Exams can be stressful but there are many ways you can prepare. Revising is of course essential to get a good grade and of the best methods you can use to revise are past papers. Using past papers is the perfect way to check your progress and to work on your exam technique.

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 the questions are structured. There are multitude of useful ways you can use past papers. While simply going through past papers and answering the questions is useful in itself, don’t forget to use the mark schemes, course specifications and Chief Examiner reports to your advantage too.

Follow our guide on how can get the most out of past papers for your physics exams.

Exam Mark Scheme

Mark schemes are a standardised way for the examiner to mark your exam. They detail all the key points that you have to hit for each question. In exams, getting a good grade means more than just writing what you know, you must demonstrate your knowledge ensuring you’re hitting the key points the mark scheme specifies.

You have to answer the way the examiners want you to. This might seem impossible, but regularly doing past papers will get you into the habit.

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! It’s also a good idea to ask 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. Note down those that come up regularly and add these to your revision flashcards.

The more times you practice past papers and marking them with the mark scheme the better you will do on exam day.

Check for quality physics maths tutor here.

Exam Paper Structure

Past papers are also a great way to get used to the structure and wording of the exam so you know what to expect on the day. No-one wants to open the paper in the exam hall and waste time just trying to understand the layout of the questions.

When going through your past papers note how they are structured. While you don’t know exactly what will be on your paper, exam boards usually keep the structure the same each year.

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 notes if there are topics that you need to brush up on.

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. At this stage in your studies knowledge is more than just memorising facts.

Check out the GCSE curriculum for physics.

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Remember to stay calm! (Source: kaboompics)

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.


If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the amount of work you have to do, try joining a study group. Group revision can be a great tool for preparing for exams. Often, you’ll find that you’re more motivated to study if you have others there to encourage you.

You can swap resources and if you’re struggling with a particular concept a fellow student could even have a different way of explaining something, so you better understand.

Revision groups provide a sense of solidarity, you’re not in this alone! Use this group structure to peer-mark each other’s work. Set a time to complete a past paper and then go through them together using the mark scheme. This is a great way to get into the examiner’s mind-set and find ways you can improve your answers.

If there is something you all don’t understand then you should ask your physics teacher for a recap in class.

It can also be useful to create a 'model' answer to past paper questions, so you can be sure to cover each point you need to hit the points the examiner is looking for. While you won’t be able to use these answers word for word in your real exam, this gets you into the habit of writing succinct answers using the correct scientific vocabulary and calculations.

Check here for the updated A Level physics curriculum.

Do your own mock exams by simulating the conditions of an exam hall.
Be sure to set yourself a time limit when using past papers for exam practice. Photo via Visualhunt.com

Exam-like Conditions

Make sure you do some of your past papers in exam-like conditions to get a feel of what it will be like on the day. Set a timer and sit in a quiet room, away from distractions and most importantly away from revision notes!

This is a really important step to not only test your knowledge but to also mentally prepare you for exam day. 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.

Finding Past Papers

You can find past papers and chief examiner reports on the website of your exam board. Download all the papers you can from previous years. Usually, there are papers from summer exams and from resit periods so you’ll have plenty to practice with.

If you find that you’ve done as many papers as you can find, don’t worry, you can practice improving your answers and maybe even try applying the question in a different context. Remember what we said earlier, GCSE Physics is about applying your knowledge not just memorising facts so make sure you can answer questions in different ways.

Other resources like student room and BBC bitesize are also great tools for testing your knowledge if you run out of papers!

Private Tutoring

If you want to push your revision further you could consider finding a private tutor.

A private tutor can provide more structure to your revision and will keep you accountable, to make sure you’re doing as much as you should be!

A private tutor can tailor lessons to you. 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 preparation for your exams.

Whether you choose to go with a tutor or you go it alone, past papers are an essential tool of revising and will prepare you for what’s to come.

Happy revising and 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.