As the end of the year approaches bringing warmer weather and longer days, it also brings for many secondary school students around the country the end of year exams. While it may not be your chosen way to kick off the summer holidays, a plan of attack and using your time wisely can drastically lower your stress. Looking through NCEA past exam papers can help you lower your anxiety and give you a clearer idea about what the exam format is like and what the markers are looking for. They are a useful tool to help you gain confidence and build a plan of attack. For those of you who have already experienced an NCEA exam, you can pick up some helpful tips and tricks to make your study sessions more efficient and lessen the stress burden

Preparing for English exams
How to make the most of your revision time.
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New to NCEA?

Level 1 can be daunting as it may be the first time you have sat exams within a formal exam environment. While more schools are transitioning the exams into more comfortable spaces (like classrooms instead of school halls) it is still a nerve-racking experience. Like everything, the more you practice the easier it becomes. While you have already written essays in school, external exams are a whole different kettle of fish. Instead of having a few weeks to plan, draft, edit, and submit, you have three hours. For two essays and an unfamiliar text exam. But don’t panic, past exams are a good way to familiarise yourself with the process. 

With two essays to write and unfamiliar text to read through, managing your time is very important, you don’t want to spend two hours on one thing! Past papers can also give you a bit of an overview of what you will be asked to do and are especially great for practicing the unfamiliar text assessment. Unfamiliar text is an examination of your ability to understand and respond to information you haven’t seen before (there are usually a few grammar questions in there as well).  

Already experienced English exams? 

Past English exam papers are still a good idea to look through even if you have already completed Level 1 or 2 exams. The questions change as well as the expectations of the amount of detail you write in for each level. As you make your way through Level 1 to Level 3 the requirements and expectations can differ quite a bit. By looking at past English exam papers and the exemplars you can get a solid understanding of what markers are looking for and how they make a decision, for example between Merit and Excellence assessments, in more detail than the standard marking guide provides.  Not to mention they are very helpful for practicing revision and planning. 

Why would I look at past English exam papers?

NCEA is geared towards skills rather than content. This means within English the exam questions are open. When I say the word open, I mean there isn’t exactly a right or wrong answer. They are looking at how you write and support your statements. For example, is your essay relevant to the question? Do you have relevant evidence from text or multimedia to support what you are saying? Is your evidence integrated into your writing? Can the reader follow your argument? And of course, spelling and grammar. By looking at old English exam papers we can get an idea of what kind of questions we will be asked. It makes the process a little less nerve-racking as you can get a good understanding of the layout markers are looking for. While the questions will be different, they often follow a similar theme.

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So should I just do all the past English exam papers?

Doing all of the past exam papers is not the most useful way to study. The requirements and questions change over time so I wouldn’t recommend doing any past papers that are more than 4 years old. In fact, maybe have a practice at doing just one of each essay question in the allocated time frame so you don't put too much stress on yourself. There is a slight exception with the Unfamiliar text section, have a go at three or four as it requires a lot less writing and focuses on different skills. It can be a bit tricky to revise as the name explains, you will be given unfamiliar information to test your reading comprehension. So the more the merrier!

While it is good to practice exam writing, it is the planning that will really help you get your ideas through coherently.  A great place to start your revision is to practice creating a brainstorm within a 10 minute time frame that includes a brief list of your main points, relevant evidence, and the order to write them in. When you’re in an exam room your brain sometimes decides now is the time to run through lyrics of a song you haven’t listened to in five years or it just blanks. By practicing with past English exam papers, it familiarises you with the layout and the brainstorm can help you ‘dump’ all the information and examples swirling in your brain down. Remember your brainstorm is not marked and has no effect on your grade, so dump away. 

Hey, what are these past English exam paper exemplars?

Each year the NZQA  (the New Zealand Qualifications Authority) provides examples of a NA (Not Achieved), A (Achieved), M (Merit, and E (Excellence) of real essays written by students from the year before. Even better than that, is they explain WHY that student got that grade and the marking schedule. They can help give you an idea of what markers are looking for and a great tool to help you prepare for the exam. However, the exam questions are never the same so don’t get super focused on the exact wording of the questions. 

Should I just copy an exemplar then? 

 No. Definitely a bad idea. The questions you will get will not be the same as the questions from the year before. Remember the examiners are looking to make sure you answer one of the questions provided. If you write an essay to a question that doesn’t exist they will notice something is up. Not only will it be an automatic NA, you could be investigated for academic dishonesty (cheating). Handing in someone else's work as your own is called plagiarism and it can be put on your academic transcripts.  

Where can I find past English exam papers?

Past exam papers can be found on the Ministry of Education's Te Kete Ipurangi (TKI) site. It is full of everything you need to know about Secondary School related education, including Māori and Pasifika platform. It even has the New Zealand curriculum if you wanted to check it out. TKI will direct you to the NZQA website which stores all the past assessment and exam papers. Give yourself a little time to have a look at the site and make sure you read the assessment details before committing to writing it, all papers are clearly marked Internal or External. The exemplars I mentioned earlier are in the same place as the exam papers, which is incredibly handy and saves you from having to search the database. 

A quicker way to navigate the site is to use the search function, write 'English' in the search bar, select Exams and Exemplars, and the level you require. It will bring up all papers so make sure you click the right one.

NZQA search bar
Where to find past exam papers

Need a bit more support?

Exams can be stressful as you try to manage your time efficiently. With no control over your exam timetable you may find yourself doing all your exams is a very small space of time. No need to worry though, Superprof has your back. If you are feeling a little unsure and would appreciate some guidance, Superprof has a wide range of tutors to help you reach your goals. 

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