Easy Revision Strategies For Science

I learnt how to revise science the hard way, through failure, trial and error and pure determination.  I got through my GCSE exams by reading through my science books – once or twice!  I was lucky to have a good memory.  Then I did my A levels and discovered that I had to do a lot more reading, but just reading wasn’t enough.  I had to read, write, talk, test, draw, re-write, re-read, re-test and repeat. It still wasn’t enough and it wasn’t until I started my degree that I really understood how to learn properly.

Has this ever happened to you? When you think you’ve done enough revision and realise after the exam that you didn’t know anything?  Now that I have been teaching for 22 years, I have seen thousands struggle like I did, but if you follow my very simple guidelines, you will save so much time and avoid the stress.

Step 1: Make sure you have decent notes.

If you are lucky, your teacher may give you printed notes so you won’t have to write your own.  I ask my students to show me their science books and what I usually see is half-written experiment write ups, loose worksheets and maybe a few answers to questions from a text-book.  You cannot revise from these.

So get hold of a course syllabus.  What’s that?  It’s called a specification and you can download it from all the examining board websites.  Make sure you know the title of your course so that you download the correct one.  Sometimes teachers give out a summary sheet at the end of a topic which lists everything you need to know, and have notes on.  topic listGo through the list or the syllabus and start writing notes on the topic IN YOUR OWN WORDS.  If you are just copying, you are not thinking.notes

Be warned, this step takes the longest, and more so if you don’t have the right sources of information.  If the notes in your books are not enough, use textbooks as opposed to revision guides.  I find that revision guides don’t go into detail, so only use the revision guides as a quick reference point but they won’t explain anything. If you still need more notes then go onto BBC Bitesize like I have explained in this post and top them up.

One of my students had to do this for all of the topics she had studied since the beginning of year 10.  She gasped and said,

“Miss that’s long! It will take me ages.”

Yes it will, but you will only have to do this once.

Step 2: Transform your notes

I took inspiration form @study_motivation101 on Instagram. She posts pictures of student notes and revision techniques and they all make you want to do the same.

For this step you will need:

  • highlighters

Highlight the keywords and important bits in your notes. Make a key to colour code your notes so you could use one colour for all formulas, one colour for all definitions and one colour for all the tricky bits you keep forgetting. highlighter

  • plain paper

Draw mind maps.  Write the topic title in the centre of the page and then branch out.  The first time you do this, don’t look at your notes, just add on everything you can remember.  It doesn’t matter if it’s just a few words. Then look at your notes and fill in the gaps.  Use diagrams, charts and tables in your mind maps too.mind mapmind map

  • felt tips

Using colour will keep you awake while you revise. The more colourful the better.  Write in different colours, draw bubbles around important information and underline keywords.  You can even write questions in the margin in a different colour to test yourself as you read your notes.


  • index cards

Read your notes, and now only write down the most important information. Index cards shouldn’t have lots of words and should be used as a “quick look” guide.  Look at the way they have been used in the picture below. Use colour, diagrams, highlighters, and subtitles to break up the information into manageable chunks.index cards

  • post it notes

Use post it notes to remind you about important points. You can also cover some of your work with them and write a question on them.  The answer is revealed under the post it note. This student has used post it notes directly on a revision guide. post it

Step 3: Practice questions.

As you go through your notes, always think about how you will be tested. What questions could be asked?  Write questions for yourself as you go along, the simplest ones could be just recalling facts.  For example when revising a diagram on the digestib=ve system, you could write down the question “name 5 parts of the digestive system and put them in order”.

The second type of test questions could be end of topic tests you have done at school. Ask your teacher for these and go through the questions again.

The third type are usually found in text books at the end of each page or chapter.  They usually have answers too, so a good place to start.

BBC Bitesize also has end of topic test questions.

Step 4: Download past papers and their mark schemes.

Many students get to step 3, and then think they know it all. The game isn’t over until you have done some real exam questions. This will get you used to the wording of the questions and you will see that questions are repeated (although they are not exactly the same).  When you have revised a topic, answer and mark the exam questions just on that topic rather than answering a whole paper. Learn how to mark the questions so that you don’t have to wait for your teacher to mark them.

For my students I have created custom made exam packs focusing on just one topic at a time.  Once they have mastered every topic in that paper, I let them do the whole paper.  I have created exam question sets by topic.  Below are some of the ones I have done so far.  They do not have answers yet.

OCR 21st Century C1, C2, C3

OCR 21st Century C1.1 exam questions (which gases make up the air)

OCR 21st Century C2.1 exam questions (properties of materials)

OCR 21st Century C3.2 exam questions (where does salt come from)

OCR 21st Century P1, P2, P3

OCR 21st Century p1-1 exam questions (planets and solar systems)

OCR 21st Century p2-1 exam questions (radiation and photons)

OCR 21st Century p3-1 exam questions (how much energy do we use)

OCR Gateway P1

gateway p1 cooking and comm with waves exam questions

gateway p1 data transmission exam questions

gateway p1 heating and cooling exam questions

 To summarise

              how to revise 1how to revise 2


Case Study 2- Perseverance Always Pays Off in The End

I have been fortunate enough to work with many youngsters over the past few years. Many have been academically able and highly motivated and have achieved outstanding results at school. Many have lacked self-belief and have needed encouragement and backing, in order to progress to levels they would not have believed possible. So today, I am going to tell you about a student who we shall call Alan (this is not his real name and is used to protect his identity).

