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Matric class of 2017 - Play the long game to ace your finals

Feb 17, 2017
Matric class of 2017 - Play the long game to ace your finals

Grade 12s who are serious about giving their final exams the best shot now have the most valuable weapon in their arsenal – time – and should use it to their advantage, an education expert says.

“Later in the year Matrics will get plenty of advice about how to best prepare for their exams, but for the most part this advice will focus on last-minute measures. The best way to walk confidently into the exam room, however, is to make sure that you don’t just study over the next few months, but that you actually use the time to prepare,” says Dale Taylor, Head of Programme: Faculty of Social Sciences at The Independent Institute of Education, SA’s largest private higher education provider.

Taylor says although there is a gigantic difference between studying, which mostly consists of cramming facts into one’s head, and properly preparing, which takes time and strategy, many people are not aware of the distinction between the two.

“True preparation for an examination requires you to understand concepts in such a way that you are able to engage with them at higher levels. You should be able to apply them, analyse them, evaluate them, and create by using them. The bottom line is that you need to practise, and this often means putting pen to paper, which allows you to reflect on your knowledge and engrain your learning into your long-term memory.

“When studying, you need to make sure that you have not just committed the ideas and facts to memory, but that you understand how they are linked to other concepts and ideas. Parrot-fashion memorising of lists is not going to cut it when studying for your finals,” says Taylor.

She says there are two very effective ways of creating “networks of meaning” when studying:


Note down the key words associated with the idea. After reading through and summarising the content, go through the presentation and talk yourself through it, using the key words as impetus for your talk.

If you are working in a study group, a variation on this could be for one person to ‘teach’ the others using this presentation of key words. For example, key words about photosynthesis at a Matric level could be:

  • Chlorophyll
  • Stroma
  • 6CO2 + 6H2O → C6H12O6 + 6O2
  • Light reactions
  • Dark reactions

True learning takes place not only at the stage of summarising the information, but also when delivering the presentation.


Visual maps allow you to record the structure of the knowledge, whether it is in a cycle, flow chart, hierarchical tree diagram, or Venn diagram. The choice of visual map is determined by the nature of the content. By mapping the knowledge visually, you create ‘cues’ of keywords (which are much easier to recall than long, complex facts), as well as networks of meaning (what connects with what?), enabling you to engage more meaningfully with the higher order questions in the exam.

“Taking the time to develop your learning over several months in this manner will allow you to master your work to a degree which will be virtually impossible to replicate if your usual approach is to study only in the weeks leading up to the exam,” says Taylor.

“In addition, taking the long game approach will be significantly more rewarding, as well as take an immense amount of stress off your shoulders which will leave you more relaxed and able to deal with all the other pressures you will face this year, not to mention the pressure of walking into an intimidating exam room.”

Taylor says that being able to understand conceptually is what sets the distinctive student apart from the average one.

“By endeavouring to understand conceptually, instead of like a parrot, you will stand yourself in good stead when it comes to those tougher questions on the examination paper.”