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How to ACE – A-Levels like a CHAMP by Jack Sparrow

Complete guide on getting high A’s in A-level subjects.

It does not look like much because its not meant to. Its a no nonsense approach to revision which will ensure success. JS.

Should I be revising?

If you really hate revising and taking exams why take them? These days there are thousands of vocational and practical qualifications that don’t need you to take any exams .You should want to revise! Never force yourself to do something you don’t want.

There is no right way to revise. As long as the information sticks in your head you are doing something right!

Before you start revising

  • Are you confident you have picked the right A-Levels? You should make sure the a-levels you are taking are suitable for the correct university course. For example to do Physics at undergraduate you may need A-Level Physics and A-Level Maths. It’s best to check before hand. Within the first few weeks you should be able to switch a-levels. If you have chosen the wrong a-levels check out foundation years they usually take one year and teach you the core knowledge needed for the degree.
  • First figure out the examination technique Many people fail exams simply because they haven’t worked out the technique. You have to have it (have to have it!). As soon as you start you need to; a) learn how to manage time in an exam b) learn how to write clearly and intelligently c) learn how much to write for each question
  • Analyse the syllabus Look at the different examinations available and find out which ones you will be taking and what you need to revise. Print it off and have it with you in class. This way you know what the teacher is going over. And if the teacher has missed something you will know. They can be found on the examination board websites. If you do this before you start you will be able to see if the syllabus is right for you. I dropped a subject at the start of the year due to the fact it had a ridiculous coursework requirement.
  • Find out about retakes Find out the dates you can retake, who you should go to if you wish to retake, and what the policy on retaking is. This will put your mind at ease during revision.
  • Find out about remarking Find out the date in which you can have you script remarked by. You may be totally under marked and instead of retaking a remark may be better. You have to pay for a remark but if the grade goes up you get your money back. Although your grade could also go down so it’s best to speak to a teacher beforehand.
  • Get in the good books of the teachers This is not hard to do. Just keep up with the homework and hand in coursework on or before the deadline. This may subconsciously affect how the teacher marks your coursework. They can tell a hard worker from a slacker. And once you're labelled a slacker it gets tricky.
  • Plan which modules you want to take and when These days you can take module exams in January. These are usually limited to one. If you really want to challenge your self ask the teacher if you can enter yourself for two of the first three AS exams. Sometimes the teachers enter you for the full three examinations in the June series. Ask them if you can do some in January.
  • Find the best books for your syllabus It’s best to buy the books before you start going over a module. The teacher’s notes (sometimes) might not be up to scratch. And it’s good to have notes in a different style or in different words. You might not have to buy any books if you can find good solid online notes. Google is your friend, search it for notes. Many people across different schools will be taking the same exams. You should be able to find some very good notes.
  • Grade boundaries Before sitting each exam make sure you know how many raw marks you need for a particular grade. Practice past papers and make sure your hitting your target. Bookmark the examination board’s website and look at grade boundaries.
  • Look at examiners reports Always read the reports examiners issue on examination series. They list common mistakes students make and outline the general performance. I read an examiners report and examiners were fed up of students “writing everything they knew”. So I kept it short and got the highest mark in the school. (Philosophy was the a-level)
  • Extracting key information from syllabuses and mark schemes If you have enough time look at every single past paper and see how they want you to answer questions. It’s not recommended as mark schemes change but I actually revised from the mark schemes. As sometimes it had an easier definition or was very different to my notes that I was afraid of getting marked down.
  • Find out about how the UMS (Uniform Mark Scale) works You will have to understand how RAW marks are converted into UMS. And the particular UMS needed for each grade. A quick Google search and it should be made clear. This forum post explains it very well.

Making revision easier

  • Make a revision time table This is the first thing everyone tells you about. Unfortunately I could never stick to it fully and in some exams I only got normal A’s. It’s good to get in the habit of sticking to it. I made compulsory revision days. For example Sunday 4PM to 8PM with regular breaks was the compulsory day for me. Made sure I didn’t fall behind! You could also stick the timetable in a place where everyone can see e.g. on the fridge. This way no one will bother you.
  • Posters If you have been out of the revision game or have difficulty revising. Using posters on your wall is a good starting point. As going over the information is beneficial and if you put the poster up on your wall and recite it, it will pay off.
  • Mind maps When struggling to revise making mind maps will help. I started off using mind maps but then slowly got into the habit of cold revision of just reciting the information in my head until it sticks.
  • Different coloured paper/ink There are studies on using different colours to revise as “they access different parts of your brain”. I tried it and it wasn’t anything special. Although it might work for you!
  • Using mnemonics This is a great way to remember names or lists of things. I still remember the list of the planets in order from the sun using this one. My – Mercury Vet – Venus Eats - Earth Mouldy - Mars Jam - Jupiter Sandwiches - Saturn Under – Uranus News – Neptune Paper – Pluto (technically a “dwarf” planet now)
  • Revision cards I purchased these little cards from whsmith and after scribbling my notes on them. I took these everywhere I went. Learning each card in the most unusual places e.g. on the toilet or whilst waiting for food at Mac Donald’s!
  • Make a revision booklet or revision guide Collate all your notes into one super word document or revision guide. This way it will be easier to revise as all your information will be in one place.
  • Recording your notes on an audio device If you’re sick of using your eyes to read or want to try something different this is a good one. I tried it once when I was desperate it helped me recap on what I knew and what I needed to go over.
  • Make a website If you are in to web design or just want to make a site without hosting this is a fun option. It will help you go over all the information whilst having a little fun. And at the end you actually host it.
  • Go for a walk with you notes If you take your notes with you everywhere you go. You can’t go wrong! Take them with you when you walk the dog and learn a sentence off by heart. Every little helps!
  • Revising with your friends If you’re confident your friends won’t distract you have regular revision sessions. This way its more fun and you can help each other out on topics your unfamiliar on.
  • Revising with someone you don’t know This is a good one as you won’t know each other that well. The small chit chatter will be significantly reduced. I remember doing this and I found this quite effective. Me - “Hey did you watch eastenders yesterday”? – reply “Eastenders? What’s one of them?
  • Tele revising Use mobile phones to text questions to your friends, use forums such as, use instant messengers or carry out a conference call with all your friends.

