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Post-prelim study advice from Saturday School Ltd.

Updated: Jan 21, 2022

For when your prelim diet is over and your grades are in, here are our top ten studying tips on how to react correctly and prepare positively for the final SQA National 5 and Higher exams later this year.

1) React positively to your grades no matter what they are

You can always take the positives from any situation; learn from the result and think about how you can improve. It is actually very common for people to go from a disappointing set of prelim results to excellent grades in the final exams – this is usually as a result of students reacting in the right way and taking the right steps to fix things.

2) The odds are you’re going to improve!

The experience of taking a prelim is a fantastic way to prepare for the final exam; the most important word in this sentence is… experience!  Saturday School conducted a study of Higher Physics students in 2018 and found that from a selection of 40 students, the average improvement from prelim to final exam was just over four bands!  That’s the equivalent of a C to an A! And, it's very rare for someone to get a lower grade in the final exam compared to their prlelim - provided the school set a proper standard of prelim of course!

3) Prelims are only practice runs

It’s only the prelim and you have plenty of time until the real thing! Yes, prelim grades can be used in alternative certification models but they are not a matter of life and death and don't let schools tell you they are.  Imagine being given a practice run for everything you do in life. Well for exams, the prelims are that practice run!  Despite the result, you now know what is ahead and how it’s going to feel on the day of the real SQA exam.

4) Identify and deal with areas you find difficult

Identify a list of the key areas and skills which you have found troublesome.  This is now your to do list! Take the necessary steps to fix these issues either on your own, with the help of a teacher, tutor or parent. If you are unsure then ask your teacher or tutor for a breakdown of where you are losing marks and what skills he/ she thinks you need to work on.  Approach staff for help, that’s what we are paid for!

5) Approach level changes correctly

Many pupils fear that failing a prelim means being “moved down” and can question whether or not it is really fair to be changed from N5 to N4 based on a prelim result halfway through the academic year. Level changes are necessary for learners to be set at the right level but if you disagree with any proposed level changes then set up a meeting with the school and your parents to explore the options.  A genuine commitment by the student to improve followed by lots of hard work and study can be what’s required to stay at the desired level. Remember that a level change may also be in the best interests of the student’s attainment and is not a punishment.

6) The power of past papers

This cannot be underestimated. Do short chunks of past papers as often as you can. For example, complete twenty marks worth of questions, stop, apply the marking scheme and pretend you are a teacher marking a pupil’s work. What qualities does the work have and how can it improve? Where are the marks being lost? How can you ensure you gain these marks next time? If you do the decade worth of past papers in your subject, is there really going to be anything in your final exam this year that you haven't seen before?

7) Revise how you study

Are you doing enough study?  Think about the time you spend studying each subject per week. During these times turn your mobile off and give it to someone with the instruction that you’ve to get it back at a certain time; this avoids the risk of planned study becoming a Snapchat session! Do this with computers, iPads and even tell friends and family that you’re busy studying and to avoid interrupting you. There is a stark reality to SQA exams: unless you are some sort of child genuis, succeeding in exams takes hours and hours and hours of hard work and study - it really is that simple. Let's be blunt, if you dont put in the hard work and study, you simply won't do well. Parents, lock away the X-boxes and iPhones - they are grade killers!

8) Be proud of your achievements

If you’re pleased with your prelim performance then be proud and take confidence from where you are. Don’t allow yourself to become complacent though, there’s’ still more coursework to get through; keep your work rate high and remember there’s always room for improvement! Something most of us are terrible at is giving ourselves praise; if you did well in prelims, congratulate yourself and build on the positive energy!

9) Get online

Using online materials such as BBC Bitesize and many more will allow you to vary the materials you use – studying in a range of ways is good for learning.  However, be disciplined; don’t use it as an excuse to procrastinate (see Point 7.)

10) Understand the standards

How many students use the SQA Understanding Standards website? The value of this website can not be underestimated!  How many even know it exists? Can you imagine a website where you will find real exemplars of student assignments and exam answer papers complete with the markers commentary? It exists! There is simply no better way to understand how the SQA apply their assessment standards than using this website.


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