The best study advice for getting those top grades
GCSEs. They’re kind of soon, and peeking at your exam timetable and seeing up to 30 exams can make you want to put that piece of paper down and never look at it again.
But the good news is that it’s not as hard as you might feel it’s going to be. You can take solace in the fact that hundreds of thousands of students have been through the exams before and smashed it. And you can too!
You just need a bit of motivation, organisation and these tips from some of TSR's top students:
1. Use all the past papers you can find
"For English language, it’s all about practice. You need to complete as many past papers as you can and if you’ve run out of past papers from your exam board, try a different exam board."
2. Try revision books
"I’m in Year 11 now and what really works for me is the revision books you can buy. I like the Collins ones because they come with free printable flash cards, the ebook so you can read on your phone wherever you are, and the info is clear and summarised. Also there are so many practice questions with answers in the books themselves."
3. Make a plan
"Just get a solid plan in place for from Easter and work a sensible number of hours and you'll be fine."
4. Make the most of the Easter holidays
"Easter break is one of the best times to do some hardcore revision. You're going to a lot of time off and even if you only dedicate a few hours a day to revision, you'll be surprised at how much you can get through. Even after a Easter break you'll still have a good few weeks until your exams start so you've got plenty of time."
These are the four things top students are doing over the Easter break.
5. Work out what you need to know
"I'd say try and read through all the specifications, specimen papers, mark schemes, and examiner reports for your subjects. I know it's a bit harder for your year group as everything's changed and you don't have many past papers to go off, but there should be a few things available.
"These are so useful as they're basically telling you what could come up, what the examiner wants you to write and common mistakes made in previous years. I also liked printing off the specifications for some subjects and using them like a checklist when I was revising so that I could be sure that I was covering absolutely everything."
Read through all the specifications, specimen papers, mark schemes, and examiner reports for your subjects.
6. Start as soon as possible
"I think the best advice is to get started as soon as possible. Also I found that past papers are very useful as they usually use similar questions in the real exam!"
7. Organisation is key
"Get all your notes done by the last day of easter, so for the remaining three weeks you can learn them and do practice questions."
8. Do practice questions
"Doing practice exams and practice questions are serious help, like I think they’re the best. I’d say do these so your familiar with the exams and you’ll practise in exam format instead of just flash cards or something."
9. Give yourself a break
"Taking.a half hour break is really beneficial and you'll work better in the hour of studying. Try to do something active in that half an hour like go for a 10min walk outside just to clear your head as well."
10. Find what works for you
"Find out what type of revision suits you. There are different types of learning: visual, kinetic and auditory."
11. Make sure you understand it all
"For maths, I just did a load of past papers in the year and focused on my weaker subjects. When I did a past paper and didn't know a question, I would look at the mark scheme so I understand the question and what to do (that really worked because questions each year are basically recycled).
"Also don't be afraid to ask your maths teachers for any help with topics because they are there to help and it really does contribute to your grade. Ask them until you finally get the topic!"
I just did a load of past papers in the year and focused on my weaker subjects.
12. Keep calm
"Don't stress about revision – you'll perform worse."
13. Ask for help
"Don't be shy to ask questions to teachers in or after class and make sure you have understood everything that's been taught on that very same day."
14. Make bullet point notes
"I finished my notes that I had been making since Year 9 and then read through them, finding areas which I don't understand. I asked teachers and friends about the parts I didn’t understand and then worked on committing my notes to memory. My notes were made in bullet point form so it was easy to memorise things."
15. Focus on life after exams
"[One YouTubers I watched] specified that it was more important to set something such as the summer after your exams as a goal, rather than actual grades, in order to relieve quite a lot of stress, and I thought that this was actually really smart!"
16. Put the hours in
"I got straight 9s apart from two subjects on the new spec. I started revising in January however its essential that you make notes as you go along. From January to around March I was revising three hours a night. The Easter break was when I really started to up it. I revised around six hours a day in Easter and then four hours every day after school leading up to May 14th!"
I revised around six hours a day in Easter.
17. Write essays, memorise quotes
"For English and English lit, write as many essays as you can which could come up and remember quotes, especially for English literature."
18. Remember it's not too late!
"Slow down, deep breaths. It's never too late to begin revision."
19. Factor in some 'me time'
"Before you do anything else, I want you to reserve the first day of the Easter holidays as an anti-stress day where you do no work and where you catch up on sleep, do some exercise and watch some TV etc. It will help your brain to absorb informaiton more easily in the long term!"
20. Imagine success
"Pace yourself, be consistent but also think of how rewarding it'll be to get good grades following all that revision as well as the long summer you'll have after."
21. Test yourself
"Notes are reassuring and make you feel like you're learning but they're fairly pointless. What works is testing yourself – do questions, get them wrong, check what the correct answers are, go away and revise something else, come back and try them again, get less wrong, check what the correct answers are, go away and revise something else, come back and.... (you get the idea)."
Do questions, get them wrong, check what the correct answers are.
