Read an Excerpt
Raise Your Grade
Dr Denise Gossage
PUMP PHASE 1: P IS FOR PLAN
Failing to prepare is preparing to fail. Cliché? Yep. True? Yep.
No matter how much time you have left between now and your exams, time spent planning is always time wisely spent. Whether you've a couple of days or a couple of months, planning lets you squeeze every last drop out of your available time.
Planning is for sizing up the lake of revision you're about to fall/ belly flop/dive elegantly into:
Breadth: Planning is the only way to make sure you give enough attention to all your subjects and all the topics in the curriculum.
Depth: Planning shows you how much detail there is behind each subject and topic and how far down you'll need to go.
Distance: Planning shows you how long you have to keep going for, how fast you have to swim and how you can best pace yourself.
So get planning. You'll find it's the smartest few hours you ever spent.
In this Phase, you will:
[check] Step 1. Decide when to start
[check] Step 2. Get your revision resources together
[check] Step 3. Create Revision Topic Trackers
[check] Step 4: Decide how long and when you will study
[check] Step 5. Create an Exam Countdown Planner
[check] Step 6. Create a Weekly Revision Timetable
[check] Step 7. Prepare your Revision Sanctuary
() The Perfect Study Crib
() Sound or silence?
() Study buddies
Step 1: Decide when to Start
The only hard and fast rule here is that it's never too late and it's never too early. If you think you've left it a bit late, don't panic, just focus on making the best possible use of the remaining time. If you think you've got ages, are you sure?
We asked our 25 A-graders how far out from exams they started revising. The answers ranged from one week to 12 weeks. Proving that there is indeed no hard and fast rule. In an ideal world though – one with sunshine, world peace and free chocolate – you'd start your revision several weeks in advance of your exams.
Exactly how much time you need depends on a whole range of factors that are unique to you, such as:
How well organised are your Class Notes? If your notes are all over the place with gaps the size of China, you'll need to invest more time upfront getting your notes in order.
How well did you understand things as you wentalong? If you struggled to grasp big chunks of the course, you'll need to allow time to complete your Understanding. The earlier you start, the more time you can devote to tackling tricky topics.
How much do you already know? Revising stuff you already know will give you a nice little ego boost but you really need to focus on the bits you aren't that good at. Be honest, how much do you already know?
How many hours of revision can you take in one day? Will you prefer shorter bursts over a longer period, or can you manage marathon revision sessions?
MYTH: If you start too early, you'll make yourself more nervous.
FACT: The more you do early on, the less pressure you'll be under later. Getting ahead = sense of calm (sound of Buddhist chanting). Getting behind = sense of panic (sound of chewing fingernails).
MYTH: If you start too early, you'll just forget everything.
FACT: Memory works by repetition, so the earlier you start, the better. Memory works by repetition, so the earlier you start, the better.
MYTH: If you start too early, you'll burn out.
FACT: If you start steady and ramp up the intensity of your revision nearer the exams you won't burn out. Also, if you do feel revision is getting on top of you, you can afford to take some time off from your books to recharge your batteries.
Step 2: Get your revision resources together
The best chefs assemble their ingredients before they start rustling up nosh. You don't see Jamie Oliver popping out to Tesco because he forgot the fresh basil do you?
So, before you do anything else, gather your supplies. I'm not talking about tinned food, bottled water and loo roll (it's revision not the siege of Leningrad), I'm talking about:
2. Class Notes and Text Books
3. Revision Guides
4. Online Resources
5. Extension Texts
6. Exam Materials
Remember your first day at primary school? You didn't need your own pens and pencils but you desperately wanted them anyway. Secondary school? New setsquare, glue stick, completely pointless bendy ruler? So you already know that every important new venture in life begins with a visit to WHSmith. Revision is no exception. You just can't beat stationery shopping to get you in the mood for revision. Here's what you'll need:
Pens, blue/black, plus a few contrast colours (for Revision Notes)
Pencils and pencil sharpener
Felt-tip pens (for mind maps)
Highlighter pens (for er ... highlighting)
Correction fluid (for er ... correcting)
Eraser (for er ... you get the point)
A4 lined hole-punched writing pads (for Revision Notes)
Ring binders and set of dividers (for filing Revision Notes)
Jotter pads or scrap paper (for Practising recall – and doodling)
A5 index cards (revision cards or flashcards).
2. Class Notes and Text Books
Make sure you have a complete set of Class Notes and a copy of the core textbook for each topic. If you missed any sessions, ask your teachers or friends to help you catch up. There's no shame in a few missed classes or a lost textbook – you're a busy person – but NOW is the time to catch up and patch any gaps.
