With less than 16 weeks until the STEP exams, how should you plan your preparation? This post will explore how and why you should create a STEP Preparation Timetable.
So far, you’ve probably been looking at the Siklos Booklets, or the STEP Correspondence Assignments. You may even have attended or booked yourself onto a STEP Preparation Course. But none of the above can replace past paper practice. All other factors aside, the effectiveness of your independent study close to the exams will be one of the biggest factors determining your success in the summer.
Decide on your aim
Hopefully, by February Half Term of Year 13, you will know what your offers are, and therefore what grades you should be aiming for each of the STEP Papers you’ll be taking. This is vital for knowing how much time you will need to spend preparing for STEP, as opposed your A-level subjects.
Make sure you know which STEP papers you’re sitting and what dates they are on.
In 2017, the dates are the 8th, 12th and 22nd of June – slap bang in the middle of your A-levels, no doubt.
Establish where you are
If you haven’t already, the first thing you should do is a full timed mock. Grade it using the official solutions and grade boundaries. From this you should be able to establish roughly how much you need to improve before the real exams. [Read more about doing a timed mock here]
Use your mock to figure out what is holding you back. Common areas for improvement are:
a) Not being able to answer enough questions within the 3-hour period
If you ran out of time but felt confident that you had the ability to answer more questions if you’d had more time, you might benefit from doing more timed mocks.
b) Struggling to get through whole questions
If, however, you found you had little you could do towards the end, it would be better to spend more time going over the content and practising individual questions, and spending as much time as needed to really get to the heart of the question and understand what the examiner is looking for.
Also, if you do look at solutions, it’s a good idea to not just to work through line by line but also understand what the key ideas in the questions were. You can then add these to your toolkit of knowledge to apply to future questions.
It is also important to know when you will be learning A Level content in class, especially for STEP 3. For me, our class was studying FP2 last, so I learnt a lot of it ahead of time meaning I could practise STEP 3 questions which required FP2 knowledge. You might also want to look at some FP3 topics such as hyperbolic functions (or differential equations, depending on which exam board you study) as they could come in quite handy.
Calculate how much time you have
Calculate roughly how much time per week you can afford to spend on STEP versus your A-level subjects. Also find out the time until the STEP papers you will be sitting. For 2017, STEP 1 will be on June 8th, STEP 2 on June 12th, and STEP 3 on June 22nd.
Around February Half Term of the year I was sitting STEP, I made a Google Sheet mapping out the time until the exams. This was great to visualise the remaining time. You can then this fill in with what you intend to do when and what times you won’t be available.
Find out what works best for you
Everybody learns best in different ways. For me, timed mock papers were most helpful. I would suggest trying a variety of different methods as early on as possible and seeing what works best for you, focusing on whatever you need to improve on most.
It is important to make sure what you are doing is actually helping you improve. Don’t stick to questions to you know you can already do. Practising topics and questions you find hardest is probably the most helpful, even though it might feels as though you are achieving less.
By spending time thinking about these problems, your understanding and intuition with these topics will increase. This will serve you well for the real STEP exams, where you don’t know which topics could be asked!
Plan out your past papers
There are a lot of past papers available for STEP, but still only a finite number. On the official website they have papers going back to 1998. Although older papers can be found elsewhere, there are plenty of papers to keep you busy without having to go further back.
I would suggest it is best to leave the most recent papers, at least the last two years, for closer to the exams as they will be closest to what you will be sitting. At STEP Maths, we offer Mock Days
for the last couple of years’ papers, where you can sit exam papers in timed conditions and get detailed feedback and grading on your work.
So for your independent study, focus on the older papers from around 2004 to 2012. At STEP Maths courses we have consciously avoided using questions from after 2011 so that you see the questions for the first time when trying timed papers on your own.
Keep a log
Keeping a log of which past papers you completed as mocks (along with your marks) and which you just did as individual questions is very important. Doing this ensures that you cover all the papers you aim to, and that you don’t attempt papers as mocks which you have already done questions from too often. It also gives an opportunity to track your progress throughout your preparation.
You can access STEP past paper banks here which include a tracking facility, to mark which questions you have left to do. Your progress will get saved no matter which device you’re using to access the papers, which can be really handy if you don’t have your laptop with you at all times! Moreover, the question, examiner’s report, official solution and worked solution are all organised in one handy document.
Allow for flexibility but stick to your plan
When creating your long term timetable, build it some slack, as you don’t know what could crop up in the future. If you don’t allow enough flexibility you can easily fall behind your schedule and might not be able to catch up again. But having added in the slack, you should also be firm with yourself to complete papers by the dates you have decided. It is very easy to give up halfway through a paper, or not to start at all – don’t fall into this trap.
What did I do?
I started my main preparation around February of year 13, doing one STEP 1 paper a week, in addition to a few STEP 2 or 3 questions. As I got closer the the actual exams this grew until I was doing three papers a week (usually one for each exam) around late May. Doing them on a regular schedule gave me the opportunity to see my progress and keep to a rough timetable without losing flexibility.
If I came across questions which I could not do I would revise that topic and practise other similar questions. Other than that, I pretty much solely did past papers, trying to complete six questions in timed conditions and finishing other questions afterwards.
Creating a STEP Preparation timetable will allow you to pinpoint your areas of weakness and allow you to work on them, be they with timing or content. By creating some structure around your revision, you’ll be able to ensure you do as many papers as possible. Moreover, aiming to finish 6 questions in a 3-hour period as you come closer to the exams will ensure that the time pressure won’t get the better of you on the day. So, yes, creating a STEP Prep timetable will be well worth the effort!