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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.
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 resources – YouTube 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!see more
How do I write a comparative essay for English?
Comparative essays can be quite daunting. It’s difficult to achieve a balance between texts and to know where to start comparing them – sometimes they can be completely different after all. At A-level I had to write a comparative essay on Webster’s The White Devil and Milton’s Paradise Lost, for example, which are completely different genres. Yet any differences or similarities you can pick up on. So I would definitely talk about the fact that these are different genres. The White Devil is a play so how would it be performed when it was published/now and how would this make a difference? Would we have sympathy with Flamineo because he talks directly to the audience? More sympathy than we might have for Satan in Paradise Lost?
Comparative essays raise a lot of questions about the texts and it’s difficult to know how you can include these in a sophisticated argument.
DON’T PANIC however.
Sometimes it’s a good thing when texts are so different because ‘comparative’ doesn’t JUST mean ‘what do they do the same?’ although you can address this but also ‘what do they do differently?’ You could look at how themes such as love or war are treated differently i.e. through different stylistic choices or how the writers have different responses to them (perhaps due to their differing contexts). You could use a quote by a critic and see how it applies to one text and not to another.
It’s also important to remember to meet all the criteria for an exam/coursework essay. For example, OCR A level English asks you to meet certain A0s or objectives in your work, so you have to spend a certain amount of time in your essay looking at the context of both texts and then in language analysis AS WELL AS in comparison between the texts. The best thing to do is use the context or language to support/argue with a comparison. So if you are talking about Flamineo compared to Satan you can discuss why the language of both texts makes the two similar/different (the adjectives used to describe them, the settings they’re found in) and why the writers might have presented them differently (Satan is a Biblical character, one who many contemporary readers would have instantly seen as evil – even if a modern audience don’t - whereas Flamineo is a more ambiguous character).
Using an example I’m going to talk you through how to answer an essay question which requires comparison between texts:
Choose a question. See how it applies to one text and then to another through making mindmaps/notes. I chose “ ‘In order to gain liberation women must use their feminine qualities or get rid of them’. Discuss with reference to the three texts you have studied.” and I would use the question with Carol Ann Duffy’s The World’s Wife, Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber (a collection of short stories) and Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing.
Therefore I started off by thinking about the position of women in all three texts: in Duffy’s the women seem strong and the fact that she’s chosen historical figures and is rewriting their stories is important, whilst in Carter’s the women seem powerful and the rewriting of fairytales to change views of women is also important and in Shakespeare’s play women such as Beatrice are presented as highly intelligent and witty, but other characters such as Hero are virtually silent throughout the play and therefore seem problematic.
First pick apart the question ( when you actually go to write your essay you can acknowledge that you have done so in your introduction). What is a ‘feminine quality’? What do the writers see as feminine qualities? Duffy and Carter were writing as part of Second and Third Wave Feminism so for them a ‘feminine quality’ would have differed hugely from what Shakespeare thought of as a ‘feminine quality’. For them, ‘feminine qualities’ are often constructs of men, not “true” qualities really.
Examiners like it if you can show you have really thought about the question itself and whether the question itself is worth arguing with. Here you can also show your awareness of the different contexts the writers have: Shakespeare was writing in a century in which women were expected to conform to certain ideals and were seen as mothers, wives, daughters, not the heroes and powerful figures that people Carter and Duffy’s work.
However you must be careful not to lump any writers together – although Carter and Duffy seem to have similar views, make sure you signal that they are different writers with different aims.
I would look at motherhood in all three texts since it is a significant theme throughout – and could be called a ‘feminine quality’ as it is usually. It is quite a good idea to choose a theme that runs through all the different texts but then look at how it is presented differently. So, whilst in Carter’s ‘The Bloody Chamber’ and Duffy’s ‘Thetis’ or ‘Queen Herod’ the mothers are hugely powerful (which you can show through in depth language analysis) which reflects the writers stances as feminists (bring in some context here), the mother in Much Ado About Nothing goes unmentioned. Instead women are vulnerable to men’s attacks, as when Hero is viciously humiliated and condemned by her father and fiancée. Women are therefore seemingly passive and submissive in Shakespeare’s texts, when they are strong and active in those of Duffy and Carter.
