Using past papers is a fantastic way to find out how your chemistry revision is going, where you need to improve and for getting to grips with exam technique. Whether you’re still at the beginning of the semester or your exams are fast approaching, we've put together this handy guide to help you revise using past papers.

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Past papers are an essential tool for revision. Do every past paper you can find, as many times as you can. Getting used to the past papers will help you to understand the way your subject is structured. While simply going through past papers and answering the questions is useful in itself there is actually so much more you can get out of them.

If mark schemes, specifications, Chief Examiner reports and past papers all sound a bit confusing, don’t worry we’ve got you! With our help, you’ll be able to use past papers to really get on top of your subject and nail your exams.

Make Use of the Exam Mark Scheme

Mark schemes will help you work out where you’ve gained and lost marks, and how well you’re answering the questions. Mark schemes can be very specific, and so even when you know the topic well, you can still do really badly if you haven't done any past papers and don’t know what the marker is looking for.

Be aware that there are sometimes key terms you need to cover to get marks. Often, you have hit exact points in your answer to get the marks. It isn’t just about your knowledge of the subject but of the marking scheme too. You have to answer the way the examiners want you to.

Using the marking scheme will also help you identify weaker areas in your knowledge so you know what you need to focus your revision on.

Use the marking scheme to self-mark. Mark it as if you were the examiner; check that your answers hit the required points and that you actually answer the question correctly! You could also ask your peers to mark them for you, this way you're sure there is no bias.

If you are struggling to hit key points in your answers try mapping out model answers. Of course, the questions won't be the same on the real exam but practising writing out model answers will get you into the mindset of the examiner; they are looking for certain key points and phrases on each answer. It is essential that you are able to demonstrate your knowledge by using the correct vocabulary and phrases.

The more model answers you write out the more natural it will be to you on exam day.

Learn the Structure of the Exam Paper

Past papers help you get used to the structure and wording of the exam. Get really familiar with your past papers, it’s essential you know the structure so there are no surprises on exam day.

Make sure you get your head around the structure of your chemistry paper and ask yourself the following questions:

1. Is the paper divided into sections?

2. Are the questions multiple choice?

3. How much time should you spend on each section?

4. Have you covered all the sections in your revision?  Make sure there’s no holes in your knowledge.

If you keep seeing a question that trips you up, make sure you revise that topic. Don't just glance at it and think you know it, really make sure you understand the topic. Questions can be phrased in many ways or a couple of topics might be combined in the same question, so you need to really know the topic so you can apply it to different situations (and not just repeat information).

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Read the Chief Examiner’s Reports

Focus on exam practice by reading the Examiner’s Report. There is a report written every year after exams are taken which details the common mistakes students made and what you’re not supposed to do. Here's an example.

Each year, comments from people who mark the exams are collected together and published. These are really useful as they let you know what examiners are looking for.

By reading through them, you can learn what not to do, and what mistakes you need to avoid.

Use the Exam Board Specification

Have a look at the exam board's specification, and try to link areas of the specification against the questions in the papers.

Examiners try to cover most of the specification each year in exam papers. They will also vary the issues they ask about each year.

Although it’s not advisable to rely too much on question guessing, you may well find certain topics that appear again and again - or some that haven’t been asked about for a while that you might need to brush up on.

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Often your school will set up study groups facilitated by a teacher. Photo Source: Unsplash

Get a Little Help From Your Friends

Group revision is really useful for getting a complete picture. It can sometimes be overwhelming when you’re going through your own work.

Plan answers to several papers, then compare them with each other.

Go through the answers together and check them against the mark scheme. You can peer-mark the papers. That way you’ll be able to highlight where everyone is doing well and what still needs work.

It can also be useful to create a ‘model’ answer for each question so you can be sure to cover each point you need to hit the marks the examiner is looking for.

Time yourself

Make sure you do some of your past papers in exam-like conditions. While discussing the papers with friends is a useful tool, practising a paper under restricted time and without any revision notes is really important.

Set a timer and sit in a quiet room with no distractions to really emulate an exam situation.

The more you can do to prepare for your exam day the better. You’ll feel less stressed in the lead-up and will go into the exam hall knowing exactly what to expect.

Where to Find Past Papers

You can find past papers and chief examiner reports on the website of your exam board.

There you’ll find past papers from previous years and there will also usually be papers from summer exams and resit periods so there will be plenty to practice with.

Your teachers at school will most likely give you past papers to practice in class and will read through the question structures with you so you’re best prepared.

Other resources like student room and BBC bitesize are also great tools for finding past papers and other tips.

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Private Tutoring

If you need some more structure in your revision and want someone to hold you accountable it can be helpful to get a private tutor.

A private tutor can tailor lessons to you. If you struggle with remembering atom structures or you need help telling the difference between endothermic and exothermic, a tutor can help. They will focus on the topics you find difficult and will set you homework to boost your revision.

Bring your past papers to your tutor. You can either sit with them while you do it to emulate exam conditions or you can do them at home and have your tutor mark them for you. The benefits of a tutor are endless and they can really make the difference in your preparation.

Good luck!

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Fay is a translator living in Paris with a dream of opening her own café one day. Passionate about people and cultures, she loves exploring new places and is making it her mission to travel more this year. She loves sports and often combines her love of travelling and running, entering marathons in different cities.