Students are often bombarded with study tips in the run up to exam time. Here are our top five…
1. Start early
Ideally, this should be months, not days, before your exams!
Many high achieving students reflect that the Easter holidays period was key to their revision success. To set yourself up for the very best chance of acheiving the best grade possible, try to get the majority your revision done before and during the Easter holidays. Whatever you do, don’t leave all of your revision until the day (or even week) before exam day, particularly at A level!
You may wish to begin your revision process by producing a revision timetable with time set out for each subject and breaks in between. Alternatively, you may prefer a more flexible, task orientated approach based around a list of the tasks and the topics you need to cover. For example, one revision day could consist of: 1) Doing a core maths past paper, 2) Revising your economics definitions (know your definitions, they’re easy marks!), 3) Writing out an economics essay plan and 4) revising your physics study cards.
It’s generally easier to maintain interest and engagement if you mix up the topics you study in a given day. Starting early and adding variety to your study routine can be a great way to implement distributed practice into your revision. Distributed practice refers to the distribution of learning over time. John Dunlosky of Kent State University, in his studies into the effectiveness of common study techniques found that time lags between learning episodes boosted learning performance. Personally, I used to try and do 4 or so distinct revision tasks a day with breaks in between.
2. Get the right revision guide
For most GCSE subjects, CGP are simply unbeatable. High achieving students can often revise using a combination of CGP revision guides and past paper practice and end up with multiple A*s. Be sure though to purchase the revision guide tailored to your exam level and specification (for example purchase the GCSE Edexcel Biology revision guide rather than simply the Biology one). This way, you’re guide will cover exactly the material you are going to be assessed on. This will help you to revise comprehensively yet efficiently.
One technique I found particularly successful when revising for my final GCSE Biology, Chemistry and Physics exams, was to condense my CGP revision guides down into question and answer study cards. By revising the question and answer study cards repeatedly, my understanding and recollection of definitions, methods and concepts improved dramatically. I was then able to practise past papers with a solid grasp of the content which helped me to score full marks in the three exams! Remember though there’s no single ‘correct’ revision strategy, so do what works best for you. For example, where I did most of my revision listening to music, for those of you who can’t help but sing along, there may be nothing more distracting!
When it comes to A-level revision, often the official revision guide/textbook for your course is your best bet. Books with lots of practice questions could also prove very helpful.
3. Use flash cards
Creating flash/study cards forces you to condense and really think about the material you’re going to be examined on. You’ll find you remember things you’ve really had to think about a lot more easily than things you’ve simply read. See more on this here. The process of creating flash cards also makes revision more fun and interactive than repeatedly rereading notes and textbooks, which can quickly become monotonous.
Once you’ve created your study cards, you can then practice and improve by repeatedly testing yourself. Ask willing testers such as family and friends to help you out. If you see two concepts explained differently from different sources, checking a past paper mark scheme can be an effective way to clarify what you’re expected to know. After lots of practice, you’ll feel a lot more confident with the material. Study cards are a great way to test yourself as well as being portable; useful for on the go revision or revising with friends.
4. Past papers, lots of them.
The revision strategy all serial A*ers have in common. This gets you familiar with:
- The structure of the exam
- How questions are worded
- The time pressure
- What examiners are looking for (mark schemes and examiners reports are also important for this)
Practicing past papers also crucially tests and improves your ability to apply your knowledge and understanding; you might know the 3 steps to solve an equation, but if you’ve had little practice at it, you could become stuck in the exam.
Even if you’re getting A grades on homework tasks, that doesn’t necessarily translate into an A grade in a timed, pressurised environment. It’s not unusual for students to outperform abler peers simply because they’ve developed a superior exam technique through doing a healthy number of past papers (and studying the examiner’s reports!)
Once you’ve practised a good number of past papers, you’ll find they can often be quite repetitive. You’ll notice certain skills and areas are tested more frequently than others. If the same question has come up for the last three years, make sure you can answer it!
5. Practice Practice Practice!
Whatever you do, don’t just read a textbook and think you’re ready. As with most things, you’ll need to practice if you want to succeed. Whether you do that by doing completing exercise questions, practice essays, past papers or a combination, practice and effort will be essential to exam success. Best of luck!
For a detailed study guide full of tips and advice aimed at GCSE students, I purchased and recommend Robert Blakey’s How to Achieve 100% in a GCSE – Guide to GCSE Exam and Revision Technique. Robert achieved straight A*s in his GCSEs and A-levels before going on to study at Oxford University. He has a second book aimed at a broader range of students titled I Hate Revision: Study Skills and Revision Techniques for GCSE, A-level and Undergraduate Exams.