about the duration of the timed test and to avoid looking for you then.

Though studying with music can be extremely helpful for some, we would not recommend it. At least during the timed tests. Students who are sitting for an exam are usually not allowed to play or listen to music. So, having music playing will not match the environment they’re trying to recreate. Instead, we would advise students to find a quiet place to work on their timed tests.

Besides the general outline of the exam, students should also keep to the specifics of each paper. For instance, the usage of calculators in math papers. Generally, most math paper would permit the use of a calculator. Still, there are some math papers that prohibit its use. One such paper is the IGCSE Cambridge International Mathematics Paper 1. So, if students are doing a timed test for it, they should also do it without a calculator.

Do the timed test on pen and paper.

Today, many students find themselves more comfortable with typing. It is more efficient and requires less effort from the student to complete their task. This often is why student end up typing out their answers when they get the chance to.

But, when doing a timed test, we would advise students to write and not type. Most exams are still done in pen and paper- the IGCSE exams are no different.

But, what’s the issue? Some may wonder. They are still answering the question and practicing the skills, aren’t they?

Well, that is true. But, it may also make it difficult for students to gauge if they have enough time for the paper. Typically, most people type faster than write. This difference is why people find themselves able to input more words when typing.

These additional words can skew a student’s sense of their own performance. This can lead them to practice verbosity instead of brevity- a common pitfall in essay writing. It can also be unclear why a student completed the paper in time. Was it because of proper time management or was it because they were able to input words faster?

Wrapping up: After the timed tests.

What should students do after the timed tests? We will cover what comes next in this section.

Identify bottle-necks that surfaced during the practice.

After students have completed a paper, they should make a few observations. A question they can ask themselves is how they felt during the timed test. Were they feeling stressed and anxious? Or were they able to keep relaxed during the paper?

Of course, it is unrealistic to think that students will be able to remain completely calm before a paper. Even the most prepared of students will feel some degree of anxiousness. This can be caused by many things, such as the uncertainty of the questions ahead. The crux then is not if students feel anxious but rather how it affects them.

If a student’s anxiousness does not impact their ability to do the exam, then it is not too troubling. But, if it does, then students may have to seek ways to manage their stress.

One other area students can check is if they were able to answer all the questions in the paper in time. If they were not able, was it because they ran out of time or was it because they didn’t know how to answer it? This observations will give students a clue on the areas they need to work on.

Review papers as they are completed.

After completing a paper, students should spend some time reviewing their answers. Often, students are tempted to speed through the papers. Especially when they are feeling motivated and on the ball.

We would like to caution against that. Students will be familiar with the saying ‘practice makes perfect’. And it is indeed true… if you are practising the correct thing. The more students practise something, the more reinforced it is. Even if what they are practising is wrong.

So, instead of jumping ahead, we would advise students to pause and check their answers first. If there is a marking guide, students can use it to check their answers against. Besides content accuracy, students should also see if they have executed the skills correctly. Doing this gives students a chance to correct their mistakes and improve.