But it is worth always COMPLICATING your argument and being able to show that you have thought of all sides of the argument. Hero might be ‘passive’ in Much Ado About Nothing, but Beatrice is a completely different story (and whilst we’re on the theme of mothers, in some productions Antonio is played by a woman so there is some kind of mother figure, even if still ineffectual which is important). You could find instances where the language she/Shakespeare uses shows her power and intelligence.
In these instances she seems just as powerful as the women in Carter and Duffy’s work. Now bring in context once more: However, is this a good thing in Shakespeare’s view? Is Beatrice dangerous BECAUSE of her intelligence and is that why she has to be safely married off? In the two modern, female writers’ work the women don’t always even marry - their sexuality isn’t dangerous but empowering.
Integrate at least two texts into each paragraph – don’t do one paragraph on one text and then another on the other text so that it reads as para 1) Carter para 2) Duffy para 3) Shakespeare. This will force you to compare the two.
So if you’re struggling to find differences between Carter and Duffy for instance or another two very similar writers, to the point where your essay doesn’t seem to be advancing in terms of argument (this is a danger of only talking about similarities), talking about the differences between how the two have treated the same fairytale, Little Red Riding Hood, in ‘Little Red Cap’ and ‘Wolf Alice’ for example, could raise interesting issues.
It doesn’t have to be as specific as this – Duffy and Carter are really good for comparison and you might not have texts that have such a strong link (the fairytale). However you can always choose a theme that crosses both texts and stick to this. For instance, when comparing Paradise Lost and The White Devil, which don’t seem very similar at all, you could find similarities in the way the theme of corruption is treated and yet COMPLICATE your argument by finding differences underlying this (perhaps due to context as The White Devil is based in a courtly setting whereas Paradise Lost speaks of religious corruption – although it reflects the corruption in the government Milton had worked under).
You can also look at the specifics of the marking scheme: to achieve a good mark in A03 you must be able to compare the three texts, but you are also awarded marks from A03 for bringing in critics. So if you talk about Duffy’s work and then use a quote from a critic (or just an idea, you don’t have to quote them exactly especially in an exam), you would get marks. Therefore, don’t worry too much about constantly comparing the texts. Try always to link them, but if you’re struggling on a certain point or you want to show a difference between them, perhaps bring in a critics argument. This shows that you have read widely about the texts and can show specialist knowledge and it allows you to focus on the detail of a text.
This seems like a lot of information and you might be wondering how you could structure an essay that has to include all of this. But really, a good essay structure that you use all the time can be applied to a comparative essay too. So if you normally write 1) an intro 2) paras agreeing with the question 3) paras arguing against the question 4) a conclusion this could work here as well. Or you can find a new structure. The important thing is that you simply have to include more than one text in each paragraph. This is tricky but it’s supposed to be – and if you can achieve it you’ll get high marks.
So your essay might go something like this (you might have to split up paragraphs because obviously you’ll have a lot to say about each text but make sure you mention at least two authors in each para):
Para 1: Explore how Carter, Duffy and Shakespeare present mothers – women using their feminine qualities, which supports the question.
Para 2: Do any of the characters rid themselves of feminine qualities within these works? What are feminine qualities? You could talk about Beatrice compared to Little Red Cap and The Bloody Chamber – each possesses a violence not usually attributed to women. So does this argue against the question?
Para 3: Do the texts really show women either ‘using’ or discarding their ‘feminine qualities’? Or are they using their intelligence and sexuality, two qualities never previously seen as ‘feminine’, to gain real liberation? Argue that the question itself needs adapting.
Conclusion: Whereas Carter and Duffy show a new version of femininity as a kind of power, subverting old ideas about “feminine qualities”, this power is seen as dangerous in Much Ado About Nothing as Beatrice, the only powerful female figure in the play, is ultimately silenced by the power men possess over her and her complicity in this.see more