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Top 3 Practical Tips to Smash your GCSE Exams

In this blog, you’ll learn the top 3 tips for preparing for GCSE Exams.

If you are preparing for an upcoming GCSE exam, or any exam for that matter, be sure to check out our Studying 101 Blog series. Packed with tips, tricks and ideas to help you put your best foot forward!

Table of Contents:

  1. The study habits that are counterproductive (I dish the deets on why)
    1.1 Re-reading
    1.2 Highlighting
    1.3 Summarising/Making notes
  2. How to remember more: Encoding
    2.1 Chunking
    2.2 Mnemonics
    2.3 Self Referencing
  3. The study methods that do help
    3.1 Spaced Repetition
    3.2 Blurting
  4. Organising your time
  5. How to overcome Performance anxiety
  6. Dealing with anxiety

GCSEs: What’s the Fuss

As explained in our GCSE Guide: Everything You Need To Know To Successfully Pass Your GCSEs, GCSEs can impact many aspects of your education and vocational journey:

GCSE Results can affect:

  • The sixth form you go to
  • The qualifications you take
  • Your eligibility for a university course
  • The universities you can apply to
  • Your career prospects. 

Tips to Pass GCSE Exams

The more students we have successfully supported through GCSEs with our exam coaching, the more clear the methods to success become.

I’ll outline these tips below.

If you’d like to discuss these tips and find out about our GCSE exam coaching course that provides a tutor in Maths, English, Science and teaches studying revision and exam techniques, then let me know! Registration for September 2022 is already open.

Step 1: Setting up a revision guide for GCSEs

The biggest tip is to be prepared.

The Girl Guides were on to something when they made this their motto.

Start preparing for your exams early! This will allow time for spaced revision. (We’ll dive into this more later).

Some of you will love a revision timetable. You have strong self-reflection skills and know, roughly, how much time you’ll need to revise each topic. You’ll thrive with a tick box to-do list and the timetable will help keep you on track.

Twinkl inspiration

Others, will not like a timetable at all. It will feel overwhelming to decide how much time and when to study a topic. You’ll find yourself making changes, and not sticking to it anyway.

If this sounds familiar, then don’t worry. There’s still a way for your to plan ahead.

The key is to look at the specification and past papers. Analyse what’s typically on the exams, and make yourself a spreadsheet that you can use as a tracking tool.

Here’s a sample of a spreadsheet one of our GCSE Maths student’s made

gcse maths specification
maths GCSE specification broken down for revision

In our GCSE Master course, we help you decide which method is right for you, help you decide what needs to be identified as a key topic and help you stay accountable.

BONUS TIP:

I would make sure that my sessions are focused on revision and not learning nor ‘fake learning’ (re-reading, re-writing notes… time wasters). 

Step 2: Revision tips for GCSEs

There’s a difference between revising and learning.

It’s important that you build in time for both. You can’t revise something you don’t know.

Learning tips for GCSE

Our two favourite learning techniques are Blurting and Questioning.

Blurting is the case of reading over a subject, then closing the book and writing down as much as you can remember. This helps to assess what stuck in your mind and where your gaps are. It also helps to check understanding by seeing how succinctly you wrote about a concept.

Questioning is to ensure that you actively participate in your reading. It increases the cognitive load from passively reading to engaging: making inferences, predictions and connections. To do this, you need to think about what you’re reading and how it relates on a bigger scale to other topics or ideas you’re familiar with. While reading, you write down a list of questions. These will help you to study later.

Studying tips for GCSE

Our two favourite methods for studying include active recall and spaced repetition.

Active Recall put simply, is the brain’s ability to retrieve information that was encoded into long-term memory. In an educational sense, active recall is a way to test what you can remember. This can be in the form of practice tests, flashcards, or cloze-type questions. Blurting is also a form of active recall.

I would make sure I’m using active recall by testing myself at the end of every session to assess understanding. From these results, I would reflect on my knowledge gap and plan my spaced revision accordingly.

I would also make sure that I have a visual of the key formulas, quotes, theories, and dates on the wall in different rooms. As a visual and kinaesthetic learner, this is a great way for me to remember things as I can visualize the topic, the room, and on what wall each card is. 

Spaced Repetition is exactly as it sounds. You repeat your revision at varying intervals. The idea behind spaced repetition is that it slows the Forgetting Curve.

Forgetting curve
Ebbinghaus’ forgetting curve explained

“It is evident that students may forget up to 79% of firsthand information which they receive in a classroom environment within 31 days”

D. Zhu

By continuously reviewing concepts at varying intervals, you can slow the forgetting curve and strengthen the retrieval capacity.

spaced repetition
how spaced repetition reduces the forgetting curve

BONUS TIP:

For someone who is an auditory learner, recording yourself going through summary notes or flashcards can be useful. These can be listened to on walks, during travel, while brushing your teeth or making dinner. 

See also:
Studying 101: 3 Encoding Skills You Need To Know
Studying 101: 3 Popular Time Wasters for Studying

Step 3: Maintaining Momentum while Studying

Mental wellbeing is an important factor we need to consider, especially in the lead-up to exams. We believe it’s so important, that we are invited to schools across the country to support students in Year 9-11 in preparing their mindset for exam week.

It needs to start before exam week. Start by determining why these exams are important. Look big picture. What are your goals? Where do you want to be in 3, 5, 10 years? How will these exams impact that future?

