With GCSE and A level exams coming up, you might be feeling stressed out. Most teens we polled in a webinar survey said they weren’t sure what to revise and how to get started. The good news is that soon (by February 7th!) you’ll know exactly what topics will be on your exams. This makes it easier to zero in on what you should study. But even with knowing the topics, you might still be wondering where to start with revision, and how to get your best grades.
Our expert exam tutor Matt–a postgraduate student of Medical Statistics, and winner of our Best Mentor 2021 Tutor Award – gave us tons of helpful tips on how to ace revision so that you feel confident and ready going into exams.
Let’s look at some highlights from his talk…
- Start early
- Use the Pomodoro Technique
- Mix up high, medium and low revision energy activities
- Reach out for help
- On exam day, be kind to yourself
1. Start early
The earlier you start, the more in control you’ll feel in the lead-up to exams. When you’re cramming, the mountain of work from months of lessons can make you feel overwhelmed and stressed. But when you’re anxious, your brain doesn’t focus, process or recall information as well as it normally would. So that you don’t get into a panic, and really give yourself the best chance possible, start revising early. If you haven’t started yet– don’t worry. Start now!
The first thing Matt recommends is making a revision timetable. Break up the week into chunks of study time for different subjects. It’s a good idea to give more time to those subjects you find difficult. Or if you know there’s a big project coming up, set extra time aside for that course.
A good way to keep the day’s lessons fresh in your mind is to look over notes and homework when you get in from school. If you make a habit of it, you’ll feel more in touch with what’s going on in class–which can give a huge boost to your self-confidence.
2. Use the Pomodoro Technique
You know you need to start revising–but how? Do you study for hours on end for just one subject, or cover a few subjects on a Saturday afternoon? What’s the best way? Matt recommends using the Pomodoro Technique. With Pomodoro, it’s all about breaking up study time into manageable chunks and giving yourself short breaks in between. Here’s how it works:
- Choose a subject to revise in. For example, GCSE English.
- Set the Pomodoro timer (or pomodoro APP) for 25 minutes.
- Revise the subject by choosing one study activity. For example, you can highlight key words in your notes and homework, or read texts from the English course list, or work with flashcards, or create a mind-map, or plan out how you’d answer an exam question from a past paper…
- End your work when the timer rings and take a short break (about 5 mins). Stretch, move, get a drink of water, have a snack.
- Repeat steps 2-4 for your second Pomodoro round. Matt recommends you set aside at least an hour (so 2 Pomodoros) and to stick to the same subject in that time. By revising the same subject you can go deeper into the course specifications.
Tip: Do a different study activity in each Pomodoro round. So if you read 2 poems for your first Pomodoro round, for the second, create mind maps about the themes, characters and settings of those poems.
It’s important to take breaks when you study. Your brain can only focus for 90 minutes (max) at a time. Even when you’re taking a break, your brain is still working out problems (which is handy!) and those questions which might’ve had you stumped before, can feel more doable when you get back to them.
3. Mix up high, medium and low revision energy activities
Studying the same way every time you revise can feel boring and it’s actually not the best use of your time. Matt suggests mixing up study activities. People learn in different ways–some are more visual learners and do better with mind maps and diagrams. Others learn best with auditory activities, like listening to a podcast on the topic you’re revising. Mixing up how you study means you’re giving yourself more chances to go deeper into learning a subject.
Matt suggests having a mix of high, medium and low energy activities. If you’re tired after a long day at school, it makes sense to choose an activity from the low energy list. You’re still learning, but it doesn’t feel like a slog. You can put together a menu of high, medium and low energy activities and pin it to a cork-board next to your desk to take some of the guesswork out.
Here are a few of Matt’s suggestions:
- High energy activities: timed exam questions, full exam papers
- Medium energy activities: Making flashcards, drawing mind-maps, creating a topic poster, highlighting key words in notes
- Low energy activities: watching revision videos, playing online flashcard games (like on Quizlet), revision charades with a friend
4. Reach out for help
There are times when you’re just feeling lost and don’t know the answers. It’s a completely normal part of learning– to get stuck. There are lots of different ways to work through a problem. You can ask your teacher after class for help, or see them in their office hours. If you don’t feel comfortable doing that, there are homework clubs where subject teachers are there specifically to answer your questions. Other teens in the room will be in the same boat so you’ll know you’re not alone.
If you’d rather have more 1-1 attention, with someone who’s closer in age and gets what it’s like to go through exams, you can get a tutor. Our tutors are students at top UK unis, and experts in GCSE and A level exam prep. Because they were in school just a few years ago, they’re really good with study hacks and know their subjects well.
If you’re stuck and need help ASAP, there are a lot of helpful step-by-step explainer videos online. These can help you solve tricky problems in all your GCSE subjects– like our explainer videos on the @MyTutorUK Tik-Tok account or on Youtube channels.
5. On exam day, be kind to yourself
You’ve done all you can to prepare for your exams. There’s nothing more to do now but to give yourself a break. On exam day, focus on making yourself feel relaxed and comfortable. Eat a balanced breakfast, and wear comfortable clothes. Matt recommends bringing a bottle of water into the exam hall to stay hydrated. Taking sips is a way to take mini breaks as you move through exam questions. If you begin to feel anxious at any point, use the box breathing technique. Breathe in for 5 seconds, hold for 5, and breathe out for 5. This easy breathing exercise helps get more oxygen into your brain, and it also helps you focus on your breath instead of on exam stress.
Take spare pens (black to fit exam rules)– you can never have too many pens, according to Matt! Take time to plan out your answers, in the same way you practiced in revision. If you run into a question that’s tricky or that you don’t know the answer to straight away, Matt recommends skipping it and answering the ones you do know. Answering a few questions can help give you the confidence to go back and tackle the trickier questions you skipped.
When the exam is over, your friends might want to chat about how it went. If you don’t feel like reliving it, make an excuse to leave the conversation. You can go to the library or just take a breather outside where there’s fresh air. You deserve a break!
Exams can take up a huge chunk of your time and headspace. Starting early by creating a revision schedule and mixing up study activities are just some of the ways you can get yourself ready. When you’re prepared, you’ll feel more confident going in. Whatever happens, be proud of yourself for all the hours you’ve put into revision and for giving it your best go.
Click here, to watch Matt’s full webinar “Exam prep: a crash course.”