This guide has not been written with a particular level of exams in mind so it should equally apply to students who require revision tips for GCSE, A Level or university exams. I teach Science myself so much of this guide provides revision help for GCSE, AS, A2 / A Level maths, biology, chemistry, science and physics exams. However much of the content could easily be adapted to those preparing for English, Languages and Humanities subjects.
It is vital that candidates prepare well for examinations. Revising for an exam has some similarities to an athlete training for an endurance event. You must start your revision 10 to 12 weeks before the date of the exam. You wouldn't expect a marathon runner to line up at the start of a race without several weeks training and preparation and similarly any exam candidate who fails to prepare is likely to underperform and not achieve their full potential.
It never ceases to amaze me how many students who are well into their course of study are unsure of which exam board and syllabus they are studying. In the UK the main exam boards are, AQA, Edexcel, OCR, WJEC, SQA and CCEA. Other examination boards include City and Guilds for vocational courses. Your teacher or tutor should be able to tell you which syllabus and exam board you are following.
Once you know which examination board is setting the exam make sure you have an up to date copy of the syllabus. For some exams this document is called a specification. Some exam boards have more than one syllabus for each subject so make sure you obtain the correct one. Edexcel for example have two syllabi for A-Level Chemistry, their own (Edexcel Chemistry) and Edexcel Nuffield Chemistry. Syllabi also change with frequently so make sure that yours is correct for the exam your are sitting. Either obtain a copy of the syllabus from your school or college or download them from your exam boards website.
Most exam boards publish the dates and times of examinations several months in advance. The exam timetable should be available to download from your examination board's website or alternatively you may be able to get a copy from the examinations office or exams officer at your school or college.
Make sure that all your notes and work are complete. If you have missed any lectures from illness or other reason ensure that you get a copy of the work missed from a friend.
You should get any other work such as coursework out of the way if possible. Any coursework should be completed and handed in to allow you to fully concentrate on revision and exam preparation.
There are many revision guides available from high street bookshops and on line retailers such as Amazon. Revision guides can be general and cover all syllabi and exam boards for a particular subject or can be specific to one syllabus. The syllabus specific ones tend to be better as they cover all the topics for your syllabus and nothing more. This means they only contain the information you need to know. They are also usually laid out in exactly the same format and topic order as your programme of study making them easier to follow. Letts, Collins and Heinemann are some of the main publishers of revision guides.
Start by listing the main topics that will be examined. Divide the time remaining into weekly blocks. Divide the number of main topics by the number of weeks left. Keep two to three weeks before the exam clear for intensive past paper practise and in case you fall behind with your revision of the main topics due to illness etc. Don't try to micromanage your revision. For example there is little point in constructing a hugely detailed and complicated revision timetable along the lines of "On Tuesday the 15th of May between 8:27 and 9:16 I shall be revising rod and cone cell distribution in the retina of the mammalian eye!". Keep it simple. By allocating the main topics to weekly blocks you are giving yourself the benefit of organisation but allowing some flexibility on which day and times during the week you will be carrying out your revision sessions. You are therefore more likely to keep to it.
By starting your revision early you can keep the amount of study you need to do each week to a manageable level. Each week you delay increases the amount of weekly work needed to be completed (maniana syndrome). Serious delays in starting will mean the amount of revision you need to do each week is unachievable, so you don't even bother revising at all (surprisingly common), or you will run out of time and get stressed out or events beyond your control such as getting the flu will throw your whole revision plan into disarray. Starting early will avoid all these problems.
All three of the above are required to for effective revision. How much time you spend on each is entirely up to you. However you must spend at least some time doing each one. Don't be tempted to miss any of them out.
You must be familiar with all the topics that are going to be examined. The first place to start is your textbooks and revision guides. The internet is another source of information and may give a different viewpoint to the topic if you are struggling with your textbooks explanation. Read and re-read all the topics until you are reasonably confident that you have grasp of each. Ask yourself if you would feel confident in explaining the topic to someone who hasn't studied it. Once you have read and re-read a topic make some BRIEF notes on it. See below.
