Advice for Exams and Revision

This an email I sent to some year 13 students a while back. Maybe you will find it useful! I have adapted it slightly. But parts of it I have left in its original format so it may sound a little strange.

Hello,

So I want to start by saying that you shouldn’t take everything I say as gospel. For instance, I talked a lot about using the specification for structuring your work: if you have a better way i.e. it works better for you, then do that. Your revision methods should be a fluid entity, it took me months to figure out the most efficient way for me to revise – then I got to uni and had to re-look at it all again.

Ultimately! – You need to make the conscious decision to start working and learning. You need to find motivation from somewhere. Maybe your motivation is based on outperforming friends, or outperforming your year group, or maybe it’s for your family. Whatever it is, find it and use it! For me, I wanted to outperform my year group – and but for 5 UMS I would have done that..😓😂 Whatever the underlying reasons are for your motivation, don’t worry, you can take a look at that after your exams, for now just use whatever motivates you.

So,

  • I found the most important ingredient for effective learning was structure – of revision, of exam papers, of everything. Make sure you know where everything is. Use ring-binders, use plastic wallets for inside the ring-binders. Use front sheets to show what is inside of the plastic wallets (e.g. 2014, 2015 & 2016 Biology Unit 1 Papers)
    • I would recommend one ring-binder folder per paper of your course. For example, one ring binder for paper 1, one ring binder for paper 2, and one for paper 3 if for example you are doing AQA Physics.
  • Use the specification to structure your revision. In this way, you ensure you make notes for every single topic of your course, and you also have a nice way of ordering your notes.
    • Sometime the specification contains things that might not be essential to put in your notes, e.g. in the science spec some topics have ‘students should be able to..’ at the end. The reason it’s not essential to have these in your notes is that most of these points are covered in doing exam questions, which makes exam practice all the more valuable.
    • You can see how I ordered my notes through my A-level Physics and A-level Biology notes pages.
  • Start doing exam papers as soon as possible!
    • Do the old spec exam papers too! Although they are not as hard, they are good for consolidating factual knowledge. If there are any particularly good questions from the old spec it is worth making a note of them.
  • Make a note of questions you get wrong. You could keep a list of questions you got wrong – go back to them at some point and get them right.
    • There are only a certain amount of questions they can ask you in the exam. If you know, and can answer, everything that has been asked for the past 10+ years, I doubt many questions will throw you.
  • Don’t worry about not being able to do questions. And don’t spend too long trying to work out a question, just check the mark scheme and get the answer. There’s no shame in that.

Also,

  • Make revision a habit! Once it becomes a habit, it is no longer a chore. In fact, it may even become enjoyable at some point. Revision can be a very rewarding process, when suddenly all this information is in your head and you can apply it to exam questions you previously couldn’t answer.
    • Start as soon as possible by staying after school and working. Work in a quiet environment, don’t let others distract you. If they do, stop working near them.
    • If you are not already in a habit of working, start now with say one revision page a day, or one hour a day. Make that a habit, then up it to 2, 3, etc. Or, chuck yourself in at the deep end and start working until 5 every day.
Over the exam period,
  • Take care of what you are eating and drinking. Try and get into a daily routine, as well as a morning routine that energises you, and an evening routine to relax you (camomile tea is good for that). I know that I used to watch a ‘tedtalk’ upon waking, and have a green tea and dark chocolate for breakfast. You need to keep your diet healthy, and drink plenty of water. (Dark chocolate is good for you by the way – 70%+ cocoa solids minimum)
  • Walk before your exam. You need to do some kind of moving around before your exam, to get the oxygen flowing around your body and get your head in the game.
  • I kept a revision tracker (pictures of it are given below), so that I spread my revision evenly across subjects. I started doing this during the exam period, but actually this is a good thing to start now. Using a tracker you can also note down any questions you got wrong on a particular paper, or you can note down that you only completed half of a certain paper. This means you never forget to go back to questions you got wrong, papers you didn’t complete, or even notes that you didn’t complete.
  • Try to limit stress as much as possible. That’s a difficult one to give help on, but you’ve just gotta find what works for you. Usually a morning routine is good for keeping stress levels low – I liked listening to a Bob Marley mix in the mornings to chill me out whilst having my tea and chocolate.

In terms of the practical papers for BioChemPhys, don’t worry too much about them. Just make sure that you know ALL of the content in the spec, and practice doing practical questions. I will send through a collection of practical stuff for Biology and Physics, mainly good exam questions (there isn’t much in the Physics document but Biology has a lot). This is a good idea though, collect all practical type questions you can find, from the previous spec and current spec, and keep them together; for example, make a note on a piece of paper ‘practical type’ questions. Or, make a word document for these kind of questions and get used to what the mark scheme wants to know, whether it be key words, or whatever.

  • It may seem a bit daunting to learn “ALL” of the content in the spec, but it can be done – especially if you start now.
There is a lot of information in this email! Don’t expect to take it all in straight away. Maybe pin the email and refer back to it. Eventually it’ll all sink in. And maybe you can respond back and tell me/everyone what is working for you.
Also, maybe don’t work toooo hard now… you don’t want to burn out come exams. That said, you should get a rush of energy and motivation come exam time. Bear in mind that I only fully knuckled down and devoted myself to revision about a month or so before exams – I still got A*A*A. Although I did make sure that I had pretty much all of my revision notes done by that point, which meant I could solely focus on exam papers and just pushing up some weaker topics.
Finally, take this year seriously. Otherwise you will regret it.
Mark

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