Students who got grade 9s at GCSEs share study tips that everyone can follow

student working at laptop and smiling

The best study advice for getting those top grades

It might feel like your GCSE exams are fast approaching – and looking at your packed exam timetable can feel pretty intimidating. 

But the good news is that it doesn't have to be 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 members of The Student Room, including plenty who got top grades in their GCSEs. 

More like this: how to study effectively for your exams

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."

– Epicnm

"Past papers are generally a good way to revise all subjects as you can work on exam technique whilst identifying weaknesses and strengths to direct your revision accordingly."

– TriplexA

More like this: how to use past papers to ace your exams

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."

– Chaxrlottegxrrett

3. Make a plan

"I would make a list of all the topics you want to revise for each subject then plan out in which weeks you will cover those topics. Don't feel you need to stick rigidly to a daily structure as long as you're on target with your plan."

– Quadrinomial

More like this: the revision timetable you'll actually stick to

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 an Easter break you'll still have a good few weeks until your exams start so you've got plenty of time."

– MinaBee

student working at laptop

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.

"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."

– MinaBee

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!"

– hallamstudents

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."

– sophieboon

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 you're familiar with the exams and you’ll practise in exam format instead of just flash cards or something."

– LuisaPim

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 10 minute walk outside just to clear your head as well."

– sotor

10. Find what works for you

"Find out what type of revision suits you. There are different types of learning: visual, kinetic and auditory."

– Fin020

More like this: our guide to free online revision resources

Young female student listens to music while on laptop

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!"

– Thatgirl2341

12. Keep calm

"Don't stress about revision – you'll perform worse."

– MsTyrell

More like this: your guide to handling revision and exam stress

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."

– C0balt

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."

– upbeat4

More like this: how to prepare for revision

Student reading outside

15. Focus on life after exams

"[One of the 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!"

– amb3r98

16. Put the hours in

"I started revising in January, however it's 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 [the start of exams]"

– BenH833

More like this: 18 procrastination-busting ways to stop stalling your revision

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."

– Epicnm

18. Remember it's not too late!

"Slow down, deep breaths. It's never too late to begin revision."

– 04MR17

More like this: 10 ways to kickstart your revision

19. Factor in some 'me time'

"Before you do anything else, I want you to reserve 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 information more easily in the long term!"

– redmeercat

Student writes in notebook on desk

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."

– entertainmyfaith

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)."

– alendi

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!"

– Pencilcase22

More like this: six amazing apps to help you revise

23. Get teachers to check your work

"Make sure you're varying your revision, ie 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."

– MinaBee

24. 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."

– upbeat4

More like this: can you predict exam questions? 

25. 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."

– leiainanna

Young male student reads from laptop and writes notes

26. 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."

– 2838676907

27. 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."

– Fin020

28. 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."

– redmeercat

29. 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."

– 04MR17

30. Use mind maps

"Mind maps with drawings and diagrams (in colour) also really help in science."

– Thatgirl2341

31. 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 you should."

– entertainmyfaith

More like this: seven things to do in the last week before an exam 

student sitting on bed with laptop and headphones

32. 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."

– MinaBee

33. 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."

– entertainmyfaith

34. Do regular, quality studying

"Quality over quantity. You 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). Try to have a day off every week."

– redmeercat

35. 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 practice papers.

"For English, I 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."

– taiamurdoch

36. Set goals as you go

"Stay motivated and set yourself goals, eg finish cell biology flashcards by this date. It helps to have revision resources made early."

– louishill1

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