What are GCSEs like? Advice from a former GCSE student

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If you're yet to start your GCSEs, allow us to give you a little peek into the future...

Our GCSE forum is full of people sharing their experiences and advice on GCSE study, revision and exams. We asked one of them - JayJay-C19 - to share his thoughts on how to be successful at GCSE. He knows what he's talking about, too; he picked up a fistful of A*, A and B grades on results day in 2014.

Here's what JayJay-C19 has to say about what GCSEs are like and how you can prepare.

How hard should I work at GCSE?

You'll hear lots about people who manage to skate through their GCSEs with minimal effort. Maybe you're lucky, and that will be you, too. However, most people have to work very hard for the grades they want - and this advice is coming from one of those who had to work very hard throughout years 10 and 11.

During my GCSE years, I chose to ask for extra homework in subjects that I struggled with, such as maths and the sciences. This allowed me to really get to grips with the concepts I’d need to know like the back of my hand for the exams.

I also found that, especially with maths, I’d need to just keep doing something to get it. In subjects that I was strong in, I would become a perfectionist, staying at school for a couple of hours at the end of the day to brush up on coursework pieces to ensure they got the highest mark available.

This proved to be very worthwhile as I ended up with all As and A*s in each coursework piece. Some even 100%! If you can get ahead with your coursework in this way, it takes some of the heat off when it comes to exam time.

When should I revise...and how much?

I always ignored what teachers told me about revision. It came across as if they were just spouting ideas from an internet search: “Revise everyday, break it up into chunks, only eat fruit during sessions, sleep eight hours every night and don’t listen to music”.

When it comes to revision: DO WHAT WORKS FOR YOU. For instance, many people find revising to music helps. I was not one of these people. I wouldn’t focus on what I was doing, just on the lyrics to a song and you’d probably find me writing out the lines to a song rather than the principles of momentum during a physics revision session. Not the most productive thing.

I also found that revising too much, too early, meant I forgot much come the exam period so, those sessions were futile.

Flash cards worked best for me; condensed versions of your notes on cards. You can use the mock exam period to experiment with different revision techniques.

Video tutorials were my best bet in some subjects such as maths and science - YouTube became my best friend during May and June.

My key advice would be to revise in a quiet place, on your own, with minimal distraction.

What about the hard subjects?

I always found physics, chemistry and maths a complete nightmare. However, I also found that the key to getting through these subjects, was to just keep at them.

Moreover, your friends can prove to be better than a textbook. I owe a lot to my friends who were amazing in these subjects, they helped me and I helped them.

Never be too shy to ask for a breakdown, I know how it feels to sit in a class and just think: "They have already explained it twice and I still don’t get it… I don’t want to ask in front of everyone and look stupid."

It's always better to ask, than to muddle on without really understanding it - but if you really don't want to then speak to a friend outside of class instead. What you really need to do is persevere and it will work out in the end.

What about before year 10?

There are a few things I wish I'd known before I studied my GCSEs. The one thing that surprised me was how much easier they were than teachers had said.

They’re only as hard as you make them, in my mind, so spread your commitment and it’ll work out for you! I had never expected to actually really enjoy my courses. I expected them to be incredibly difficult and thus, my passion to go but it didn't.

A lot of the concepts and theories you study are very interesting and if learning new things captivates you, you’ll be fine. I wish that I’d known how important it was to work equally hard in year 10 as you would in year 11.

A lot of coursework is done in year ten so make sure you really go the extra mile with these because they can mean the difference between a passing grade at GCSE and a failing grade.

When you come to year 11, a lot of people, like me, ended up working out what I’d need for the grade I wanted and realised, because of the grade I'd got on a certain piece of coursework, I could only afford to lose around 12-20 marks across two papers in the final exams to get the grade I wanted! Not the most relaxing thing to realise.

All the best in your GCSEs and whatever you do next.

More on TSR:
Visit the GCSE forum
The current year 10s discussion thread
The current year 11s discussion thread