A couple of years ago I asked some of my students to write down some advice to pass on to other students. Nearly of these were resit students who came to me to for tuition after missing their target grades. They all got either A*s, As or Bs in their final exams.

I started tutoring most of these students in the September. I gave them tonnes of advice on how to study and prepare for their exams, based on what I’ve found works for other students, and we talked about study skills lots of times throughout the year.

In the following May, just before the exams, I asked them what they had found actually worked for them.

Here is what they had to say:

  • Use the text book exam questions – they’re really helpful to see where you are going wrong.

  • Don’t leave everything until the last minute because you will miss important bits out. At least 4 hours a day of revision.

  • Do lots of questions on one topic all in one go and check the answers while you’re doing it. If you got something wrong look it up in your text book and learn it.

  • Go over the topics you find the hardest first. Use the exam board’s text book. Do lots of exam questions.

  • Read the questions properly and use past papers to learn how to interpret them. Use examples from the text book. Word things the same as in the text book.

  • Try to do as many exam questions and past papers as possible It will help you to see the types of things that are asked and the mark schemes will show you the right terminology to use. Also spend at least 2 hours a day and then 4 hours a day before the exams to remember  all the content.

  • Use the text book to add to your notes and do the exam questions. Try to do the exam questions with the text book at first and then nearer to the exam do them without the text book.

  • Revise one topic and then answer as many past paper questions on that topic as you can. Use the mark schemes to see the key phrases that are repeated.

  • Make flashcards of important reactions and carry them around with you everywhere, so whenever you’re sat around just look over a few.

  • Pay attention to the terminology used in the mark schemes, Do practice questions STRAIGHT AFTER revising a topic for it to stick in.

  • Revise from day 1! Memorise mark schemes and how they set answers out. Practice as many past paper questions as possible – don’t do full past papers to start but separate the questions into topics to see which areas need most work.

What you can learn from this

I think what these students have to say is worth listening to. These are students who have really struggled but managed to overcome this at get the grades they needed. Not only do they know what worked for them and they know how what they eventually did compared to what they did in the past that didn’t work.

If you look at every single response you will notice that they all have something in common: they all recommend doing past paper questions. This is the key thing but also it’s not just using the past papers – it’s how and when you do them.

Pretty much everytime I start tutoring a new student and we discuss doing exam papers they all say that they do exam papers at the end of the year to test their knowledge. This is understandable but leaving them so late is such a waste!

You really need to be starting to do past papers as soon as you can – as in start them in September. If you leave it later you may have spent the whole year not really understanding what is expected of you, not practicing the ‘skills’ aspects of the exams (such as dealing with data) and not realising what the correct language is.

This is the big difference between what these students had done before and what they did that got them the grades.