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. Go 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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 P1, P2, P3
OCR Gateway P1