Revision Tips for GCSE and A-level success

With it being the season of mock exams, revision and summer exams in the not too distant future I will be writing a series of blog posts on study skills to help you make the most of your time and to feel more positive and confident in your revision. 

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I remember the sinking feeling I had for years over the winter holidays, as this holiday was synonymous with revision and exams! From age 15 to 21 I had a love hate relationship with the Christmas holidays because of GCSE mock exams, Y12 AS exams, (Yes, I am that old that I did modular AS and A-level exams in which January exams existed), Y13 A-level mock exams and three years of January university exams. 

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I was the kind of student who loved a list and liked to tick off homework and assignments, and for me revision was therefore incredibly frustrating as I couldn’t tick it off the list until the actual exam was complete and this was hard for me to feel like I was progressing .  This meant I had to find ways to stay motivated and focused, which is no mean feat.  I will share all my tips that I found helpful based on my successes and failures over the dreaded 6-year exam period and what I have learnt since then from the other side as a teacher.

Revision is tough and it isn’t the most exciting, and it is therefore no surprise that it is really common for students to struggle with motivation and productivity.  On top of that it is VERY easy to procrastinate and become distracted by phones, tablets and more. Luckily for me, smart phones didn’t exist during my GCSE and A-levels and so the only thing to distract me from revision at home was MySpace and MSN (my generation’s poor version of social media!)  Mobile phones were only a slight distraction, as they were just used for phone calls and text messages as there was no internet on phones yet!  That said, we still managed to find many distractions…….

(My two school friends and me recreating a scene from one of our favourite TV show, Scrubs, rather than revision for our A-levels)

Procrastination, effort and motivation are typically the most common challenges to overcome during study leave and whilst revising, so I will go through some top tips on how to try and overcome this. 

For some students this isn’t the issue though.  You may be highly motivated, focused and putting in lots of effort, but you are still finding that you are making little progress in tests. This could be because the activities you are completing for revision are not effective.  To help make sure that your revision is effective I will be going through how long-term memories form and therefore why you should be using active recall and spaced repetition (as well as explaining what these terms mean).  I will model a range of revision activities you could use to help maximise your progress in Biology.  

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Where you revise can have a huge impact on your focus.  Posters, music, laptops, phones, other people, smells and much more will affect your ability to concentrate.  So, where do you revise?  The school library, a sixth form common room, your bedroom, on your bed, a local library, family dining room…? Think carefully about the environment you mainly work in, what distracts you the most in that environment?  The environment you are revising in may be the reason that you are struggling to focus.  Do you have too many friends or family members chatting around you, or is there the smell of cooking making your mind drift off to thinking about dinner, or is the cosiness of your bed making it too easy to just slip down and have a ‘quick’ power nap. 

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One easy change is where you work.  If you know you can lack discipline and are easily distracted, why not try your local library; your family can’t distract you there? 

Above all, my top tip is do not have your mobile phone turned on while you are revising.  This is tough, but it is incredibly effective.  Turn it off or give it to someone to look after while you do a 1-2 hour stint of work, then allow yourself 5-10 minutes on your phone during a work break.  Did you know that even if you are not using your phone, just being able to see it distracts your mind and it can take up to 20 minutes for your brain to refocus?  That will be making revision take a lot longer and feel far harder than it should be.   There will be a blog about the impact of mobile phones on learning (the good and the bad) in which I will go through the impact phones can have on focus, sleep and wellbeing in more detail.

Thinking about the exams you have had to revise for so far throughout your education, what have you found to be your biggest challenges?  Have you already discovered activities that really do or do not work for you?  How far in advance of a class test, mock and external exam do you start revision?  How long do you think you should be revising over the holidays and during study leave?  These are all questions I will address in the up-coming blogs.  Add to the comments below to share your answers to these questions and your experiences to help others and maybe you’ll get a good idea from someone else.   All comments will be really helpful for me to tailor all future blog posts to help you the best I can.

If there are any study skills in particular you want to find out more about or would like to see modelled, then please comment below and I will make a video on it on my MissEstruch YouTube channel for you.

 For now, that is enough procrastination from your revision, so I will let you get back to it!  To keep up-to-date with all the latest blog posts on revision and any new exam question resources I load up, add your email address below to subscribe to the blog.

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