By understanding the big picture application of the GCSE exams, you’ll find yourself more intrinsically motivated. This is important… staying on top of revision is not easy.

why power
knowing your why helps to build intrinsic motivation

This is why we offer a year-long master class. We meet in small groups on a regular basis to reflect on learning techniques, studying tactics, mindset adjustments, self-care, and exam techniques. (CLICK)

Exam specific tips:

English Literature:

  • Ensure the quotes I have chosen are short (the length is irrelevant as long as you can explain it)
  • Confirm the quotes I have chosen have a form of literary device that I can explain
  • Ensure that I know key dates and events that happened around the time the author wrote the piece so I can link back to historical context

Maths:

  • Review my basics like times tables to ensure I’m quick and efficient
  • Practise the more heavily weighted content
  • Review the orange colours from my study guide (ones I’m not confident with)
  • Know basics: prime numbers, factors, multiples — these are easy marks

Biology:

  • Ensure I understand the key concepts well
  • Read the specification to ensure I know what questions will be worth more questions and focus there
  • Watch videos that explain with visuals to help things stay fresh in my mind

Chemistry:

  • Review key formulas
  • Focus on concepts I’m still not secure on
Maya Angelou - do the best you can.

If your GCSE exams are not in November but are coming up, these tips might be helpful for you:

When should I start studying for GCSES?

This is a common question I get asked by GCSE tuition clients.

My answer is “you should have started yesterday”.

But I don’t say this to cause panic and worry, rather the exact opposite. By revising early we eliminate panic, worry and even lower performance anxiety.

  • participate in classes to avoid the need to cram later
  • set up a studying routine from the start (September)
  • stay consistent in revision as consistency is key

How to keep momentum while studying

Bettering Youth approaches exams like a marathon rather than a sprint. We’re all about slow and steady. This allows us to ensure we’re keeping the content fresh in mind, but we’re also maintaining momentum and a positive headspace.

  • Routines can be powerful in keeping you on track
  • Keep sessions short and concise – The Pomedero method is great
  • Schedule in downtime

How to build a GCSE revision timetable that works

As mentioned, consistency is key and spaced repetition is a powerful tool that can help you remember important information. Therefore, setting up a revision table in September – even if it’s not perfect – is helpful!

  • Make sure that you have built a revision timetable that reflects the specification and past exams
  • Prioritise the subjects you’re not confident in
  • Plan out the topics in each subject
  • Decide when you’ll look at for each topic and put it in a spreadsheet
  • After the revision session’s mini quiz, decide how far you’ll space out the material before you review it again

Revision techniques that boost marks

Alas, the content you’ve been looking for. Hopefully, this will help boost your marks for the GCSE exams.

These are but a few of the Bettering Youth tutor favourites.

  • Encoding: a process of creating strong retrieval capacities to retriece information
  • Active recall: the process of testing yourself following a revision session
    • Flashcards
    • Exam style questions
  • Spaced revision: reviewing content at spaced intervals depending on how well you recalled the information
  • Visual representations: placing notes in the room on the walls
  • Using videos to help with the visualisation
  • Recording notes and listening to them in down time (travel, doing chores etc)
  • Have a study buddy that keeps you accountable
blog banner studying techniques

3 studying techniques that don’t work!

Learn what study methods to avoid

How to minimise exam stress

Exam season can feel overwhelming, but it doesn’t need to be. With some organisation, focus and good habits you’ll feel more comfortable.

  • Treat exam season like a sports season… prepare like an athlete
    • Show up intentionally
    • Follow a plan
    • Know your strengths and work on your weaknesses
    • Have a team around you
    • Put in the time
    • Train your body:
      • Sleep well
      • Exercise to reduce stress
      • Eat balanced diets to keep the body functioning at optimum levels
      • Manage stress with mindfulness and calm practises
  • Treat your mocks seriously… they might well be your actual marks at the moment
  • Practise exam style circumstances – timed circumstances
  • Know how to manage performance anxiety

4 BREATH TECHNIQUES TO EASE PERFORMANCE ANXIETYPerformance anxiety is a common obstacle that I work with my students…

Posted by Bettering Youth on Wednesday, 23 September 2020

Apps to help exam success:

The phone can either be a tool or a hindrance when it comes to exam prep. My philosophy is to have an exam folder on your phone with some of the following apps. Put the expectation that if you’re on your phone during school hours, it should be in this folder only (unless you’re on a break).

  • Anki: create flashcards from your class notes, the program will ask you these questions at spaced intervals depending on if you get it right or not
  • Quizlet: Hundred of GCSE prep quizzes created by teachers
  • Duo lingo: A fun and interactive way to practise for a language exam
  • Photomath: take a photo of a maths problem and it will show you how to solve it
  • Flora: Use flora as a visual representation of the time you spend on each topic or subject

Invest in Exam Coaching

One of the best ways to support your efforts and get the marks you want for GCSE Exam is to invest in exam coaching. A serious athlete would never expect to win or perform their best without a coach. The same goes for studying.

The Bettering Youth GCSE Exam Solution course focuses on technique, method, and application. This means that our students don’t learn the material for the exams during this time together, rather they learn the HOW of exam taking.

We have combined years of exam-taking experience and built a year-long solution whereby students are partnered with a GCSE English, GCSE Maths, and GCSE Science tutor. Plus they get access to a monthly coaching session on exam techniques, stress and wellbeing management and studying tips.

If you are preparing for an English GCSE exam and you’re feeling overwhelmed please get in touch or connect via our Half Term GCSE Booster club.

GCSE English course
Join English GCSE tutor, Anna to learn more about unseen poetry, English literature and English writing
Tutor GCSE English

Anna, GCSE English Tutor

Meet Anna, our specialist English tutor for KS2-GCSEs and the host of the Revision Course.

PIN IT FOR LATER

Citations:

Dr. Zhu, Programming of English Word Review Planning Time Based on Ebinhaus Forgetting Curve,” 2020 International Conference on Intelligent Transportation, Big Data & Smart City (ICITBS), 2020, pp. 901-904, doi: 10.1109/ICITBS49701.2020.00199.

Top 3 Practical Tips to Smash your GCSE Exams

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