I can't stress this enough, don't let you revision get bogged down in extensive note writing. It won't leave time for anything else and producing reams and reams of notes is of little benefit. Neither do I see the point in writing revision notes on record cards. Many tutors advise you do do this. The idea is that you condense your notes down to the important key points. What usually happens is the candidate tries to cram loads of writing and sometimes diagrams onto each card. Revision is hard enough without having to squint and struggle to read your own notes! Use good old A4 and a folder to keep it all in.
Your revision notes should be detailed with diagrams and well laid out and presented. I would put a fairly strict limit of about ten to twenty sides of A4 for each exam you are sitting. Many students start to make notes on the main points of a topic and are tempted to add a bit more, and then a bit more and before they know it one side of A4 summarising the main points turns into ten sides! REMEMBER there is no point in trying to rewrite the textbook!
These notes will be the basis of your revision. If you compile a huge wad of notes the chances that you will read them back regularly are small. You therfore have little chance of learning and remembering their content. You should look at and read your notes often as it is this repetition that helps in learning them. If you have a spare ten minutes instead of checking Facebook why not get out your revison notes and have a quick look through them instead. Your notes will become your new best friend. Take them with you everywhere (not the bath, that would be silly) but be careful not to lose them or leave them on the bus. (A good idea is to keep photocopies).
Don't be tempted to skip making your own notes and use a revision guide instead or even worse take copies from a more organised and conscientious friend (everyone has one of those!). The act of writing the notes is an important part of the revision process. Constructing the notes helps to cement the ideas and facts in your mind. Revision guides are helpful as an addition to your own revision notes but should not be used as a substitute.
Get hold of as many past papers as you can for your syllabus. Some exam boards allow you to download exam papers from their websites for free. Others might make you pay. If your syllabus is relatively new (only been running for a couple of years) there won't be many past exam papers. In this case get hold of the specimen papers. If you are unlucky enough to be the first or second year to take a new syllabus you could try using papers from earlier syllabi or different exam boards but take care as they will be different in style, layout and content to your exam. You may even find questions on topics that are not included in your syllabus and therefore you won't have been taught them.
Once you have grasped the topics and made your notes you should attempt as many past paper questions as possible. You can introduce specific questions earlier in your revision programme if you wish. For example after you have thoroughly learnt a particular topic you can look through past papers to find questions on that topic in order to test yourself. Don't try the whole past paper until you have finished all your revision. Sods law dictates that of all the papers available you will select "the nightmare paper from hell" to try first. A sure fire way to dent your confidence especially if you have not completed all of your revision.
When you attempt your first practise paper concentrate on fully answering the questions and don't worry too much about time keeping. At this stage answering questions fully is more important than completing the paper in the allocated time. As you complete more and more papers you will get quicker.
For more guidance on how to approach exam questions please read our guide on exam technique and exam questions.
If you have a copy of the mark scheme don't cheat and look at it. If you feel you may be tempted to do this then give the mark schemes to a friend or family member to look after whilst you complete the paper.
When you mark your paper don't mark it too leniently. This will give you a false sense of where you are with your revison. It might be a good idea to exchange your papers with a friend to mark or set up a revision group of several students who can then mark each others papers and swap tips and agree as a group what is the best answer to a particular question.
Some exam boards publish the examiners report and model answers. Check your exam board website for more details.
Finish any last minute things and concentrate on going over any topics you have found challenging. Make sure you know exactly where the exam is taking place and if you have never been there before visit it beforehand so you will know how to get there on the day of the exam. If your relying on public transport to get to the exam make sure you know the times of the bus, train, tram etc and that they will get you there in plenty of time. Double check the time and date of the examination. Get together all the things you will need such as writing implements, calculators etc. If your calculator uses batteries make sure they work.
Don't do anything. Relax, rest and just take a little time to review your revision notes. Marathon runners don't take part in heavy training the day before a race and neither should you. The aim is to make sure that you are well rested so that you are at your best physically and mentally on the day of the exam. Don't stay up all night trying to do last minute revision. Your brain will not operate efficiently when tired and getting a good nights sleep is more important.
Exam Techniques for the day of the Exam
By Emlyn Price - Home Tutors Directory
This guide is original and was written using our own experiences of both being a candidate and advising students during many years of tuition. It is protected by copyright. You may use this for your own personal use or for teaching purposes. It should not however be re-published wholly or in part on other websites or in written publications and certainly not passed off as anyone else's work. If you have seen this article published elsewhere we would like you to let us know by contacting us here.
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