For VCE Maths Methods students, the prospect of the two back-to-back end-of-year exams can be daunting. However, understanding and practice of the common question types can help settle the anxiety and maximise your exam scores.
The VCE schedule set out to test the strength of Maths Methods students: two maths methods exams across three and a half hours on two consecutive days is no mean feat. Especially for those in year 12, who are likely to have several exams from other subjects in the same week and potentially on the same days, nailing the Methods exams can seem like an impossible dream. But it doesn’t have to be! If you’re proactive and commence your revision early enough, and have a solid approach to the exams, you’re giving yourself the best possible chance of success. One particularly important thing is familiarising yourself with the types of questions that will be asked on each exam so there aren’t any rude surprises when you turn the first page on the day. To help you get started, here’s an overview of the question types, how you might approach each one, a general strategy for maximising the exam reading and writing time, and a couple of past patterns to guide your study.
As you might know already, VCE Maths Methods involves two end-of-year exams. In 2022, the dates and times for the exams are:
Exam 1 - Wednesday 2 November (9:00 am - 10:15 am)
- Technology-free, 15 minutes reading time + 1 hour writing time
- Short-answer questions
Exam 2 - Thursday 3 November (11:45 am - 2:00 pm)
- Technology-active, 15 minutes reading time + 2 hours writing time
- Multiple-choice questions and extended-response questions
I would highly recommend visiting the VCAA website (https://www.vcaa.vic.edu.au/assessment/vce-assessment/past-examinations/Pages/Mathematical-Methods.aspx) and reviewing the structure of past years’ papers to get a feel for the layout of the exams before attempting the questions themselves.
Exam 1 will consist of eight to nine short-answer questions. The first couple of questions should be like something straight out of the textbook; they will ask you to evaluate questions in areas such as functions and calculus. The subsequent questions will be the more ‘worded’ type questions when you are presented with a scenario and asked to use the relevant concepts to come to an answer.
In Exam 2, part A consists of 20 multiple-choice questions, which will generally be a combination of the above (simple textbook-type problems and some simple ‘worded’ questions). Part B contains five extended-response questions, which generally get more difficult progressively and start from simpler, textbook-type questions (e.g. finding rules for functions & sketching their graphs) to more challenging worded problems of real-world situations (such as water flow, points scoring in sports, parkland adventure, etc.)
Navigating each question type
For multiple-choice questions, whether you spend two pages working out a problem or simply circle the correct answer, you’ll be awarded the same number of marks. As such, getting as quickly as possible to the right answer, to maximise your available time for the trickier worded extended-response questions, is the best approach. Use a process of elimination where possible: rather than spending ages figuring out the solution, knowing which options aren’t correct can lead you to the right answer in a much shorter time. As you’re not being assessed for showing your work, use your CAS whenever you can. Even if it’s for 2 + 2 when you’re nervous, your brain can blank out in moments, so don’t sacrifice the mark because you had too much pride and wanted to do it by hand.
Short-answer questions are different, in that you’re expected to show all your work out. Err on the side of too much information. A two-mark response will need at least two lines of working out, but if there are more steps along the way, include them. Always signpost what you’re doing (e.g. “sub in (0,5)”, “dy/dx = …”). Label all key points on any functions you’re asked to sketch. This includes all intercepts, endpoints and turning points.
In extended-response questions, the same principle applies; show all your working out. In the more ‘worded’ questions, pay particular attention to units (e.g. cm/min, m/s, etc). Read the question carefully to make sure you’ve addressed exactly what is being asked (e.g., simply answering “t=5” may not be enough - if time is measured since Monday, October 1, your answer would need to be Saturday, October 6). Drawing diagrams can be helpful, especially in probability questions.
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Breaking down exam time
Two hours may seem long, but one of the most common complaints from students after Maths Methods exams, particularly Exam 2, is running out of time. That’s why reading time is your best friend. To maximise the 15 minutes, start by quickly flicking through the paper. Mentally separate the questions into the ones you think you’ll be able to solve relatively easily, and the ones that will require more thought. When your writing time commences, finish off the easier questions first, and progressively work your way up to the more difficult ones. In Exam 2, if there are a couple of multiple choice questions that you’re not sure about, skip over them and attempt Part B first; the worst thing you can do is spend too much time on something only worth one mark and sacrifice several marks elsewhere. Try to pace yourself wisely so that you have at least 10 minutes at the end of the exam to go over everything and make sure you haven’t made any silly mistakes.
Common patterns in past papers
If you do enough past maths methods exam papers, you might notice a pattern in the types of questions they like to ask (e.g., the explorer Tasmania Jones makes several appearances in Exam 2). Chances are that there will be, if not Tasmania Jones, then some sort of expedition-type or physical environment-related calculus question towards the end of the exam that will be worth several marks. Be sure to practice these types of questions, from past exams, textbook chapter reviews and the like, to increase your confidence in setting out your response and working through them in a way that makes sense for you. Similarly, a typical MCQ will ask something like “for which value of m are there infinite solutions?”; choose the method you prefer for solving this type of question and practice getting to the answer as quickly as you can.
Different strategies will work for different people, so the sooner you can get to figuring out your Methods and game plan, the better. Consider booking a free 30-minute study skills consultation to discuss your exam strategy for Methods and VCE in general.
Written by KIS Academics tutor Dee Tomic. Dee currently offers to tutor for VCE Maths Methods and Biology. Dee is completing her PhD in epidemiology at Monash University. If you have any questions for her or would like to request Dee as a tutor, feel free to reach out through her profile here.