3. Revision Guides
Using revision guides like York Notes, CGP, Letts & Lonsdale, Heinemann, Collins and Longman alongside (not instead of) your Class Notes and textbooks can really boost your Understanding and shed new light on tricky topics.
Revision guides never waffle. They provide concise summaries of each topic and sub-topic and often explain things in a slightly different way, with fresh examples. They include exam practice material to test your knowledge and examiners' hints on how to maximise your marks.
Consider getting the accompanying workbooks that are often sold with revision guides: the more exam practice the better. You could share the cost of these with your friends since you'll only be using them once.
Revision guides vary greatly in style and quality so choose wisely. Avoid guides that claim to be all things to all people: get ones that are written for your specific exam board. Ask your teachers for their recommendations and check out forums such as www.thestudentroom.co.uk to see what other revision inmates are saying.
Oh but do resist the temptation to spend all evening in the forums bellyaching about revision. ;-)
Warning! Don't be tempted to skip straight to revision guides instead of Class Notes and textbooks. Guides are supplements to your core material.
4. Online Resources
There are tons of online revision resources. Identify them now so you don't waste time surfing when your revision is in full swing. Some great sites for GCSE and A-level revision are:
BBC Multimedia GCSE Bitesize tackles GCSE subjects in, yes you guessed it, bitesize chunks. You get Revision Notes for each topic, videos, games, podcasts, online tests and message boards.
S-cool provides revision help for GCSE and A-level subjects and includes Revision Summaries as well as exam-style questions and answers.
GetRevising is an excellent interactive website where you find, create and share study resources, including revision notes, quizzes and even crosswords.
MyMaths is an excellent revision website for Maths at both GCSE and A-level. Good Revision Notes and step-by-step walkthroughs for exam-style problems. You can only access MyMaths if your school has a subscription though.
Sparknotes provides free online notes for GCSE and A-level English revision. Detailed and well-organised revision guides for key novels, plays and poems. Character analysis, key themes and explanations of important quotes. Be warned though, examiners are looking for answers that have original insight, not rehashed Sparknotes.
Markedbyteachers.com is the UK's largest library of work written by GCSE, A-level, university and International Baccalaureate A* students. There are notes, subject reviews, hints, tips and common mistakes from students and their teachers. Use these ideas as additional revision material if you're lacking inspiration in any of your subjects.
YouTube has some great video content for GCSE and A-level revision. Keep 'em short though and NO wandering off to look at Britain's Got Talent audition montages.
Warning! Watching videos can waste a lot of your time.
Stick to short videos that focus on the key points.
5. Extension Texts
Examiners love to see evidence of wider reading. However, you should choose your wider reading with care otherwise you could be wasting time. You get no credit for dumping any old random knowledge; it has to be relevant. Don't go overboard with wider reading; you'll just end up confused and overwhelmed and that's not pretty. Ask your teacher for recommendations before you go wide.
6. Exam Materials
Exam boards set and mark exams. They're not evil. They actually want you to do well. They scour exam papers looking for reasons to give students good grades. It makes exam boards sad to see potential brilliance going to waste. Just to prove it they produce piles of mega-helpful resources to help you. After this book, exam materials are the absolute best things you can use to get the grades you want.
Find out from your teachers which exam board (or awarding body) is setting each of your subjects. Go to the exam board website and get downloading:
The Exam Specification (syllabus) for each course you are taking.
() The specification provides a comprehensive list of all the topics to be studied and the skills you need to develop. Print the exam specification for each of your subjects so you can easily refer back to it throughout your revision.
() The Exam Spec will include the Assessment Objectives (AOs) for each subject. These specify exactly what knowledge, understanding, skills and abilities you must demonstrate to the examiners in the exam. Your teachers will have had the AOs in mind while teaching you, and the examiners award marks based on how well you demonstrate them in the exam.
Past Papers for each subject you are taking.
() These give you a clear Understanding of the format of each exam. It's important to see these early, during the planning phase of your revision, so that there'll be no smack-in-the-face surprises on exam day and you can tailor your revision tasks to your exams.
() The format of exams can change from year to year so make sure that you download only those past papers that reflect the current format of your exam. Your teacher can advise you on this.
() Reading past papers is a guaranteed heart-stopping, gut-wrench (Butterflies? Never was a word less appropriate). Do not freak out and do not attempt to answer any past exam questions. You're not ready yet. All you're looking for is a general idea of what you're aiming for with your revision.
() Knowing the format of the exam helps you tailor your revision time. For example, the way you revise for multiple-choice exams is different to essay-based exams. If you know that your exam will contain multiple-choice questions, you will focus on the key facts and details such as terms, concepts, vocabulary and definitions. But if the exam will call for essay questions, you'll need to think about potential essay topics and how to wax lyrical on them.
