How to prepare for a mathematics exam

Here is a guide I prepared for students in Victoria, Australia to help prepare for their final mathematics exams at the end of their schooling.

Many of you reading this post will obviously be outside Victoria (or even Australia) but the key ideas are broadly applicable.

Completing past exams is the best form of exam revision

The best form of preparation for the end of year exam is to practice completing exams from previous years. The closer you can simulate exam conditions, the better.

After completing each exam, we can review the questions you had trouble with. If there are big sections of content you need to brush up on, I can give you extra work that focuses on those areas.

I implore you start working on past exams now. If there are other revision tasks you think are worthwhile, do these as well as practice exams. Do not delay starting past exams in order to do something else.

VCAA (Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority) exams

When I refer to “VCAA exams”, I mean the actual past exam papers used to assess students who have done the subject in previous years. The current version of the study design began in 2016 so all questions on exams from that year onward are relevant.

These exams can be found at:

When the new study design was introduced in 2016, VCAA produced a “sample exam” and all questions on that exam are also relevant.

Also, as well as the VCE exams in November, there is another set of exams in June for students completing VCE on a “Northern Hemisphere Timetable” (NHT). These past exam papers are just as relevant at the as ones from the November exams. The NHT exams can be found here:

“Trial” exams

There many companies (MAV, TSSM, Heffernan, etc.) that produce “trial” exams. These exams have usually been written by one or two teachers so the company has a product to sell.

As you can imagine, a lot less work goes into producing trial exams compared to the actual VCAA exams. Consequently, there are many more errors and ambiguous questions on trial exams compared to VCAA exams.

I have seen many students’ exam revision derailed by trying to work out questions from trial exams that gave them trouble. Often the reason the student had trouble with the trial exam question turns out to be that the question was poorly written or even that the solution provided by the company was incorrect.

The best possible revision you can do starting right now

In my opinion your most important goal should be to:

Complete and fully ‘engage with’ all the questions on past VCAA exams in the current study design (including the 2106 ‘sample’ exam and NHT exams).

So you will have completed 7 sets of exams, each containing two exam papers (making 14 different exam papers in total).

By fully ‘engage with’, I mean that for any questions you get wrong initially, we use that as a starting point to make sure you understand the underlying concept. This could involve giving you some follow-up work.

I cannot think of any student who has done a comparable amount of preparation to 7 sets of VCAA exams and not scored in the top 20%; I can think of several students who obtained study scores of 40+ (top 9%) without doing any other revision.

If you aim to do better than the top 20%, I still suggest starting with the goal above. Aim to complete the VCAA exams earlier, though. That will allow enough time to complete additional, more challenging questions. I can select out questions that are still relevant from earlier study designs and, with all the VCAA exams complete, some of the “trial” exams may now be worth a look.

But what about . . .

If you have other things you think you need to do before starting the past VCAA exams, or you are “saving” them until later in your revision, consider the following:

  • Have you allowed enough time to thoroughly work through the VCAA exams? Just sitting each pair of exams takes 3 and a half hours including reading time. Then it often takes at least that much time again – or significantly longer for the first few – to mark your work, figure out the questions you got wrong and do some follow up work based on the areas that gave you trouble.
  • How do you know the most effective way to direct your revision? Sitting an actual exam early in your exam preparation will give you a quick assessment of the areas you need to work on.
  • How do you know if you are improving? Sitting exams regularly throughout your preparation gives you an objective measure of progress.

If you have other revision you want to complete as well past VCAA exams, my strongest recommendation is to first plan when you will complete the past exams then fit in any other revision around that.

How to get the most out of each past exam

(1) Complete the exam under exam conditions. (Sit at a desk or table in a different room to where you usually study and have someone else time you.)

(2) Correct your work and give yourself a mark. Use the VCAA assessment report as a guide.

(3) Try your best to figure out any questions you got wrong.

(4) Make a list of all the questions you got wrong or got stuck on using the table below. Redo those questions again under test conditions. Start a new exercise book to do this in.

You will probably find there are some questions you get wrong on the second attempt as well. Redo these questions again. (Some questions may even take several goes.)

(5) Update your bound reference based on what information or concepts would have been helpful. Avoid simply transcribing the solutions to any tricky questions.

When will you complete the past exams?

On the next page, you will find a planner listing all the days from now until your maths exams.

The best way to use this is to:

(1) Cross out any day you will not be studying any maths. This could include day you don’t intend to study at all, days leading up to exams in other subjects, school break up functions, etc.

(2) Mark in the days you will sit the past exams, allow space between these days to correct the exams and redo questions you had trouble with.

(3) You probably don’t want to hear this but it is an excellent idea to tell your parents the days and times you will sit the past exams so they can help keep you on track.

Making the most out of tutoring during your exam revision

The best way to incorporate our tutoring lessons with your exam revision is to book a lesson between each past exam you complete.

You will get the most out of our lessons if you have already corrected your work and figured out some of the questions you got wrong.

After we cover any questions you were stuck on, I can test you out with some follow-up questions that assess the same concept.


I have done my best to clearly communicate how to effectively revise for the end of year exam. If you come to a lesson having not done what you planned there will be no nagging, no guilt-tripping, no judgment at all on my part.

Even though you will get the most out of our lessons by completing past exams before you come in, it is still valuable to work through some exam questions together. That is usually the focus if you have not completed an exam since I saw you last.