May, month of sunny days, summer vibes and flowers finally blooming on the trees. May is all of this and more, but for Year 11 students May means one thing only: GCSEs.
If revision is getting to your head and you are in need of tips on how to make the best out of the time leading up to your first exams, you are in the right place. Stay with us while we highlight our favourite (and, most importantly, tested) tips on how to survive GCSE revision. You will thank us later.
1. Don’t overload yourself
When your deadlines are creeping in and your books have been laying untouched on your desk for months, looking at you as if they were saying “Please, open me”, there’s only one thing you might be thinking about – revision, revision, revision. You got it right! But also very wrong.
Revising plays an important role in passing and succeeding in your GCSEs. However, revising too much could turn out to be more detrimental than beneficial.
This is why the rule of thumb number one in situations of high stress is: don’t overload yourself. This roughly means planning your study sessions ahead (more on this in the next section) and taking regular breaks.
Yes, you read correctly. Breaks.
This is probably the most important revision tip and the most underestimated. If you want to succeed in your exams, taking regular study breaks is as important as revising. Go out for a walk, stretch, allow yourself a tasty snack – just get up from the sitting position you’re in and give your brain moments of peace and quiet. However, be careful not to let these short breaks turn into an eternal pit of Instagram procrastination!
2. Plan ahead
In order to avoid overloading yourself, try to plan your study session ahead by creating a smart revision timetable.
This will help you to organise your days and workload, and it will also help you individuate your priorities in a simplified, eye-catching way. Knowing how to prioritise a big workload is a fundamental skill which will serve you well not only when preparing for exams but more generally in your life.
The first step to a well-organised and useful revision plan is breaking up your subjects into smaller, manageable sections. As we have said before, revising one whole subject in one day might end up being detrimental, with little or nothing being actually learnt in a successful way. Assigning smaller topics to different days of your week will help you to not only give the right time to each unit and learn effectively, but also progress in a constant, even way in all of your subjects.
When creating your plan keep in mind your weaknesses, as well as your strengths. In this way you can decide to invest more time and energy where you feel less ready.
Don’t forget to include your breaks and use different colours to highlight how your day is broken up. Check BBC Bitesize for examples and templates.
3. Collaborate with your classmates
GCSEs put your skills and knowledge as an individual in the spotlight. However, team effort is something which can help you boost your preparation and results. Try not to underestimate nor avoid a group study session.
In fact, “a problem shared is a problem halved”, reads the saying, and when it comes to revision, it couldn’t be more true.
Revising with a group of friends can have several benefices. Firstly, it will allow you to break the tension build up during your lone revision time. Secondly, it will give you the chance to test your knowledge – for example, one of your friends might need help with a difficult definition, and you giving them the answer they are looking for might help you highlight your preparation, as well as provide you with the opportunity to do some practice. Lastly, you will be surprised by how much you will learn from just from and speaking out loud, rather than just reading and writing. Your friends might provide you with perspectives and ideas you hadn’t thought about, enriching your knowledge.
4. Revise past papers
Revising past papers is a strategy which is often underrated. Why would I practice on a topic that has already been used previously, and will surely not appear this year?, you might ask.
The truth is that, whilst it’s highly unlikely that you will be asked the same exact questions, exercising on past papers will give you an idea of the structure of the exam. It will also highlight which are the topics usually tested in a specific subject. This will allow you to revise key concepts and ideas.
Two other benefits which come with revising on past papers are: time awareness and management, as well as feedback.
When exercising on a past paper, time yourself. Try to finish the paper within the time you’ll be given on the day of the actual exam. This will give you an idea of how long it takes you to complete a full paper and try to be quicker in case you need to.
Lastly, don’t be scared to ask for feedback on your practice paper to your teacher. Teachers are there to help you, and by exercising on past papers you will show them how hard you’re working to achieve your goals. Ask them to correct your paper and highlight any topics you might need to revise.
5. Create mind maps
The last tip, but by no mean the least. At the end of your revision period, you might feel like your notions are all mixed up in your head.
Have you ever had that feeling when you’re trying to remember the main themes in Frankenstein but all you can think about is trigonometry formulae? Don’t panic, because that is when mind maps can come to your rescue.
A mind map is an easy, yet extremely effective tool.
It all starts with a keyword written at the centre of a piece of paper. After this first step, connect to the keyword as many words, ideas and notions you can think about. A mind map forces you to think about key concepts and key ideas, write them down and fill up the links between them. This will help you assess the level of knowledge you have for each topic or subject. Moreover, if you decide to hang your mind maps on the walls of your bedroom, you will soon notice how you will become much sharper when learning and memorising concepts and the links between them.
You’ll find mind maps particularly useful if you are a visual learner – that is to say, if you find it easier to learn and memorise from pictures rather than from reading word after word. Make sure you use colours, arrows, different and creative fonts, as well as images and drawings – anything that will help you remember key ideas.