Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Websites to complement the Zimsec website

The missionaries who founded my high school had a particular fondness for Jacarandas. At the beginning of every spring these trees would clothe themselves in purple flowers – a beautiful site to behold.

My high school headmaster, Mr Mukoyi, was one for symbolism and every time this happened he saw it as an omen that the time of reckoning was upon us- the full blooming of Jacarandas happens to coincide with the writing of public examinations in Zimbabwe.

I personally think it’s just a coincidence, but then the Jacarandas are almost in full bloom and the examinations are indeed upon us.

Last year I wrote a piece on how to prepare for the ZIMSEC examinations using technology. For the past few weeks my inbox has been inundated with requests from students soliciting one additional piece of information or another and this article attempts to address the perceived shortcomings in that other article.
Websites to complement the Zimsec website
Not the least of the problems those attempting to find follow my advice encountered was the fact that the ZIMSEC website does not have downloadable past examinations papers.

The site does not even have downloadable copies of specimen exam papers for studies to get a feel of what the actual exam layout will be. It seems the only improvement made on the site from last year was the fixing of a bug that affected how the site was displayed in some browsers.

You can however download the syllabi of most subjects. Every student should be familiar with the syllabus of each and every subject that they are writing.

You can also download exam reports for various past exam papers. These vary from paper to paper and there does not appear to be any order in with these where uploaded. These reports are important if you want to gain insight into what the examiners expected when they set questions and eschew some of the pitfalls that students often make.

Complementing material on the ZIMSEC website with material from other sites

As we have already seen the ZIMSEC site does not have past exam papers. This oversight on their part seems to be in line with the Ministry of Education’s lack of coherent ICT policies despite the fact that the younger generation, of which most candidates are part of, tend to be early adopters of technology.

They do however sell physical past exam papers for $2 a copy at their offices but more often than not you will find that they will tell you they do not have the papers that you desire in stock and even when they do $2 is pretty steep at a time when everyone is trying to make ends meet.

The problem can be resolved for most subjects if you have downloaded the syllabus. You will find that for subjects like Business Studies, Maths, European History, Economics and Accounts there is an uncanny similarity between the ZIMSEC syllabus and the Cambridge syllabi. You can take advantage of these similarities by borrowing topical questions from Cambridge past exam papers which are more readily available online.

Extreme papers is one website that is quite popular with Cambridge students. They have a past exam paper repository for most subjects that spans more than a decade. Although there will be an inevitable structural difference in the exam layouts you will find a lot of questions that are typically set by the ZIMSEC examiners.

You will also find that ZIMSEC examiners tend to gravitate towards Cambridge layouts case in point ever since Cambridge started favouring gap filling papers in most subjects including even in English Language, ZIMSEC has also adopted the same philosophy.

The similarities between ZIMSEC and Cambridge become even more pronounced as you reach ‘A’ Level especially if you are doing sciences and commercial subjects.

Most of you would have noticed that the textbooks that students use at ‘A’ Level tend to be foreign. Boundless offers an Open source alternative to most popular ‘A’ level and college textbooks.

There is scarcely a subject that does not have a textbook available- Shona textbooks are understandably not available for example. They also have useful revision notes and quizzes (which tend to be worthless for ZIMSEC courses).

Tutor2u is another website that students doing commercials will find especially useful. It has topical revision notes for Business Studies, Economics and Sociology. Most of the information is also relevant to the Zimbabwean case although you will have to bear in mind certain peculiarities such as the Fiscal Policy that are unique to the Zimbabwean case.

Most commercial students are also familiar with the ‘A’ level Business Studies Book by Borrington and Stimpson. A condensed version is available on this blog here.

Literature students can also benefit from the Sparks Notes website. The site has notes and analysis for most popular literature texts for both ‘O’ level and ‘A’ level students including poetry notes.

The greatest pitfall that any literature students may fall into is thinking that these notes are some sort of short-cut to the text itself. You should always read the book itself before cramming the notes.

Free copyright books, including a complete listing of Shakespeare’s works can be found on the project Gutenburg website. You should be aware that it is not unusual for there to be various editions of these books. Just be sure you are reading the correct edition prescribed by the syllabus.

Google Play and Amazon also have reasonably to steeply priced e-books and notes that you can either rent or buy. The site e-books online also has a lot of common textbooks for various subjects that you can purchase and print.

S-cool is another Cambridge syllabus revision websites with revision notes for Business Studies, Economics, Geography (some of the notes are useful while most are not), Maths, French, Literature and Physics.

The truth is that there are a lot of websites out there that you can use during your revision. True most if not all are not made for ZIMSEC students, but if you are familiar with your syllabus guidelines as you should, seeing the hour of reckoning is almost upon you, you can take advantage of the similarities between the ZIMSEC and other curriculum.

Please feel free to leave any suggestions of more websites in the comment section. TechZim

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