How to make great use of past papers

Young female student answering questions from exam paper

Past papers are a vital part of exam preparation – here’s some advice to help you make the most of them.

Why use past papers?

Past papers are so important because they show you how a course is assessed and the types of questions that you’ll be asked.

They’ll help you spot where the gaps in your knowledge lie, so you can target your revision to fixing those gaps. Taking a past paper under timed conditions will also give you a good idea of how you’re going to need to manage your time in the actual exam.

Tips for using past papers

  • Take note of how the exam paper is structured
  • Try doing practice questions from old papers under timed conditions, with no distractions
  • Use highlighter or a different coloured pen to go through your answers and mark any mistakes you have made
  • Look at examiners’ reports to find the most common errors made by students
  • Keep repeating the past papers
  • Make sure the past papers you use are the right ones for your courses.
Boy takes notes while studying with laptop open

TSR members talk about how they use past papers

The holy grail of revision. Nothing beats replicating a real exam for practice – do a whole paper with no notes, then mark it and highlight on the mark scheme all the marks that you missed.

Go back through the paper and add corrections and additions in a different coloured pen, and make a note of the topics where you missed marks so you can look over them again.

Gingerbread101

I complete them under exam conditions, mark them, look at where I went wrong and make a note of it. Then, before I begin a new past paper, I read over all my previous mistakes to make sure I don't make the same ones.

I used the same method at GCSE and went from a C to A*s in all three sciences so I think it may work.

Magenta 96

I went through as many past papers as I could first, but I did them timed and with no resources – then I marked them all! 

I’ve heard so many people say that past papers are the best form of revision and they truly are! BUT... I guess you need to know the content before you even attempt past papers.

a levels2k15

How to find past papers online

Our past papers hub contains all the recent Pearson (Edexcel), AQA and OCR past papers in key subjects.

We also have the mark schemes, which are the guidelines examiners use to mark papers and the examiners’ reports, which give summaries of how students tackled a particular paper.

To find more revision tools, go to the resources hub.

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