I get a lot of comments from frustrated GCSE students who just don’t know how to revise effectively and get the grades. Despite trying their best to study and swatting up for exams, they keep failing. Some do well in class, know all the answers but flop in exams. Others will spend hours making colourful notes, drawing mind maps, reading books, and trying all sorts of revision strategies and still end with a fail. So what’s going wrong? Are they just not cut out to be A* students?
I don’t have a magic formula to help students pass their exams but I can draw on my past experiences when helping students revise to come up with some winning strategies. There are 4 types of problems:
1. When You Get Good Marks in Class Tests But Not in Real Exams
A class test is usually taken in the classroom and it is usually with the class teacher present. This makes it easier for students to relax because they are not faced with something unfamiliar. The class test is often not taken as seriously because “it doesn’t count” and so again helps the student to be more relaxed.
Another reason is that class tests are taken straight after a topic is finished whereas exams are on topics which might have been done months ago. For example, if your child is taking AS exams, then they might have to revise all the work they’ve done since January or even September. For GCSE students, they will be tested on topics they’ve covered since the beginning of year 10. For KS2 SATs students, they will be expected to know everything they’ve done in year 6.
To get over exam nerves , students need to get used to working under timed conditions and under pressure. Practicing past papers at home with a stop clock ticking away can help a child get accustomed to it. Getting used to the idea that it is normal to be nervous for exams, and learning strategies to cope with such feelings can also be beneficial. I have taught students who have well-used revision guides and text books, but haven’t seen a single exam paper. They haven’t had mock tests, and they haven’t timed themselves to see if they finish on time. So you must:
get used to working under pressure
practice tests at home under timed and un-timed conditions
compare your test results to see if you really are performing as well as you can in exam conditions
2. You Don’t have Enough Time To Learn It All
There’s no point in revising topics you know already. Find out what your weaknesses are and which skills you need to brush up on. You can ask your teacher if you don’t know. Then choose one topic you need to improve on and find exam questions on that topic. For example if you need to improve your vocabulary, then you need to read more and work out the meaning of unfamiliar words in the context of a passage of text. If you are a level 3 because you don’t know how to read tables and graphs, then find questions on data handling.
Exam papers are written so that the easy questions come first. For a higher GCSE maths paper, the C grade questions come first, for KS2 SATs, the level 3 questions come first and for English reading papers, the easy comprehension questions come first. Save time by finding out what level/grade you are working at. If you are already a C grade and need to get a B, then just skip the C grade questions. If you want to get a level 5 in your SATs then start at the back of the level 3-5 paper to practice harder questions.
3. You Spend Too Much Time making Notes/Mind Maps/Revision Cards
I encourage all of my students to have a good bank of resources to help them revise. For some students, this could be a set of colourful index linked revision cards, for others it might be mind maps and for some may even be their school text-book with highlighted text. In fact it’s essential when it comes to revision.
But some students take this as the “be all and end all” to revision, just because they’ve spent hours writing these beautiful colourful notes. Revision resources have to be used once they have been created. Aim to have all resources ready at least 4 weeks before the exams. There are many ways to use revision resources. You can:
add questions to them
pin them up in your bedroom
use them when revising with a friend
4. You Don’t Know How To Revise
Read my other blogs on revision techniques: