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 say the Easter holidays is key. To set yourself up for the very best chance of summer exam success, try to get the majority your revision done before and during the easter holidays. Whatever you do, don’t leave revision until the day (or even the week) before, particularly at A level!
Some students like to start by making a revision timetable with time set out for each subject and breaks in between. Others prefer a more flexible, task orientated approach. For example, a revision day could consist of: 1) Doing a core maths past paper, 2) Going through your economics definitions (know your definitions, they’re easy marks!), 3) Writing out an economics essay plan and 4) going over your physics study cards. It’s generally easier to maintain interest if you mix up the task type and subject each day; even nuns would find a whole day of religious studies definitions a little tedious! Personally, I used to try and do 5 or so of these tasks a day with breaks in between.
2. Get the right revision guide
For most GCSE subjects, CGP are simply unbeatable. Many high achieving students use the combination of CGP revision guides + past papers and end up with multiple A*s. Be sure to get the revision guide tailored to your exam board (for example get the GCSE Edexcel Biology revision guide rather than simply the Biology one). This way you can be sure the guide covers exactly what you’re being assessed on.
One technique I found particularly successful for my final GCSE Biology, Chemistry and Physics exams was to condense my CGP revision guides down into question and answer study cards. I then went through the question and answer study cards repeatedly, practised some past papers and scored full marks in the three exams! Remember though there’s no single ‘correct’ revision strategy, so do what works best for you. For example, I did most revision listening to music whereas, for others who can’t help but sing along, there’s nothing more distracting!
For A level, often the official revision guide/textbook for the course is your best bet. Books with lots of practice questions could also prove helpful.
3. Use flash cards
Creating flash/study cards forces you to condense and really think about the material you’re going to be tested 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. Creating flash cards also makes revision more fun and interactive than simply repeatedly reading 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. Get willing testers such as family and friends to help you out. After lots of practice, you’ll feel a lot more confident about 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)
Doing 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 might get stuck in the exam.
Even if you’re getting A grades on homework tasks, that doesn’t necessarily mean an A grade in a timed, pressurised environment. It’s not unusual for students to outperform abler peers simply because they’ve done a healthy number of past papers (and read the examiner’s reports!)
Once you’ve done a good number of past papers, you’ll find they can be quite repetitive. You’ll notice certain skills and areas are tested more frequently than others. If a 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 exercise questions, practice essays, past papers or a combination, practice and effort are essential. 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.