How to revise and examination techniques

  • You have to make the information stick into your head. If “it’s not sticking” you’re wasting your time. Make sure you don’t fall into the habit of just reading your notes. You have to learn them off by heart.
  • Look at the information and repeat it in your head or scribble the information onto paper from memory until it sticks. This is the quickest way to revise.
  • If all else fails use the good old “"Look, Cover, Write, Check" technique
  • Make sure you don’t start revising and hitting your peak too early as it takes energy to maintain this “peak”.
  • Do past papers and give them to the teachers to mark. This way you will identify your flaws and the teachers will like you.
  • Go on forums and find out intelligent techniques. For example you may want to do the last question on the paper first (if it is an essay question). As long as your write the question numbers on the side you can do them in any order.
  • Mind block – Its not going in or help I can’t revise This happens to the best of us – do the switch – revise a different subject. If not take a sensible break, never overwork yourself. I know people trash it but rewrite your notes in an exercise book with bright colours it will help you revise later.
  • I’m going to fail So what? Never give up. I’ve seen people with debilitating illness carry on with their a-levels and pass. I thought of not turning up to an exam but I went (thinking I would fail). I got 103/105 and one of my friends didn’t turn up! The exam was easy! You can’t second guess what will come up. Even if the exam was hard you might have a chance because of lenient marking. If I didn’t have them negative thoughts maybe I could have got 105/105!
  • Should I revise the day before? Or the exam is a week away! It’s not recommended by anyone. But I think it depends on what kind of person you are. I personally could not revise anything even three days before never mind the day before. Its never too late though one solid night of revision could technically bring your grade up. I’ve seen people revise for seven days and get A’s.

Extra tips for the examinations (basic stuff really)

  • Don’t forget to find out about how the UMS (Uniform Mark Scale) system works
  • Take sensible breaks
  • If before the exam you are absolutely sick of revising take a break. It will help you get back together.
  • If you’re ill on the day of the exam you may be able to apply for special consideration. Or if your have been experiencing family problems you may also be able to apply for special consideration. Best bet is to speak to your examinations officer.
  • Make sure you plan well for you final exams. As you can’t retake and your university choices rest on good grades? If you fail in your first year it is all good. You can easily go from EEE at AS to AAA at A2 with careful retaking.
  • On the day of the exam eat a good breakfast. Many recommend a banana and it does help. It’s potassium-rich and is known to be consumed by top tennis players.
  • For an essay based subject used a smooth pen. I recommend the Mitsubishi UNI-BALL range (very pricey).
  • Obviously take a watch to the exam and take it off and lay it on the desk. This way you won’t waste any time doing up your sleeve etc.
  • Always check your answers (if you have time)
  • Always leave a little space after questions so you can go back to it. You don’t really have to though. You can always right question 6 continued at the end of the script. The examiners have seen it all. They will mark as normal.
  • Check the time and date of the exam and learn it off by heart
  • Find out the time of the examination and your seat number and visualise yourself doing it
  • Always read the question twice and make sure you answer the right one!
  • If you have a panic attack, close your eyes and take a deep breath. If that doesn’t work ask to go to the toilet. This should calm you down.
  • Take water to the exam. This way if you have a mind block you can sit back relax and enjoy a cold one!
  • If you run out of time or if you are running out of time. Look for a question with a lot of marks and with a broad answer range like an essay. Maximise Marks or MM anytime you are running behind.
  • Learn from your mistakes, you may well end up getting low A’s. See where you went wrong and change your tactics.
  • If you’re not on the seating plan or your desk makes noise. Complain and milk it for all its worth.
  • This sounds ridiculous but exercise your hand. This way you won’t get a cramp. This mostly works for essay based subjects.

Common myths debunked

Yeah there was this guy who did no revision for the whole term but the day before he read a book and went over some notes and got an A

You will get this one a lot. And unless we are talking "general studies" a-level this is most likely untrue. There is no way to prove it. Most likely the person went to all the lessons and took good notes. And maybe he started revising by doing his homework and not classing it as revision? Out of all the people who fail maybe the odd one out of a thousand gets lucky, question is do you feel lucky?

Oh man the exam was sooo hard this one guy puked up!

The infamous story of the puke kid. This is there to put you off. If you are worried put a plastic bag in your pocket.

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