22. Make pretty, colourful revision tools
"I find the best way to revise is to go on BBC Bitesize and read through the information on there and make flashcards, which I can then test myself on. I find that making your handwriting slightly neater or making the cards more neat and colourful makes me want to learn them more! I recommend also printing things of and going through and highlighting them!"
Make flashcards and revision cards using TSR's tool.
23. Get teachers to check your work
"Make sure you're varying your revision, i.e don't just be reading your notes over and over. Make use of any practice questions available to you, get your friends or family members to quiz you and don't be afraid to ask your teachers for help. One thing I really regret not doing during my GCSEs was going to my teachers more often.
"For example, when I was revising for English lit, every week I used to give myself a random question that I thought could come up and I would write an essay under timed conditions. After writing it I'd usually just put it to one side when I really should have gone and asked my teacher to check it."
One thing I really regret not doing during my GCSEs was going to my teachers more often.
24. Understand, practise, memorise
"Knowing all physics equations and having a good understanding of biology questions will help to boost your grade. Ensure you know biology required practicals as they have very heavy weighting. For chemistry, especially mathematical concepts, graphs and equations, practise constantly. Most content for chemistry in Paper 1 can be memorised (properties of ionic compounds etc)."
25. Know what the exam board wants to see
"I left practice papers to the week or so before the actual exam and just got through as many as possible, making notes on my mistakes and working out what the exam board wants as ultimately, the exam board doesn’t care that you know things, they only care about you mentioning what they want you to write in your answer."
26. Write down vocab and phrases to use
"As for English, I wrote down a list of advanced vocabulary on a post-it note and I would aim to use it in my essays. I also had a list of descriptive phrases such as similes or imagery which I would use in my descriptive writing essays if I ever got stuck."
27. Be confident
"Believe in yourself and say 'I can do it!' Not too much confidence though, work hard and you will pass. If you fail to prepare, prepare to fail."
28. Revise where you can focus
"The setting is important as you are more likely to revise in the kitchen or dining room than in your bedroom or living room."
29. Look after yourself while studying
"There is no easy fix to stress at this point, you just really have to keep going no that the end is in sight. Make sure that you're keeping up with your mental health, eating well, getting enough sleep and probably avoiding social media as much as you can. You can do this and it will all be over soon. Only three months until the longest summer of your life!"
30. Read mark schemes
"For maths I'd recommend as many practice papers as you can, don't worry about getting stuff wrong in them. If you get nothing wrong there's no point in revising. Do the papers, get things wrong and then most importantly mark them yourself! Understand how the examiner will analyse your work. This method can be repeated in sciences, and for French actually."
Understand how the examiner will analyse your work.
31. Use mind maps
"Mind maps with drawings and diagrams (in colour) also really help in science."
Read more about the benefits of mind maps and make your own on TSR.
32. Avoid cramming
"I wouldn't recommend cramming the minute before the exam, try to relax and perhaps minimise looking at notes. GCSEs are not the end of the world, and it's okay if you don't do as well as you want to or think."
33. Prioritise your subjects
"This is a bit of an obvious one but make sure you prioritise your subjects. I had a bad habit when I was doing my GCSEs where I'd revise a lot more for subjects that I was decent at and knew that I could get a good grade in, whilst pretty much abandoning my weaker subjects as I just didn't like revising for them.
34. Maintain a good work/life balance
"Don't revise too much as it'll just end up being counterproductive and you need a good work-life balance."
35. Do regular, quality studying
"Quality over quantity, but during Easter I did six to eight hours depending on the day. I know it sounds like a lot but I found that if I got up at 7am I could work from 8.30am to 12.30pm with a 10-minute break every 50 minutes where I'd do some exercise or have a snack, I would then have until 3 or 4pm off then do two to three hours in the late afternoon and evening.
"However, you just need to make sure that whatever you are doing is good quality (no passive reading of notes or textbooks, do questions and mark them and all that) and that you are coping with however much you're doing (mental health is priority, so it's about balance to about cramming) and try to have a day off every week. If you were to do under four hours per day, though, I would question whether you would be getting everything that you need to do done!"
Make sure that whatever you are doing is good quality.
36. Mix and match revision methods for each subject
"For the sciences, I typed up concise notes for every topic using my school notes, CGP guide and textbook to help me understand it in a different way. I then condensed all of this onto flashcards and went through those until I knew them thoroughly.
"For history, I did the same as the sciences but condensed all notes and textbook knowledge just onto cards – I didn't type up notes.
"For maths, I made sure I understood every topic by doing practice on certain topics then I just did practise papers.
"For English, made mind maps of analysis on each character, theme, context, A03, perspective etc. and literally read through them. I also had a mental checklist of what to include in every English language question.
"For languages, I learnt all vocab, wrote all answers to every type of question that could come up in oral and learnt them."
37. Set goals as you go
"Stay motivated and set yourself goals, e.g. finish cell biology flashcards by this date. It helps to have revision resources made early."