How to be brilliant in science exams
By Sue Hunter
11 Mar

In the final article in our two-part series for British Science Week 2020, Sue Hunter, author of our 11+ Science Revision Guide and Workbooks, shares her advice on how to prepare for the Common Entrance science exam.
What’s the point of mocks?
When you approach a set of important exams you may be given the opportunity to practice your exam technique in a set of mock exams. The important thing to remember is that they are not the real thing so if you don’t do so well it’s not the end of the world. The best thing about mocks is that they provide useful pointers to what you can already do well and what you need to focus on in your future revision. This is what teachers call Formative Assessment and it is a very powerful tool if used well.
Mock exams also give you a chance to assess your exam technique which is an important part of being brilliant in exams. Learning to stay calm, keep focused, read questions carefully in the right way and pace yourself so that you leave enough time to finish the paper is a skill that needs to be learned, so take any lessons you can from the mocks to help you do even better in the Real Thing. If you have already done your mocks when you read this, remember that it is not too late to learn from them so re-visit your papers and check what you could have done better.
The moment of truth
So – how to do your very best in the Real Thing?
Really effective revision is obviously important so we will take it that you have done that and are primed and ready on the day. When that paper lands on your desk there are several things that you should keep in mind.
Read every word in every question! Don’t be tempted to skip to the answer line without reading through the question in full. There will be information or instructions in there that you need in order to answer the question properly. Bear in mind that examiners don’t waste time and paper writing information that you don’t need. Sometimes questions are asked that don’t have an answer line, for example adding labelling to a diagram or drawing a line on a graph, and you might miss them if you allow yourself to skip this essential step.
Reading the question also primes your brain to start working on the answer, sorting out what information you might need and fishing it out of your memory ready to be used.
Think carefully about what the question is asking for. Sometimes it is a simple factual answer but there are some clues to other types of answer. ‘Explain…’ generally requires a ‘because’-type answer. ‘Describe…’ may mean you need to look carefully at a picture or diagram or think carefully about something that you know about and write about some key features. ‘How…’ suggests that you need to write about a method or process. ‘Suggest…’is asking you to think of a sensible idea and a well-thought-out answer will get you marks, even if it is wrong. Whatever type of question it is, remember that marks are awarded for scientific information, so don’t waffle – dive straight into the science. Look at the number of marks as a clue to how much detail you need to give.
Work at a steady pace but don’t rush. You should have time to finish the paper if you work through steadily and don’t waste time but if not, it is important that the answers you have given are the best they can be, so think before you write. If you get stuck, move on and come back to it. While you are working on the rest of the paper, your brain will be beavering away in the background trying to find the answer. When you come back and look at it again, you may well find that the job has been done and the answer comes easily.
Use science vocabulary in your answers. Science words are there for a reason. They have very precise meanings and they allow you to answer questions more clearly in fewer words. The person marking your paper will also be looking at your use of scientific vocabulary as part of their assessment of your paper.
Work neatly and accurately, especially when drawing diagrams and graphs. Use a sharp pencil for drawing and always draw straight lines with a ruler. Neat, accurate work is important, especially in graphs. If you need to use your graph to find some data, it is much more likely that you will be successful if the graph is neatly and accurately drawn.
Don’t forget to look after yourself through the run-up to Common Entrance. Exercise, a healthy, balanced diet, and plenty of sleep are all an important part of your preparation.
Good luck! Go on – be brilliant!
Preparing for an upcoming science exam? We’ve got all the science revision resources you need to help you achieve exam success – whether that’s for the 11+ science entrance exam, or the 13+ science Common Entrance exam.

Read part one of our British Science Week 2020 blog series – Revise your way to success – here for all our top revision tips and advice.

Sue Hunter is author of our 11+ science resources. Learn more about Sue here.

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