The Road to Exam Season

Remember. Back in September when you told yourself, “ahh, those exams are ages away! I have time!”, along with all the rhetoric about being able to handle the workload of 5 AS subjects. Remember all that naïvety? Well, look where we are now: in the throws of the Easter holidays and prime revision time for the AS exams, the first of which for me is in just under 5 weeks.

It very slowly dawns on you that perhaps you have let yourself in for more than you could handle, and then it suddenly hits you like a very heavy, very large boulder that, yes, you still have a lot of work to do to hit that 90% mark boundary to even be considered for Cambridge entry. Am I saying that those events have happened to me? Well, kind of.

A few weeks before the Easter holidays, I got a rather abysmal mark in my Chemistry (Atoms, bonds and Groups module) mock, followed shortly by a low A grade in C3 maths. That was my “oh crap” moment. That was the point at which I considered whether I had over-exerted myself over the year in extra-curricular activities and failed to focus on what actually mattered: the exam!

The conclusion I came to was that it was completely and utterly irrelevant! I had done what I had done and I had to deal with the exams now, but I must say, if I had another shot at the year, I would not have done anything different with regards to extracurriculars! This year especially, I have developed my non-academic skills immensely, not to mention developed as a person significantly.

But now we are, and here we will stay unless I significantly step up my exam game. The funny thing is, I understand the syllabus contents, it’s just the mark schemes that I have to conquer! In Chemistry, for example, a 10 mark question has exactly 10 marking points, unlike at GCSE, meaning that you have to know exactly what the question wants you to write down. Fortunately, that’s really only the one exam board: OCR. They are ridiculously specific in some areas and far too broad in others. For example, a marking point for the green chemistry question – a farcical topic in itself – “how do chemists help reduce the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere?” Is “make decaffeinated coffee”.

No, I am dead serious. It’s absolute idiocy. There are many more such examples!

Physics papers are very pleasant. We do like to make fun of WJEC, the Welsh board, but they do write very good physics papers: unambiguous, straightforward and clear. You will always know exactly what they are asking you to write down. Further, there are no annoying quality of communication (ie, English) marks, as they are not subject to the English exam board rules! Those marks really do not belong in a science paper anyway! The practical exams – which do not require obtaining stupidly accurate results, like chemistry – are equally very good. I am genuinely glad that we moved away from OCR in Physics.

Maths is, I must say, not straightforward. The exams are possibly the first I have come across that actually require you to think a bit! Of course, we are not talking about the Core 1, Core 2 and Further Pure 1 modules, which are quite straightforward, but the mechanics 1, statistics 1 and Core 3 modules. It’s taken me 5 past C3 papers to get up to the 90% that I want. I am still hovering around 93-95%, but by this stage, 100% is looking more and more possible, but I will undoubtedly slip up somewhere and drop a few marks, as always happens.

For the uninitiated, the further maths AS qualification requires 6 exams, each 1.5h long. Next year, one does another 6 for the full A-Level. It’s been called the hardest A-Level by many, and I must agree! I have been given 12 of these papers to complete over the Easter holidays, but because I want to secure the chances of 90+%, I am doing about 16 – one per day! I was even doing one at the airport before a boarded a flight, where I am currently writing this.

Unfortunately, because the maths department is so large at my school changing exam boards is not going to happen anytime soon. And guess which board we do: lovely OCR! (I can’t stand them now). The exams are much better that the Chemistry ones, but one can occasionally come across the stupid question, which is so ambiguous that you don’t know how to answer it. Indeed, it’s worse when these questions are 2 or 4 markers, because then the stakes are much higher!

German is also a lovely exam. Well done the Edexcel board! It’s a nice relaxing 2h45min exam, which can be completed within 1.5h, and where you get your own MP3 player for the listening section, do you can stop and replay certain sections. It’s truly fantastic! The exam next year is apparently equally good, with a good German literature section, which I am looking forward to!

So, what can you take away from this post other than learning about my unrelenting hatred of
OCR? Very little really! It might be worth mentioning that all my exams are now up-to-scratch, it’s just a matter of fine tuning the exam technique and knowing what keeps Mr OCR happy. For those who are about to take their GCSEs (sophomore year for my US readers), enjoy them. It only gets worse from here! For those revising for their AS, A2 or equivalent exams, I wish you all the best and hope that you get the grade you have been working towards, if not better! Just remember, it’s a game you are playing with the exam board, OCR especially. If you have more than two subjects with OCR exams, then I salute you and wish you all the best.

We currently find ourselves with the most horrible month ahead of us: the exam season, where tensions run high and breakdowns ensue. Preparing for that by running yourself into the ground now is potentially the worst thing you could do. Work hard, but, as the rhetoric of my teachers goes, remember to take a break. “But breaks are for the weak!”, I hear you say. Maybe, but the apparently weak are those who know how to enjoy themselves, while still getting good grades, a skill I am still lacking somewhat: until recently, my take on “a break” was doing a quick Core 1 paper and seeing (for fun) how quickly I could complete it – 40mins is the current record, with the required criteria (90+% score). That’s a bad idea, I now realise!

I will, as I said before, most likely be unable to write a blog post for a while now. So, if I don’t, again, the best of luck to you all, and we will see each other, war-torn and exhausted, on the other side!

Until then, goodbye.

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