When Alan’s mother brought him to me for an assessment, he was 14 years old and had a reading age of 7 years and 5 months.  His spellings were also poor and he thought that punctuating sentences wasn’t important.  At school he was not getting any timetabled extra support.

I urged her to speak to the school again and to get him properly assessed for learning difficulties and specifically dyslexia.  Alan definitely had dyslexic tendencies, so I decided that he needed to concentrate on improving his reading.  This problem with reading held him back in other subjects.  I put him on our reading programme which consists of a series of reading booklets, accompanied by audio CD’s, computer programmes and workbooks specifically designed to tackle reading strategies.

The reading scheme would:

  1. Teach him how to break down a word into syllables
  2. Help him to learn the sounds made by different letter combinations
  3. Make him become more fluent by recognising sight words.  Sight words are the most commonly used words in the English language and must be learnt by rote.  An example of a sight word is the word “the”, which cannot be worked out by the sounds of each letter in the word.
  4. Free up some more working memory when he is reading so that his reading comprehension improves.

Alan has recently been diagnosed as having “mild dyslexia” by a professional and it is now acknowledged at his school. The school are now giving him extra one-to-one support in reading and spelling and he will be given extra time in exams.  We re-assessed his reading this week and found that his reading age had gone up by 11 months in just 6 months.  His attitude to learning has changed and he now “takes pride in his work” says his teacher.  When I shared this good news with his mum, she said that at the last school parent’s evening he got an “outstanding” whereas previously he was getting “satisfactory”.

Children like Alan can easily slip through the net and learning difficulties like dyslexia can go undetected throughout a child’s schooling.  But once it is diagnosed, then it is fairly easy to rectify.  In Alan’s case, he had to read and do certain reading drills 2 or 3 times a week each lasting at least 30 minutes and he had to attend the centre twice a week.  I remember at times we nearly gave up because the progress just didn’t seem to come.  So it was a big commitment and it paid off.   And I think I’ll end with an appropriate quote …

“When you get into a tight place and everything goes against you, till it seems as though you could not hold on a minute longer, never give up then, for that is just the place and time that the tide will turn.” By Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811-1896) American writer and philanthropist.

When Your Child Needs Help With Reading

I have been fortunate enough to work with many youngsters over the past few years. Many have been academically able and highly motivated and have achieved outstanding results at school. Many have lacked self-belief and have needed encouragement and backing, in order to progress to levels they would not have believed possible. So I have decided to share some of these stories with you and hope to add new case studies on a regular basis.

Do you have a gut feeling that (s)he is not ‘doing fine’?

We are constantly told by mothers who bring their youngsters for assessments that they really regret not having listened to their hearts and trusting their own judgments (often from a year or several years before), rather than listening to those who tell them that their children are ‘doing fine.’ One such mother was 6-year-old Zach’s mother.

Yet when Zach’s mother brought him to me for an assessment, she told me that he didn’t know his numbers beyond 10, and that he didn’t know the 45 high frequency words he had to know in reception year. She tried to help him at home, but didn’t have the expertise and knowledge to do so effectively. Little or no support was given by the school. His mother said the following: “I find it hard to put on paper what I feel in my heart. When I came to see you with my son Zach, I was so worried about him, yet his teacher said that he was doing fine.”

I tested Zach’s reading and discovered it to be at least a year below what it should be and he didn’t understand the concept of calculations in maths. He could count from 0 to 10, but not from 10 to 0, and he couldn’t recognise the difference between 13 and 30.

I decided to concentrate on his reading, and to teach him how to learn and work independently. One of the most striking things was his poor retention. For example, to login onto our computer programmes, children must type in their name with a capital letter and then press “enter” to start. In one lesson, a child can do up to 3 computer based activities which requires the child to follow the same login procedure. It took Zach 8 lessons to remember to do this without waiting for the teacher to prompt him. And I think that this was partly due to his poor memory and partly his over-reliance on adults (parents and teachers).

So, where are we now? Zach’s reading age has improved by 18 months in just 14 weeks, he is able to answer comprehension questions in simple sentences and he is reading more fluently and with expression. He comes to lesson and gets going without being told to, and asks for harder work. His mother can’t believe the transformation and he now holds his head up high. He says that schoolwork isn’t hard anymore. He believes that he can do anything if he tries.

Gareth Malone’s Extraordinary School for Boys

It’s been entertaining watching Gareth Malone trying to teach literacy to this group of primary school boys based in a school in Essex.  

His target was to raise the reading age of boys.  In the first programme he teaches them how to debate, when most of them can’t even construct a logical argument.  In the second programme he teaches them the love for books and reading and in the final episode he tackles writing. 

At first glance it looks like the boys aren’t learning anything and that Gareth is a bad teacher. He’s not textbook, and he has made some classic mistakes like all trainee teachers but eventually he does get through to the boys.  His methods are totally against what is dictated to school teachers because he makes learning fun.  He makes it relevant to the boys’ interests and he praises their smallest achievements.  A lot of these techniques are what I use with my students. 

I encourage the children to try a new way of working out a maths problem, I encourage them to take many small steps to reach their targets and I encourage them to believe in themselves.  Yet I don’t hold their hand and confine them to their desks.  I use a variety of learning materials (including computers) and teach them how to work independently.  That way they feel a sense of achievement through their own efforts. 

But my parting questions are:

Why has a qualified professional teacher not helped him yet? Why is he not receiving additional input to better his reading skills? Perhaps the teachers haven’t noticed and have just labelled him lazy? Why has it taken a TV personality to come in to the school to notice this?