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You’re facing an NCEA maths exam, possibly several, but that doesn’t mean that you need to go in completely blind. The New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA) wants students to pass! One of the easiest ways to start NCEA maths revision is to look through past papers in the right subject. Past Papers are freely available for all topics, at all levels, and going back several years.

## The Overview of using NCEA Maths Past Papers For Exam Revision

Have a look at the example of NCEA Maths Level 3 Calculus 91577 “Apply the algebra of complex numbers in solving problems”. You can go to the NZQA maths resources page and download the NCEA maths past papers for 2020 and 2019. Then you can simply go through and answer the questions, right?

While this will, obviously, give you a good idea if you feel confident about the topic, it doesn’t actually tell you that you are right. It is surprisingly easy to be consistently wrong about a particular area – and this can cause problems with future learning and passing the exam.

**The Downside Of Previous Exam Papers**

None of the past papers for NCEA maths exams come with answer sheets, so you need to check if you have the answers right. If you are fortunate to have a mathematician friend or family member, you can ask them to mark you; otherwise, a teacher at school may assist.

NCEA was introduced into the New Zealand school curriculum in 2002, phasing out the “New Zealand School Certificate” system previously used. However, the system has gone through several minor revisions since then, so you won’t always find exam papers going back that far.

Most subjects will have exam papers available that go back to around 2011. Still, this does give you a great deal of revision material to look at, so be wary of overwhelming yourself! Maths is not the only subject that you have on your revision schedule.

## Answering Exam Questions Correctly

Go through the paper and answer the questions you can. Then, if you get completely stuck, Google the question, and you will be taken to multiple explanations that may assist - this isn’t cheating; this is learning.

For example, the first question in our exam is “If s = 2 + 3i and t = 3 + ki, find the value of k if st = 21 – i”. Searching online will take you to multiple videos by Khan Academy, as well as several websites that can provide workings for similar maths problems. You aren’t being given the answer. Instead, you can find tools to help you master the topic.

Complete as many questions as you can, then try to find someone to “mark” your paper to find out how well you did. Then comes working out what areas you need to focus on.

While it may seem sensible to focus on the questions you missed altogether, it makes more sense to focus on the questions you got wrong. These are the questions where you understood the concept but just need a little extra help and practice to answer correctly.

By focusing your study resources on areas you **almost** know, you increase your chances of passing your NCEA maths exam. As an additional bonus, once you are fully confident and prepared in one area, this knowledge often translates to having a clearer understanding of another area. In much the same way, knowing 2 + 2 = 4 makes it significantly easier to understand how to find the value of χ in 4 – χ = 2.

## Don’t let your NCEA maths exam freak you out

Most schools run mock exams to help students get comfortable with sitting exams. Unfortunately, there is undue pressure put on kids around passing exams. Even students who are well prepared and know their subjects well can struggle in the exam room with the crushing pressure. This doesn’t need to be you!

While knowing your material will always help pass exams, a lot of the time, understanding what is being asked is more important.

Take the question:

At first glance, this might cause students to have a moment of panic, no matter how confident they felt about their knowledge of maths before going into the exam. However, this is the fifth question. We can get a refresher by looking at other questions and clues by looking at the exam itself.

For example, look at the space given for your working out in the exam paper. For this question, you have almost half a page of space for working out. Which implies that you probably have several steps. Thankfully, exams generally group topics together, so we might find a clue as to what the first step could be when we look at the previous question.

Question (d) also allows for only half the space to show your work compared to question (e). This gives a strong indication that question (e) requires more working to be shown than question (d).

Ensuring you have a firm grasp of the topic is only part of the reason to go through past exam papers for NCEA Maths. Past exam papers allow you to see how questions are asked, look at the formatting, and see how long it will take you to answer.

**Special Consideration for NCEA Exams**

Exams generally give students plenty of time to complete the entire exam. However, if you find that you are consistently running out of time to finish your practice exams, discussing this with your teacher would be worthwhile. You may be able to apply for special consideration for extra time if you suffer from processing issues like dyspraxia, or separate space to sit your exam if you have certain anxiety disorders.

## Using Past Exam Papers For Other Topics

Unless a subject is entirely new, there will be past exam papers available. Looking at past papers for subjects that interest you may be helpful – even if you are not taking the topic. Particularly you suffer from a fear of exams (examinophobia or test anxiety) more than difficulty with a subject.

## Getting Help with NCEA maths revision

You’ve gone through a few old NCEA maths papers, you’ve worked out the areas you’re really confident in, but there are still a few areas where you’re either just not getting it, or don’t feel confident; what do you do?

Whether you feel you’re struggling or completely confident, engaging a tutor can help. Having help working through a past exam paper can build your confidence and knowledge. Both of these solidify the information you have been studying all year.

Obviously, for NCEA Maths exams looking for a tutor who understands the current curriculum will serve you best. However, being knowledgeable in maths doesn’t necessarily equate to explaining what an exam question is asking.

Once you have worked out where your strengths and weaknesses are in the topic, you can find a tutor who has expertise in helping you with that area. Sometimes what students need is to improve their exam-taking skills more than their maths ability.

## Developing An Exam Strategy

The number one reason to go through past exam papers is to work on your exam strategy. When you first look at the exam:

**Carefully read each question**. Mark keywords so you can understand what you are being asked. For example, being asked to ‘solve’ is different from being asked to ‘find’. Generally, when you are asked to “solve” a problem, the exam wants to focus on your working. Whereas “find” may mean that the final result is the most essential aspect of the question.**Time yourself.**Exams must be completed within a set timeframe. While you are practising, try to take note of how long each question takes you to answer. This isn’t a race against the clock. This is a learning exercise. It can be good to leave the type of questions that take you the longest to answer for last in the actual exam.**Get feedback.**Not only do you want to know if you got a question right, but if you have shown enough working. You can go through the assessment report on the NZQA website to understand the different requirements from ‘Not Achieved’ through to ‘Achievement with Excellence’.- Look at more than one paper and have a go at each exam more than once. It may seem repetitive, but that is the point. Science shows us that repetitive study really does help to cement knowledge. This is also why Kiwi Highschool students get study leave before exams start. It can be hard to focus when it is summer, the sun is shining, and we all want to head outside. So, establish a routine that allows you to take breaks and recharge.

## The last bonus for using past exams

The apparent benefits of using practice exams are developing confidence and increasing maths knowledge. One of the unexpected advantages of using all these practice exams is equipment. Yes, by completing your practice exams you are fully versed in what pens, pencils, rulers, calculators etc. you will need. This is particularly important with neurodivergent students who can be sensitive to the ‘feel’ of equipment. It is a seemingly minor advantage, but definitely another great reason to download those NCEA maths past papers.

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