Okay so Matric is really important, you need good grades, you get it – you’ve probably heard that hundreds of times.
What you might not have heard as many times is HOW you can make sure you actually get those grades. So that’s what we are here for today.
A caveat: I don’t perform miracles.
There’s no magic spell that will get you good grades. You have to put time aside to study. Last-minute cramming almost never works. So if you are looking to study hard and do well this article is for you. But I don’t have a magic snake oil to help you pass on last-minute cramming – sorry 🙁
Why should you take my advice anyway?
That’s a fair question. What do I know? At the moment I’m some random on the internet giving you study tips.
So let me introduce myself – I’m Tao Boyle. I graduated top of my class in Matric, with 7 distinctions, including for maths, physics and visual art. I studied Economics at UCT, and graduated Honours first class, with 80% for my thesis. And in this article, I’m going to share with you how I did that. I also founded FoondaMate, which provides past papers and other awesome information for high school learners.
My 2 tips to study for tests.
The way that I studied for tests was actually pretty simple.
My first tip is to make handwritten notes summarising content the week you were taught it, then stick the notes up somewhere. I would put them on my wardrobe so that I saw them every time I got dressed. These notes don’t need to look fancy, they just need to contain the key ideas.
I found it helpful to do this on Friday afternoons and Saturday mornings, especially during matric. This didn’t mean seeing friends on weekends – but I had a rule that I wouldn’t see friends until I had finished my notes
My second tip is to find every practice question you can get your hands on and do one per subject at least once a week.
Side note – at the beginning of your matric year you will only be able to do some sections of question papers. That’s fine. In March you will only do some of the paper, by June quite a bit more, and by September the whole paper. This means that you can redo the same past papers multiple times, each time doing slightly more.
But – and this is crucial – always do as much of the paper as you have been taught. Never skip a section because you think you already know it.
Read more on the marks you need
Practice makes perfect.
The reason why you should do this, and why doing this for a whole year works, is because of a technique called spaced repetition. There have been a lot of great resources written about it, including academic studies showing that spaced repetition works – for more detailed information check out the video below.
But the basic idea is that immediately after you learn something, you start forgetting it. So if I tell you right now that “In 1806, French chemists Louis-Nicolas Vauquelin and Pierre Jean Robiquet isolated a compound in asparagus that was subsequently named asparagine, the first amino acid to be discovered” and then you never read that sentence again or think about it again, the amount you will remember over time will look something like this:
This is called the forgetting curve, and you can read more about it here. The basic idea is that if you learn something once, and never revise it, you are going to forget most of it.
This means that if you learn something in January, and don’t revise it again until March, you will only remember a tiny per cent of what you originally learned.
To make sure this doesn’t happen you have to revise the information often – by doing past papers, and checking your notes if you get confused by a past paper. That way, what you remember will look something like this:
Personally, I found that revising for each subject once a week was as much as I could manage during Matric – because you need to both revise old content and learn new content. And so I would aim to make notes + do one past paper per subject per week.
Some people may be able to get in more revision than this, but I never managed to find enough time to do that and get sufficient sleep (which is also really important by the way). And given that I did really well in matric, I’d say that this method works.
If you are struggling to concentrate these are some things that I have found helped :
- Do not listen to music while studying
- Time yourself. Something that I found works quite well is 25 mins study, 15 mins break, 30 mins study, 15 mins break, 45 mins study, 15 mins break, 45 mins study, 15 mins break, 45 mins study – then rest. This will get you to 3 hours of study.
- When you take a break, do something physical. Do a couple of star jumps, go make tea, walk round the block, do the dishes (your parents will be happy). Just do something physical and away from the space where you are sitting down to study.
- Think about the benefits of studying, and all the opportunities that will come with good grades (conversely you can think about how upset you’d be to miss out on those opportunities). This generally got me out of a slump, because I knew I really wanted to go to a good university – but it can also make you quite anxious if you overthink, so use sparingly.
Some study resources you should check out if your teacher is confusing.
The Answer Series – books full of practice questions.
Siyavula for free maths and physics textbooks.
CrashCourse for great summary videos for pretty much every topic you can think of.
3Blue1Brown for really helpful math videos (university level as well – but if you are in matric definitely check out their calculus stuff).
Khan Academy, obviously.
And lastly, good luck! Matric can be really stressful and frustrating, but keep on studying and you’ll get out the other side with great grades and a lot more opportunities than you have now XX