Want a no-nonsense guide to A-level exam success?
Look no further. This list, originally put together by TSR member Jack Sparrow, has everything you need to get those A*s.
Before you start revising
- Figure out the exam technique. This is one of the most important things about taking exams! Have a look at past papers and mark schemes to see exactly what is needed. This will allow you to know which questions are worth the most marks, which to spend the most time on, and the most common mistakes.
- Analyse the specification. Find out your exam board and look up the specification on their website. 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.
- Get in the good books of the teachers. This is not hard to do. Just keep up with the homework and hand in work on or before the deadline. This may make them more willing to help you out and forgive the occasional missed homework. They can tell a hard worker from a slacker – and once you're labelled a slacker it gets tricky.
- 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.
- 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. These list the common mistakes students make and outline the general performance that year. 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.)
Making revision easier
- Make a revision time table. A revision planner or timetable is the first thing everyone tells you to do – for a good reason! It helps you to see the task ahead clearly and makes sure you spread your precious time sensibly and don't panic too much at the end. I made compulsory revision days, for example Sunday 4pm to 8pm with regular breaks was the compulsory day for me. 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, and if you're not revising your family will definitely remind you that you should be.
- Posters. If you have been out of the revision game or have difficulty revising using posters on your wall is a good starting point. 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 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 WH Smith 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 McDonald’s.
- Make a revision booklet or revision guide. Collate all your notes into one super document. This way it will be easier to revise as all your information will be in one place.
- Make a revision podcast . 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 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 your notes. Take some notes with you everywhere you go. When you walk the dog learn a sentence off by heart. Every little helps!
- Revise with your friends. If you’re confident your friends won’t distract you this is fun and you can help each other out on topics your not confident with.
- Online revision. Use the TSR Study Help forums and revision help and tips.
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 either mark them yourself using the mark scheme or 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.
- "Should I revise the day before?" 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 As.
Find more pearls of wisdom in our list of 57 study, learning and revision habits of A* students.
Extra tips for the examinations (basic stuff really)
- Check the time and date of the exam and learn it off by heart.
- If you're unhappy with anything in the exam e.g. a wobbly desk, complain – it will be sorted.
- This sounds ridiculous but exercise your hand before the exam. This way you won’t get a cramp.
- If just before the exam you are absolutely sick of revising take a break. It will help you get your brain back together.
- If you’re ill on the day of the exam or have other problems that will affect your performance you may be able to apply for special consideration. Best bet is to speak to your examinations officer well in advance of the exams.
- On the day of the exam eat a good breakfast. Many recommend a banana – it’s potassium-rich and is known to be consumed by top tennis players.
- Take water to the exam. This way if you have a mind block you can sit back, relax and enjoy a cold one!
- For an essay-based subject use a smooth pen. I recommend the Mitsubishi UNI-BALL range (very pricey).
- Take a watch to the exam, take it off and lay it on the desk so you always have an idea of the time and how much time you have left.
- Always check your answers (if you have time).
- Always leave a little space after questions so you can go back to them. Alternatively you can always write "Question 6 continued" at the end of the script – the examiners will mark this as normal.
- Always read the question twice and make sure you answer it exactly.
- 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.
- 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 - make as many notes as you can on it.