Spring brings bluebells, apple blossom and the return of the cuckoo, but for thousands of A-level candidates it’s the season of exam stress and revision. Students will be putting in long hours to reach their university place offers, so how can they make the best use of their time?
Who better to ask than last year’s candidates who got the grades they needed to secure their first choice of university place? Looking back, they agree it’s not the amount of time spent revising that matters but the effort put in. You have to make neuron connections, not massage your brain gently between bursts of social media therapy, they say. Plenty of breaks and the occasional night out helped them to make the most of their hours spent revising.
Take it steady is also the advice from examiners. “This can be a stressful time and we urge students to take care of their mental wellbeing,” says Derek Richardson, the vice-president of Pearson, the education publishing company for Edexcel exams. “Also, don’t forget to get that all-important good night’s sleep ahead of the exam and eat a good breakfast on the day,” he adds.
Total recall of the syllabus and churning out what you know will not necessarily secure the high grades, examiners warn. It’s not just what you know but how you use it. Humanities candidates must know how to select the right information to answer the question and be able to analyse and evaluate it. Being able to apply knowledge and formulae to different situations and scenarios is just as important in maths and science A-level subjects.
Revision should be an assault course not a marathon, and past papers can provide the hurdles. Annual examiners’ reports for each subject, which are published on exam boards’ websites, show how previous candidates perform overall and on each question. Some include candidates’ handwritten answers with a commentary on where they gained, or lost, marks.
Max Randall 18, BMus, Brunel University; A-levels in music, music technology and economics
I spent a lot of time doing questions from past papers and familiarising myself with the mark schemes. It really helped because it showed what the examiners were looking for. In musical theatre, for example, the questions won’t be on the same pieces of music, but the characteristics carry over.
Doing past questions helps you find out where you are weak and how you can improve.Music had gone on to the new specification so there were not many past papers but I used some questions from the previous exams to get an idea of the important concepts.
I probably did about three hours a day. I think it’s good to not overkill it because then you just tire yourself.
Tierney Mizell 18, BA photography, Birmingham City University; A-levels in English, history and media, plus photography BTec
The most important thing is taking the time to look after yourself. The more stressed you are, the more “in your head” you are going to get and the less well you are going to do. Obviously, revising is important but taking time for yourself is equally important; going out with friends or going for a meal to get away from it for a while. My top tip for essay writing subjects is that there is no substitute for practice questions. OK, it’s not the most exciting way to revise but it is the most effective because you are recalling the knowledge you need and applying it to the question. If you don’t have hours and hours to write essays, then just plan them out. There’s no point in knowing lots of stuff if you don’t know how to use it.
Vikram Kumar Khosla 19, BA philosophy, politics and economics, University of Warwick; A-levels in maths, history and geography
The two-day revision boot camp last year at the University of Warwick provided me with a fresh perspective on my subjects. You need to maintain a positive growth mindset, and be reflective and resilient because A-levels are quite tough. I adopted a new revision technique where I used small flashcards to note the most important content. I carried them around and they were useful for remembering key facts relating to geography case studies and important dates in history. Overall, A-levels have moved more towards testing your ability to apply your knowledge, so the flashcards themselves are limited. It’s important to know the exam structure – for example, the number of questions there will be and the marks and timings.
Reuben J Mitchell 19, MEng mechatronic and robotic engineering, University of Sheffield; A-levels in maths, computer science and physics
I did a lot of past and specimen papers, especially for physics, that need more wordy answers and where you cannot get marks for method, and used the mark schemes to grade them. That’s pretty boring, though, so I also made A2 posters with key information and illustrations. I did about four hours of revision a day. I play a lot of basketball and kept up the training. A lot of people think that the more revision they do, the better, but for me, eight hours of half-concentrating isn’t nearly as good as four hours of really productive hard work.
Rebecca Thorpe 18, BA combined honours at Newcastle University; A-levels in psychology, English language and politics
I used different techniques. For psychology, I drew up fact sheets and went over them with someone else, noting where I slipped up, and then reduced the information to short prompts on flashcards. For politics, which is more argument-based, I mind-mapped topics such as socialism. I didn’t work to a strict timetable, it depended which exam was closest and which material I was most unsure of. I went through flashcards for at least three topics of one subject every night but I always finished before 8pm so I had time to unwind.
Source: The Guardian