() So find out:
* How long is the exam? Is it divided into sections?
* How many questions do you have to answer? Will you have a choice? Are there any compulsory questions?
* Are the questions multiple choice, short answer, essay, problem-solving or data interpretation?
* How many marks does each question or section carry? How much time would you allocate to each question?
* Is it an open book exam where you're allowed to take in notes, texts or other reference materials into the exam room? Will formulae be provided or do they need to be memorised?
* Are you expected to use specific equipment, e.g. scientific calculator, protractor, compass, etc.?
Mark scheme: Understanding how points will be awarded is crucial for revision. Tips on how to make the best use of mark schemes are in Phase 4: Practise; you will use the mark scheme to mark your answers when you practise past exam papers.
Examiners' reports: This is where examiners spill the beans on how past candidates have performed to help you avoid the same mistakes.
Specimen/model answers: Looking at answers from (real or simulated) past candidates work helps to clarify the difference between an A* and a C grade. This can help you see how much work you need to do to in order to get the grade you're after.
Warning! Remember, we're still in the Planning phase here. You should only be gathering your revision resources. It's not time to hit the books just yet.
Exam Boards, not evil
Exam boards set and mark examinations. Schools and colleges are able to freely choose between them on a subject-by-subject basis so you could have different Exam Boards for different subjects. There are six major Exam Boards that offer GCSE and A Level exams:
Assessment and Qualifications Alliance (AQA) www.aqa.org.uk
Council for Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment (CCEA) www.ccea.org.uk
Edexcel (Pearson Edexcel) www.edexcel.com
Oxford, Cambridge and Royal Society of Arts Examinations (OCR) www.ocr.org.uk
Welsh Joint Education Committee (WJEC) www.wjec.co.uk
Cambridge International Examinations (CIE) www.cie.org.uk
Exams from the different exam boards broadly cover the same topics but there are some differences, particularly in the format of exams.
Step 3: Create Revision Topic Trackers
How are your organisation skills? Is your desk all nicely OCD: neat row of sharpened pencils, files all labeled, colour-coded and shelved in rainbow order? Or is your workspace more of a loosely themed collage of textbooks, crumpled bits of paper and biscuit crumbs?
Wherever you are on the Librarian/Laidback spectrum, revision definitely calls for some kind of organisation. If you're not really a checklist and tick-box kind of person, it might be time to morph into one, just for the next few weeks.
Because to stay on top of your revision, track your progress and give yourself a regular sense of completion, it really helps to have a system. I recommend this one: the Revision Topic Tracker. Download and print a Revision Topic Tracker template from www.raiseyourgrade.co.uk and make one for each of your exam subjects. Here's one for 'Core Science'.
The left-hand side of the Revision Topic Tracker lists the main topics for the subject. The right-hand-side shows the three sets of revision materials that you will produce for each topic, starting with your Class Notes. You will create Revision Notes and Revision Summaries in the later stages of your PUMP Revision approach – more on that later.
As you produce each set of revision materials, be sure to tick it off in your Tracker. For example, once you have a complete set of Class Notes for a topic, tick. This will give you an inner glow, a sense of progress and regular little "Well Done Me" boosts as you plough through your revision.
Another A-grade organisational technique is to create a revision ring binder for each subject. Label the spines and fronts clearly so you can grab the one you want quickly. Here's what they're for:
Your Revision Topic Tracker – at the front, or even stuck on the front
Class Notes on each topic – separated by dividers
Revision Notes for each topic – separated by dividers
An Exams section – for past exam papers, mark schemes and other exam-related materials.
Step 4: Decide how long and when you will study How many hours a day should you revise?
It's not about how many hours you spend revising, but about how effectively you revise. Revision time doesn't earn you grades, productive revision does. Ignore how much revision others are doing and do what feels right for you. When I asked A-grade students how many hours they revised per day, the average was: 3 hours on a school day and 6 hours on a non-school day. Whilst this might provide a decent benchmark, there was a considerable range across the respondents, proving that there is no right or wrong way.
MYTH: You have to spend every waking hour revising to get top grades
FACT: Never ever spend the whole day revising. You'll become a shriveled zombie husk of a human. People revising for 12 hours or more each day, can't possibly be working productively. Even employees don't slave that much, unless they're trying to impress the boss. And then they're only pretending.
How long should each revision session be?
The length of each revision session should depend on the length of your concentration span. Try 50-minute revision sessions, punctuated by 10-minute concentration breaks and one-hour meal breaks. If you have a short attention span, go for shorter sessions, e.g., 20-minute sessions, with a 5-minute break concentration break and one-hour meal breaks.