How should I revise for my A Level exams?

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How should I revise for my A level exams?

There are many ways in which you can revise for your exams and they don’t have to be boring – you don’t have to sit and read a textbook over and over again.

Find all the notes and books you have that might be relevant – Know where they are so if you suddenly need to find a piece of information you can find it. You might want to go through textbooks and put tabs on the really crucial pages.

Make a study plan. You might feel like you know certain topics really well and aren’t so confident in others. Prioritise what you’re not feeling so confident in. How do you work best? Can you work in half an hour bursts or forty-five minute sessions? Make sure the plan works for you and that you schedule in time for school/jobs/time off. If you like one particular topic more than another leave it till last so you have something to look forward to at the end of your revision session – or at least something you feel confident with!

Now you can decide how you want to learn different topics – there are many ways of doing so AND you can switch as much as you want.

If you get bored using one revision method, switch to another. Remember that what works for one person might not work for you – and you might have some much better ideas!

Just keep in mind that writing out by hand really helps sometimes and since you’re probably going to be writing in an exam its worth getting some practice in.

Find a study space – It might not be the best idea to work in your room since you could get distracted easily and it could be noisy in your house. Going to a local library occasionally or revising at school might be better. Again, what works for another person might not work for you.

Look over the exam specification so you know exactly what you need to know for the exam.

Some techniques:

Making mindmaps – these are really useful for the first stages of revision. You can try writing down what you already know and then adding on to the mindmap with the help of notes and books. It doesn’t matter if you don’t remember much at first – as soon as you open those books it will all come rushing back anyway. Mindmaps are also useful if you have a lot of information and are not sure how it all fits together – you can write everything down and then sort it out or try to put information under key headings.

Creating Powerpoints – if you need to learn big chunks of info it can be helpful to break them down on a Powerpoint. It’s also a great way of revising since you are 1) writing down the information onto a powerpoint and 2) can then go over and over it whenever and wherever. This might be something you could do with your friends who are studying the same subject during a free period at school. You can pool your resources and come up with an amazing, information-packed ppt!

Buy a whiteboard/ just use a big sheet of paper – This is a great way of revising, especially useful when you’re starting out writing practice essay plans. I like using a whiteboard – you can buy small whiteboards cheaply in a local Staples – because it doesn’t matter if you make mistakes. When you’re ready: Pick a question from a past paper once you feel secure in the topic you’re studying and plan an answer. Think about the points/information you would use in paragraph 1, 2 and 3 of your essay and how you would link the ideas together. What would you conclude? Doing this a couple of times with different questions will build your confidence as you’ll discover that you do remember what you’ve been revising. You could start out by using notes and textbooks whilst making your plans and then learn those by writing them out a few times. This might be useful in the exam since you will recognise the topics the question wants you to explore – but remember, don’t try and adapt an essay you’ve already written to the question but pay attention to ALL the parts of the question.

Taking a Break - It’s a good idea to learn in forty-five minute bursts and then have a break where you don’t read anything/ look at a screen – go and listen to some music or talk to someone or go for a bike ride! Make sure you have a break sometime in the afternoon – it’s proven that you can only work for a certain period of time and then you won’t actually be able to take much more information in. Having some exercise or just getting some fresh air will boost your concentration and absorption levels back up again for a good couple of hours. If it’s sunny – a bonus of having exams in the summer! – you might want to revise outside and get a tan at the same time!

Try not to work on the computer/ a screen all the time and make sure your phone is far away from you so you’re not tempted to look at it - During her exams my friend made me change her facebook password for her and then not tell her so she wouldn’t get distracted. It might be a bit extreme but she knew she wouldn’t be able to revise without getting distracted every couple of seconds.

Get a friend/parents/siblings to test you whether this is on key dates or definitions.

Record yourself and play it back

If you are learning languages, you can listen to music in foreign languages and use lyric translate to follow the words to pick up key vocabulary. This is also especially useful if you want to improve your pronunciation for speaking exams or your listening skills for the listening part of exams.

Use post-it notes (or flashcards) – write down important dates or quotes on post-it notes and either stick them on a wall or keep them with you to use as flashcards.

Learning quotes for English -

For certain exam boards you can’t take the book into exams with you and have to learn key quotes –as this is obviously quite difficult and a bit stressful try and start early.

In our English class we went round at the end of each lesson saying one quote we remembered each and soon enough we did know quite a few! You could try doing this with friends or you could listen to an audio book version of the play/novel you’re studying and try to remember afterwards some of the quotes you heard. Also a good highlighter never goes amiss in my experience!  

The important thing is to leave yourself enough time to go over a couple of quotes a day instead of trying to learn them all in one go.

Make sure the quotes you are learning are relevant – do they fit into the themes that might come up? You can check this by looking up past paper questions.

Also make sure you can discuss the quote in detail and that the quotes you pick allow you to talk about stylistic choices such as alliteration or meter. Does that line have certain words in that are important? Is there repetition in that passage? Do you know lines that are particularly useful for context i.e. you could discuss how they show that the novel/play was written at a certain time?

Use online resourcesYouTube has loads of useful revision videos and for English in particular you can watch plays or clips that will help you learn quotes and see how a play is actually performed, something you could talk about in an exam for extra marks. There are tutors analysing poems and explaining how to identify meter for poetry. Also sites like Get Revising can be useful. Just make sure that whatever you’re using is relevant to your exam board and you aren’t reading/listening to information directed at another exam board.

Once you know your material:

Make sure you have glanced over the exam specification again (and it’s the right one!) so you know you have covered everything you need to

Look over past paper questions and perhaps try and do a couple – This is important especially if you’re doing a maths or science subject since questions/types of questions tend to recur and you won’t panic as much in an exam if you recognise the style of a question or know what it’s asking you to do. Also it’s useful to do timed practices since they’ll make you more confident.  

Don’t get too nervous – This is a long list of techniques and you might feel like you want to try and check every one off but that’s definitely not what you should do.

Remember that you might change your techniques as you revise – after all by the end of your revision you’ll be a pro at it – and that’s fine too. The important thing is that you are keeping on with revision AND having days off as well!

Don’t let other people make you nervous – If you’ve been revising then you have nothing to worry about. People learn in different ways and it’s important to stick to what works best for you.

Also if you really struggle with nerves maybe look up some breathing techniques on YouTube or talk to a teacher about what they can do to help. I know it sounds silly but A-levels are stressful!

However it’s also worth keeping in mind that they can also be enjoyable if you really like the topic or subject you are learning.

Good Luck!

Tilly N. IB English tutor, 11 Plus English tutor, A Level English tut...

About the author

is an online Mentoring -Personal Statements- tutor with MyTutor studying at Oxford, St Catherine's College University

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