How to make accurate notes and save time pre-VCE exams

Coming from a humanities background, there was a technique that I used religiously and lived by, when summarising and compacting my notes, which ultimately saved me an abundance of time and stress before the exam period.

The VCAA study design was my bible. It was a resource that I relied on 100%. Each subject has a study design and course outline which can be obtained through the VCAA site by going into the “studies and resources” link. When learning about each Area of Study (AOS) I would continuously look back over the study design to understand and see that what I was learning was relevant and examinable come October.

You see there are often pieces of information that you learn and tasks that you undertake, that can be very interesting but sometimes irrelevant to the course and ultimately not examinable. The course design shows you the exact pieces of information and material that IS examinable. In the early months of the year when the examiners sit down to compile the VCE exam, they go through the course design and can only ask questions and examine students on the information that is in the course design. NO other questions and material is examinable. This is why the Course design is so crucial and important when making summaries and learning.

Before every single SAC and whilst learning the AOS I would continuously go back to my course design and answer each dot point under the ‘Key Knowledge’ subheading. This would form the basis and foundation of my summaries. It was reassuring to know that if I could answer every single dot point, I knew, firstly, that I understood the AOS, and secondly, that come exam time I knew the exact material that would be examinable.

Let's take Legal Studies for example:

AOS 1 is titled ‘Parliament and the citizen’. The points beneath Key knowledge were:

the principles of the Australian parliamentary system: representative government, responsible government, the principle of separation of power, the structure of State and Commonwealth
Parliaments and the roles played by the Crown and the Houses of Parliament;
the legislative process outlining the progress of a bill through Parliament;
reasons laws may need to change, using examples to illustrate;
the role played by a formal law reform body in assessing the need for change; for example, the role of:
Australian Law Reform Commission
a parliamentary committee
Victorian Law Reform Commission
a government inquiry
a Royal Commission;
the means by which individuals and groups participate in influencing change in the law;
the strengths and weaknesses of law-making through Parliament.
Therefore, when I got home and wrote up my summary notes in preparation for the upcoming SAC (as well as preparation for the end of year exam) each dot point would be a heading and underneath it would be the answer and knowledge I needed to know in order to understand that concept.

Case in point: the first dot point (among other things) states: representative and responsible government.

So my heading was:

Representative government and responsible government

And then I had all the information applicable to that concept. Eg:

Representative government is a fundamental component of Australia’s democratic system of government.
Individual citizens vote for the people they wish to represent them in parliament.
This is achieved through regular elections
At federal level the lower house represents the interests of the people by having approximately equal electorates. And the Upper House represents the interests of the states.
The government should reflect the majority of community values, or otherwise risk losing the next election
Responsible government is another fundamental aspect of our democratic system
This means that the Crown and its ministers are both responsible answerable and accountable to the people for its actions- it must act fairly.
A minister usually looks after one government department (eg: Education) and is ultimately responsible for the decisions and actions of that department.
Ministers therefore can be questioned by other members of parliament (MPs) about their activities as well as the activities of their department.
Or for another example lets look at the second last dot point - the means by which individuals and groups participate in influencing change in the law;

Firstly I had a couple of points about the difference between a formal and an informal pressure.

And then listed and had descriptions as well as examples of three or four formal and informal pressure.


Informal pressures


This is where a group of people come together (often on the steps of parliament) to bring attention to an issue they wish to change, often a speaker will address the crowd
Eg: huge demonstrations have occurred trying to prevent the dredging at Port Phillip Bay
The bigger the demonstration the more significant it will be - gaining more media attention & therefore more influential
Most effective in increasing public awareness, but no guarantee of change (IR laws)
So the key is, not to know EVERYTHING and every tiny detail, but rather to sift out and realize what is important and crucial to know and what is perhaps irrelevant or sideline information. The main thing that you NEED to understand and remember is that examiners cannot ask you one thing that is not on the course design. It is therefore extremely handy and beneficial to make your notes according to the points in the course design as you can then be confident that there is nothing you have missed out on, and can be rest-assured that any question that appears on a SAC or Exam you will have studied.

In order to save yourself time and stress before exams I highly recommend making these summaries and following the above process as you go through the AOS, so then come exam time you can just open your folder and have all the information that you need to go over right in front of you and at your fingertips. Opposed to having to go through each dot point for 4 or 5 AOS’s and 4 or 5 different subjects 2 months before the final exams. It may seem like a lot of work during the year, but such consistent and thorough work and diligence will ultimately, believe it or not, save you time towards the end, more stressful, part of the year. Additionally it is a great way to be continually revising and learning your subject matter.

Kate Horin graduated in 2008 and achieved her first round preference of law which she is studying in 2009.


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