A reader asks:

I got an E in my mocks, but the universities I plan to apply for need at least a B - what do I do?

PANIC! Next question. What’s that? Oh, OK. The Ninja says I have to write a proper answer. And if the Ninja says so… here are some steps you can take.

1. Stop panicking

Your mock happened; it didn’t go so well. These things happen: you need to take it as a kick up the bum rather than a punch in the face. You need to take responsibility for putting things right. Sure, your teachers will do all they can, but they can’t learn it for you – and, the chances are, they’ve got dozens of other students to help as well. There’s only one person whose future is particularly affected by the grade you get in the summer, and you’ll find them sitting in your chair. And above all, you need to get analytical about getting your scores up.

2. Analyse your mock paper to death

Get hold of your exam script, the paper you sat, and the mark scheme, and go through it question by question. Where did you lose marks? How? What do I mean, how? I mean, most dropped marks fall into categories like:

  • Silly mistakes
  • Nearly had it, but you were missing a link
  • Not reading the question
  • Started ok, but went down a false path
  • Had the right answer but second-guessed yourself and crossed it out
  • Didn’t have a clue where to start
  • Didn’t have time to answer

Also think, where did you get marks? What solid foundations do you have to build on? Were you confident in your answer?

3. Make a plan

Now you’ve figured out where you lost marks, you can start working out how to get them next time. Practise on similar questions – for example, look at the ‘Mixed exercises’ in the relevant chapters of your textbook, and do handful. If you’re finding it tough going, try reading the chapter and doing some questions in it. Don’t be afraid to ask your teacher for specific help – you’ll get a much more helpful response to “I didn’t get this partial fractions question right and I don’t see why” than to “I don’t get partial fractions.”

4. Do more papers

Doing lots of papers is a good way to get used to the style of language and questions exams tend to ask. That’s only half of the story, though: by doing steps 2 and 3 on the papers you do, you can use them to guide your studies over the critical few months in the run-up to the exams. Good luck!